Thursday, 28 February 2013

A sad and worrying week

There have been a couple of stories from the world of county cricket that have saddened me this week.

One was the inquest into the death of the highly talented Tom Maynard, a Surrey batsman of genuine international potential whose passing affected and touched so many people. The inquest told how it seemed that the player had been a 'frequent' drug user, taking cocaine, among others, on a regular basis in the months before his death.

It would be naive and foolish to think that he was the only player on  the county circuit who was or is doing so, just as it is difficult to believe that there was no awareness of this within his county colleagues. Surely erratic behaviour must have manifested itself over the course of the past year and there will be a few former team mates and officials at the club who are currently asking themselves 'what if'?

A few years back there was a rife drug culture at Warwickshire, with several high profile players (there's no need to name them, they're well enough known)  being found to have taken banned and illegal substances. The authorities, namely the ECB, have to make it clear to county cricketers that there will be increased and rigorous checks during and after matches, with stringent penalties for anyone found to have done something that they shouldn't have.

There is not and cannot be any defence for someone who knowingly takes drugs, whether performance-enhancing or otherwise, when involved in professional sport. One would hope that professional sport has learned from the likes of the Lance Armstrong scandal, seeing it debased as a commodity by people who, lets face it, are cheating, whether it is themselves, their team mates or their supporters.

Temptations will always be there for professional sports people and the appropriate authorities and bodies need to ensure that support and guidance mechanisms are in place at both a national and local level.

If any good can possibly come from the loss of a young man with the world at his feet, the world of cricket has to be seen to be squeaky clean from now on, with increased and random drug-testing as a standard.

It is the only way forward.

Elsewhere I was saddened by a headline that read 'County announce improved figures', in  reference to Glamorgan's financial statement for the year. It was the boldest, most positive spin that could possibly have been put on an operating loss of £316K for the season. Yes, it was substantially better than the £2 million that they lost the previous year, but I'm not sure that I'd be getting overly excited.

Any business that loses over £300K in an albeit wet summer has got problems and however one cares to write it, nothing changes that. A similar deficit was returned by Sussex and, while it is all very well to blame the weather and the Olympics, the fact remains that losses of such magnitude are unsustainable for counties of limited financial means.

You can sell land to artificially massage the figures, but unless you're sitting on an estate the size of Chatsworth you can only do so once. An increasing number of counties will need to look closely at the business model being run, with considerable success, by Derbyshire and aim to adopt it themselves.

Attracting players to your club by paying silly salaries in pursuit of short term success is all fine and dandy, but the medium to long term goal surely has to be to sustain county cricket. I'm not so sure that some of these counties are doing themselves many favours at this point.

Finally tonight, warm congratulations to the three players who have been awarded honorary life memberships of the club today.

Frank Griffith and Steve Goldsmith were journeyman professionals, though neither sustained long-term first team slots at the county. Frank will always be remembered for his wonderful final over, primarily at the very dangerous Neil Fairbrother, in our Lords win of 1993 and has rightly entered into county cricket folklore as a result of that. Steve was a hard-hitting batsman and useful seamer, as well as being, like Griffith, a very fine fielder.

Neither will enter the pantheon of the truly outstanding Derbyshire cricketers, but they gave their all for the cause and no one can ask any more than that.

As for the third Martin Guptill, there is little to say that has not already been said. He is undoubtedly one of the nicest and most popular players to ever don the county colours, while anyone who has watched him in full flight has seen one of the finest sights in the modern game.

I only hope that we see him back again this summer. A Derbyshire side with Guptill opening the batting has a far better chance of T20 progress than one without him. I can think of few players in the world game that I could say that about.

Like the rest of you I will be keeping my fingers crossed on that one.

No comments: