The summer game has often been the province of some of the greats of sports journalism, from last century’s poets Cardus and Arlott, through to some who grace the sports pages today, even including the likes of Marks and Engel. That's Victor and Matthew, since you ask.
But with Sky Sports’ Test-centric coverage increasingly provided only by those who have at some time captained their country at the game – regardless of their merits as broadcasters or journalists – the opportunities for genuine journalists to work on cricket are becoming more limited by the day.
Earlier this year, the Press Association abandoned its commitment to ensure coverage at all county championship games by ending agreements with around 20 freelance stringers to file live copy and scores from around the grounds during the summer.
“We took the decision to bring coverage of the county game in-house,” PA Sport said at the time, leaving themselves without any reporters actually in the press box at county grounds for the summer. At least, that was, until the Cricket Writers’ Club cut a deal with the governing body, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), to pay freelancers to do what PA Sport was no longer prepared to budget for. What happens next season has yet to be determined.
PA’s cricket coverage was once the mainstay of regional evening and daily newspapers’ summer sports pages, and latterly some nationals, too, as they cut-back on stringer fees. But as not even the Telegraph, Times and Guardian bother paying lip-service to the game at county level these days, someone at the PA must have asked the question, “Why bother?”
It gets worse. Now the august Cricketer magazine is without any writers on its staff, after the editor, Andrew Miller, and two other journalists were made redundant last month.
“How do you expect to get out a decent magazine if you don’t have any journalists working on it?” one interested party said. Others suggest that an announcement of a new “editor-in-chief” and production person – both new job titles so as not to break any employment law – may be imminent.
First published in 1921, The Cricketer’s past editors have included EW Swanton, David Frith and Richard Hutton, but in more recent times, since it was sold by BSkyB and abandoned an association with the publishers of Wisden, the monthly magazine’s fate has begun to appear about as assured as an Indian batsman playing outside his off-stump to Jimmy Anderson.
That may have something to do with its sometimes owners since 2010. Neil Davidson, is the sometimes controversial former chairman of Leicestershire County Cricket Club, while Lord Marland is a former Conservative Party treasurer.
Neither has any background in publishing. Before taking on The Cricketer, Marland, who made some of his fortune with Hunter boots, had tried to take over the ECB chairmanship, but was foiled. It was Marland’s interview with Tory leader David Cameron that appeared in the pages of the magazine which may have precipitated the decision of the previous editor, John Stern, to leave The Cricketer.
But it is little wonder neither the pre-eminent magazine on the national game nor the national news agency can make coverage of cricket pay any longer. At least one cricket website is being given full journalistic access and privileges at the press boxes at county grounds by being accredited by the ECB, even though the website tends not to pay its writers.
Who’s to say that PA Sport or the Cricketer magazine might not soon be using cricket copy and scores data provided by unpaid students and trainees, all because it is provided free.