Should Lord’s Host Another Men’s Test? – Being Outside Cricket

Should Lord’s Host Another Men’s Test? – Being Outside Cricket

After a Test which ended up being both exciting and one-sided, it might not be everyone’s first thought as to whether the Marylebone Cricket Club will (or should) host matches next year. However, I have not forgotten about the ICEC report into discrimination within English cricket unlike most people in the media. At points within that publication, the MCC was singled out for particular criticism and the notion of withdrawing international matches from outdated and recalcitrant host grounds is presented as a key recommendation. It is difficult to name a cricket club in the whole country more outdated and recalcitrant than the MCC.

Before considering the grounds of equality, diversity and inclusion for this move, there are at least a few other reasons why the ECB might want to move men’s Test matches away from Lord’s on a permanent basis. The first and most obvious is England’s form at the ground: Lord’s is the only ground where England have lost 50% or more of their home Ashes Tests since 2005. England have not lost a English Ashes series in that period (at least until now), and yet they do not perform well in North London. Conditions clearly favour the opposition there in a way that does not occur at other grounds. Australia would never schedule matches at a ground where they felt their opponents had either a psychological or technical advantage. Nor would India. Part of being a strong Test team is using home conditions to your benefit, and England playing Tests at Lord’s does not achieve that.

One explanation for England’s record might be the MCC ground staff’s repeated preparation of ‘chief executive pitches’ which are slow, flat, and almost guaranteed to require five days of play. The second Test in this series certainly conforms to that pattern, in spite of Ben Stokes specifically asking for quick pitches in order to suit both England’s batters and bowlers. Aside from not helping England teams achieve victory at the ground, these kinds of pitches can also produce long stretches of play which are relatively boring in Test matches.

There is also the slope. Test cricket is a 21st Century professional sport and not a PG Wodehouse-esque sketch about a match on a village green where hitting the the post box at midwicket is a four. Lord’s is a multi-million pound sports stadium and the MCC can well afford a spirit level. Dig up the tall side, dump it on the short side and even it up. It’s an embarrassment.

The real reason why Lord’s losing its customary two men’s Tests per year is even a remote possibility is the ICEC report into discrimination within English cricket. There are two recommendations in particular which could (or should) alarm the MCC and its members. The first, which gained some amount of media attention, is that Lord’s should no longer host the annual match between Eton and Harrow. It is notable because this makes the MCC the only organisation other than the ECB which is specifically named as having to make changes within the document, with all of the other recommendations applying broadly to every county team or all cricket clubs in the country.

Recommendation 18 – We recommend to MCC that the annual fixtures between Eton and Harrow and between Oxford and Cambridge are no longer played at Lord’s after 2023. These two events should be replaced by national finals’ days for state school U15 competitions for boys and girls (see Recommendation 38) and a national finals’ day for competitions for men’s and women’s university teams.

Previous attempts to pressure the MCC into no longer hosting these matches led to the members revolting, and forcing their leadership to retain them by calling a Special General Meeting on the topic. Failure to change course now would place the club in the position of openly ignoring the advice of a report into discrimination, which might present very poor optics for the game but the MCC’s members can be very stubborn.

The more serious threat to the MCC hosting future matches might be recommendations about adding EDI criteria to selecting international hosts going forwards:

Recommendation 19 – We recommend that the ECB revises and clarifies its processes and criteria for allocating, suspending, cancelling and reinstating high profile matches to place greater emphasis on EDI. There is clear evidence that being allocated such matches, or having the right to host them withdrawn, is a powerful tool to encourage compliance with EDI. The current process for match allocation (via a tender process against six criteria) expires in 2024 and we have not identified any formal process for deciding to suspend or cancel matches. The revisions should:
a) Ensure greater emphasis on EDI in the criteria for allocation, giving EDI criteria equal status to the most important of the other criteria.
b) Consider making a bidder’s performance on EDI a ‘gateway criterion’ requiring hosts to meet stretching minimum EDI standards in order to be able to bid for a high profile match.
c) Introduce a clear and transparent decision-making process for suspension, cancellation and reinstatement of high profile matches.
d) The Cricket Discipline Commission (or any future adjudication body if it is replaced and/or renamed) should have the power to suspend or cancel the right to host high profile matches for regulatory breaches, in particular related to EDI

The reason why such a change to the ECB’s process would disproportionately affect the Lord’s Test matches is that it is arguable that the MCC is the least equal, diverse and inclusive cricket club in the country.

The ICEC report focused on three broad areas which English cricket needed to improve upon: Class & wealth, women & women’s cricket, and ethnic origin & religion.

I don’t believe that it would be hyperbole to suggest that the MCC is the poshest cricket club in the country. Possibly even the world. Whilst there may be clubs which have a higher membership fee (although £500+ per year for members within London is plenty high), there are surely none who are able to command a membership of 18,000 at such prices.

The very structure of the MCC has been created and maintained specifically in order to keep the ‘wrong sort of person’ out. You require the endorsement of three existing full MCC members and a senior MCC official simply to join the (currently 29 year) waiting list. Once there, you have to continue paying £200+ every year as an associate member for those 29 years until enough full members move on and a vacancy opens for you.

Except of course that there is a shortcut available to the very wealthy. When wanting to raise money, the MCC offers life memberships for the princely sum of £80,000. A fortune to most people, a year’s tuition for their kids to others. There is no pretence of fairness or egalitarianism from the club when there is money to be squeezed out of its members.

As an aside, the 29 year waiting list to attain membership also inhibits the MCC’s role as being in charge of the game’s laws. With a minimum age of 16 to even join the waiting list, the youngest people to become members will be 45 (and most will be much, much older). Because of their age, it is unlikely that most MCC members will be active cricketers or have even played a cricket match in the past decade. And yet it is this group of elderly men, disproportionately coming from English public schools, who govern the rules of the sport. Perhaps with a broader membership, closer to the game as its played in clubs around the country, the laws could be made clearer and with less need for the MCC to release statements about their interpretation after high profile events.

Every county cricket club began as a private Victorian gentleman’s club, but it is only the MCC which has been allowed to continue its practices into the 21st Century. In fact, the MCC’s membership policies would see them banned from every ECB league in the country. Every team from the Middlesex County Cricket League Premier Division to the Middlesex 3s Division 6B has to abide by an accreditation scheme known as ClubMark. Originally run by Sport England, ClubMark gives every cricket club in the country a checklist of policies which they should operate in order to ensure the safety of people at the ground and prevent discrimination. One of these (Criteria 3.4) specifically bars cricket clubs from requiring applications to be approved by existing members. There is good reason for this. The people who already know three or four MCC members move in the same social circles as them, are quite possibly related to some of them, and so this severely limits the diversity of new members as they likely share similar backgrounds, views and ethnicities as those already in place. This is why I suggested that MCC being the least equal, diverse and inclusive cricket club in the country is at least an arguable statement. Every single cricket club in every single ECB-affiliated league has to meet the minimum requirements of the ClubMark programme, but not the MCC.

This system of requiring an invitation in order to become a member may have had an effect on racial diversity at the club. London’s population is 48.2% non-White according to the 2021 census, and that certainly does not appear to be reflected in terms of those MCC members who attend matches at the ground. This may not be emblematic of the entire membership, but the Lord’s pavillion is often presented as being the least representative group of the local population within English cricket and this portrayal is probably not without cause.

One key area of the ICEC report was with regards to women’s cricket and its lack of support from the ECB and their members. In the professional era of women’s cricket, beginning with England central contracts in 2014 and the Kia Super League through to the regional teams and The Hundred now, it’s hard to see how the MCC could have put in less effort in terms of hosting women’s matches. In fact, if you exclude The Hundred (since the non-hosting counties are unable to compete for them) then the only one of the eighteen county grounds to have hosted fewer professional women’s cricket matches since 2014 is Cheltenham.

Scheduled Days Of Play (2014-2023)

Ground Women’s Tests Women’s ODIs Women’s T20Is KSL RHFT CEC Total
Taunton 8 4 4 9 4 6 35
Bristol 4 5 4 5 9 2 29
Southampton 0 1 1 11 7 7 27
Chelmsford 0 1 8 2 11 4 26
Hove 0 2 4 8 6 3 23
Worcester 0 6 1 0 10 4 21
Leeds 0 1 0 7 8 4 20
Loughborough 0 0 0 12 5 1 18
Beckenham 0 0 0 0 14 3 17
Manchester 0 0 0 5 5 5 15
Birmingham 0 0 2 1 5 6 14
Guildford 0 0 0 9 2 3 14
Leicester 0 7 0 0 4 3 14
Derby 0 2 7 1 1 2 13
Northampton 0 1 3 0 4 5 13
Chester-le-Street 0 0 1 0 7 4 12
The Oval 0 0 1 7 2 1 11
Nottingham 5 0 0 1 1 3 10
Canterbury 4 4 0 0 0 2 10
Arundel 0 0 0 3 3 1 7
Blackpool 0 0 0 4 0 2 6
Liverpool 0 0 0 4 2 0 6
Scarborough 0 2 0 2 2 0 6
York 0 0 0 5 1 0 6
Cardiff 0 0 1 0 1 3 5
Chester 0 0 0 1 2 2 5
Sale 0 0 0 0 4 1 5
Wormsley 4 0 0 0 1 0 5
Lord’s 0 1 1 0 1 1 4
Cheltenham 0 0 0 1 2 0 3

The MCC’s decisions on which games it does (or doesn’t) host can be directly attributed to the way in which they have restricted who is able or feels welcome to join. In 2022, less than 2% of their full members (the membership category allowed to vote on issues relating to the club) were women. That means fewer than 366 of the 18,315 full members. There are almost certainly a lot more members who attended Eton and Harrow than women members of the MCC, so it should be no surprise that the match between those two schools has more support within the membership than hosting Sunrisers or the England women’s team. In fact, the MCC even has a special full membership category for staff members at certain schools which accounted for 520 of their members (roughly 200 more than women) in 2022.

Compare the number of women’s games grounds have hosted to how the ECB has awarded lucrative England men’s matches in the same period. The ground which has hosted the fewest days of professional women’s cricket has received almost double the number of men’s Test matches as the next-closest ground, whilst the two grounds which have hosted the most women’s games have been given virtually none.

Scheduled Days Of Play (2014-2023)

Ground Men’s Tests Men’s ODIs Men’s T20Is Total
Lord’s 89 9 1 99
Manchester 45 10 8 63
The Oval 45 9 1 55
Leeds 45 7 1 53
Birmingham 40 5 4 49
Southampton 30 10 8 48
Nottingham 30 8 3 41
Cardiff 5 6 7 18
Chester-le-Street 5 5 2 12
Bristol 0 5 4 9
Taunton 0 0 1 1

The MCC does not separate how much money it generates from England games from its other income (such as Middlesex and London Spirit matches) and so it is difficult to say exactly how much they receive through hosting two guaranteed Tests plus a white ball match every year. Surrey earned £8,313,000 in 2022 from one Test and one ODI, so the MCC probably makes in the region of £15,000,000 (not including sales of food and drink) in a typical year just from those three men’s games. Thanks to that England match day income, the MCC boasts a higher turnover than counties such as Surrey or Lancashire who have non-cricket revenue streams such as hotels and concerts in order to fill their coffers.

It would not be unreasonable for each of the seventeen other county hosts to look at the MCC and ask why they receive such preferential treatment from the ECB. Their counties host more women’s matches, they abide by the ECB’s guidelines regarding new members, and they have more diverse memberships in terms of gender, age, wealth and ethnicity. Why is the one club which comes bottom in all of these metrics rewarded inordinately with the most valuable prize that the ECB can offer: Hosting men’s Tests?

The first, and perhaps most important reason is money. Whilst the ECB has repeatedly made proclamations about ensuring cricket is a game for everyone, that women’s cricket is a big part of the game’s future, that racism is abhorrent and must be excised from the sport, the single constant which has run through its 26 year history is greed. Lord’s has the most capacity of any English cricket ground and can charge the highest individual ticket prices of any English ground whilst still selling out. It generates the most revenue of any host, and that’s all the ECB has ever really cared about.

The other, more pernicious reason is that the English cricketing establishment and the MCC are intertwined in a way which is virtually impossible to separate. The ECB’s headquarters are at Lord’s, which effectively makes the MCC their landlord. That in itself would appear to be a colossal conflict of interest for a sport’s governing body, and a significant risk if the ECB were to take action against the MCC.

Perhaps the greatest reason why the MCC feel no pressure to make any changes is the person that the ECB have put in charge of responding to the ICEC report, former England captain Clare Connor. Prior to being appointed ECB deputy CEO, Connor was President of the MCC in 2021-22. She was also given an honorary life membership to the MCC in 2009 (worth up to £80,000). It seems vanishingly unlikely that last year’s MCC president is going to propose taking men’s Test matches away from Lord’s, regardless of the strong arguments in its favour.

The degree to which the ECB will act with regards to the ICEC report probably comes down to external pressure, which appears to be almost non-existent at this point. The report was released in the middle of two exciting Ashes series, which has distracted the entire English cricketing media, whilst the UK Government and Parliament are already preparing for next year’s general election and have no time to spare regulating the UK’s eleventh most popular sports team if there are no votes in it. Absent any outside involvement, it seems probable that the ECB will enact the smallest and most cosmetic changes possible just as they did after Azeem Rafiq’s testimony in 2021. In which case, the same issues will continue to dog the sport and we will have to hope that the next review in twenty years or more will create real change.

Hopefully I’m wrong, and even the threat of losing matches might move the MCC into modernising and becoming a 21st Century cricket club with an inclusive and broad membership. I would love for that to happen.

But my lifetime of being involved in cricket has made me very cynical, and I sadly just can’t see that happening.

Thank you for reading this post. If you have any comments or corrections about the post, or just want to talk about the Ashes and Bazball, please do so below.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like