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Empty words from MPs won't get cricket back in our schools, only money will

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Empty words from MPs won't get cricket back in our schools... only money willNow the Ashes are over, we are not hearing so much about cricket from MPsThey were all over the sport after Ben Stokes' heroics earlier this summerNo matter what politicians say, money is what cricket needs to thrive in schools 

Now the Ashes are, in effect, over, we are not hearing so much about cricket from this country's political class.

They were all over the sport after the World Cup and Ben Stokes' heroics at Headingley yet, despite recent disappointments, this has still been a memorable, wonderful summer.

Sadly, though, it goes nowhere, whatever the politicians wish to say, because for cricket to thrive it needs reviving in schools. And that costs money. And this country hasn't got any. Not sloshing about spare in the education system, at least. 

Ben Stokes' (right) heroics at Headingley and at the World Cup made it a memorable summer

Boris Johnson may be able to conjure up a fantasy £15billion as a sop to Northern Ireland for when he stiffs them over the backstop but a cricket team is finite, not some vain campaign promise. 

And there are not the resources for the type of programme that would capitalise on recent events because that would require equipment, proper playing fields and a commitment to resolving health and safety issues.

Things are different now. Nobody is going to be sharing a box these days, nobody is batting without a helmet.

'There is no better time to seize the opportunity after an incredible summer of cricket,' said the sports minister, Nigel Adams, but he's wrong. 

There was a better time and it was when schools had the money to invest in sport; before playing fields became a one-off revenue stream and wickets could be prepared that were not dangerous and could be played on with equipment that came from giant, dusty bags used by the whole class.

With odd exceptions, cricket is the preserve of independent educators now. Whites are part of their school kit, as is the equipment, which often comes from homes where the child is also a member of a club. 

The majority of England's starting XI against Australia on Thursday were privately educated. The majority of those turning out for England in the last calendar year, including those schooled abroad, were, too.

So when sports ministers talk about reintroducing cricket into state schools they always do so in the vaguest possible terms.

'It's my desire to see sport, PE, however you want to call it, in the school curriculum, inside the schools' day and outside on a mandatory basis,' Adams said.

'I know the Prime Minister is very passionate about cricket. I've spoken to him about it.'

So let's get passionate. Let's get real and talk about money and practicality, because a school cricket team isn't simply a first XI.

If we're going back to what might be termed the halcyon era of school sport, the aim would be to produce a team in every year group. Nor can we presume the presence of club cricketers with equipment. 

The majority of England's starting XI against Australia have been privately educated

The school will have to provide, considering practice nets will be required: so four sets of pads for each year group, four sets of gloves, four helmets, four bats. A ballpark 20 pieces of kit to get cricket off the ground, plus five sets of wicketkeeping apparatus.

At a rough estimate the cost of getting cricket up and running is £4,800. And we haven't got a ball, we haven't got stumps, we haven't got thigh pads, arm protectors, flannels, even a box — and we're close to five grand down.

You may have noticed we've forgotten something else, too. Girls. Cricket in schools was a boys' game. Not any more. There is no way a modern headteacher could not offer girls the same opportunity. 

So let's just say there is a state school with a spare 10 grand or so lying around? Who is taking the school cricket team at the weekend, given this is a particularly time-consuming game?

The goodwill between teachers and their employers seems rather strained of late. One can only imagine the joy at being told a sport so long it actually has a lunch hour is being revived.

In October, Colin Graves, the ECB chairman, and Tom Harrison, his chief executive, will be quizzed by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, on how they plan to build the sport. Expect a load of old rubbish from the MPs about free-to-air television and nothing else, because there is nothing else.

Local clubs could perhaps donate equipment, and a groundsman to prepare a wicket, in return for pointing the kids their way, but these are flimsy, local schemes. Some might take off, others won't. Depends on the club, depends on the parents, depends on the area.

As for an organised, national process that takes advantage of one glorious summer, as the sports minister implies, forget it.

Putting cricket back in schools would cost millions and this government hasn't got millions. What it does have in abundance is empty rhetoric. And it's cheaper.

Gareth Bale will return from international duty to his uneasy truce with Real Madrid this week. 

'What changed was the player wants to stay, nothing more,' said coach Zinedine Zidane of Bale's new circumstances. 

Yet everyone knows Bale wanted to remain with Madrid, and Zidane wished him gone. What changed was results and the injury list. 

Eden Hazard is set to return for Madrid against Levante on Saturday, and Bale is suspended after receiving a red card. We'll see how it goes from there, and where the real commitment lies.

Gareth Bale will return from international duty to his uneasy truce with Real Madrid

Bottom of the league and already on their second manager, Watford season-ticket holders will head to Vicarage Road on Sunday — and woe betide them if they don't. 

Watford's most loyal supporters have been informed they must advise the club if they are planning to miss a match — and could be denied their seat in future if they do not.

This is part of a campaign called Keep It Full, supposedly an attempt to ensure the ground is at capacity on match days, with maximum support for the home team, by reselling any season tickets that are not going to be used. 

It seems more like a tawdry money-making scheme, given that the profits from these resales will not go to the ticket owners — the fans — but will be used by the Watford Community Trust, a charity for which the club gets kudos and credit.

Watford wish to sell a commodity, yet still keep it. They want the advanced money that season-ticket holders generate, but not the choices they are then free to make. 

Many clubs operate resale schemes but most are happy to provide incentives to the seller and few issue threats.

Watford also say they will monitor attendance and a supporter who is not regular at Vicarage Road — and does not participate in the Keep It Full scheme — may not be able to secure a season ticket in future. That seems reasonable.  

Watford's 'Keep It Full' campaign tries to ensure Vicarage Road is at capacity on match days

Watford do not want season-ticket holders who are only interested in five big games each season. The rest of it seems a hammer to crack a nut. 

The thought of a supporter falling ill, or having employment circumstances change and then getting the heavy-handed approach from his club is repellent.

Once Watford have sold the season ticket, it is the choice of the supporter to attend. He has paid his money, he has given his backing, upfront and in advance.

Yet, increasingly, clubs do not respect this loyalty. Away tickets are capped at £30 but Norwich have introduced an away membership for those wishing to travel, with an additional charge of £50. 

So those who always go away are actually paying £32.63, those making it to half the games £35, and those who take in five matches pay £40, which is the price fans complained about in the first place.

Chelsea charge a booking fee of £2 per seat, even if all the tickets purchased are sent to the same address. Now Watford say even your season ticket is not your own.

Of all the people whose loyalty is questioned, it shouldn't be the fans.

What a po-faced nation we have become.

Does it really matter if Steve Smith was poking fun at Jack Leach by donning spectacles for Australia's victory celebrations at Old Trafford?

Leach was only too happy to use his glasses to take time out of the game and disrupt Australia's rhythm in the previous two Tests, and his antics earned him a tidy commercial deal with Specsavers.

Smith, meanwhile, has been the outstanding player of the series in a hostile environment. The worst part is, by happily dishing it out and then losing our humour when getting some back, we have turned into Australia.

On the same subject, Jonny Bairstow said that watching Australia's celebrations gave England the motivation to win the fifth Test. 

So what happened to that old favourite of sports psychologists: visualisation? 

Couldn't England not have visualised a cocky, crowing Australian team, and been motivated a little earlier? What unfolded after the Ashes were retained was hardly beyond the realms of imagination.

Steve Smith (right) chats to England's Jack Leach (left) as the pair leave the field at The Oval

It is somewhat ironic that Geoffrey Boycott in attempting to protest his innocence over an historic assault charge, came across as exactly the sort of bully who would appear to have a low and hostile opinion of others.

Whether this is likely to end in violence against women is for the individual to decide, although a French court was fairly unequivocal about it in 1998.

It is this conviction that sits uncomfortably with his newly bestowed knighthood from the former Prime Minister, Theresa May, which this week brought condemnation from Adina Claire, of Women's Aid, among others.

Boycott's response to Martha Kearney on Radio 4 about this — 'I don't give a toss about her, love, it was 25 years ago' — was both self-harming and flawed.

For as long as we're talking shelf life, his second trial was 21 years ago, not 25, and certainly not as ancient as the batting exploits for which Boycott has been recognised, given his last appearance for England came in 1982. 

Equally, while Boycott denies assault, his then girlfriend Margaret Moore insists it happened, and in the event of a tie, it would not be unsportsmanlike to recruit an independent judge, in this case the French court, who sided with Moore.

No doubt May fondly imagines something of herself in the stoic, limpet-like but ultimately enduring Boycott, even if he was also known for acts of outstanding selfishness.

When Boris Johnson succeeded her, he is believed to have said that No 10 had seen enough of Boycott, and it was now time to give Botham a go. Although running out 21 of his team-mates is much more Sir Geoffrey's territory than Sir Ian's.

Sir Geoffrey Boycott pictured during the first day of the fifth Ashes Test on Thursday

The arrogance of some athletes knows no bounds.

Christian Coleman is demanding an apology from the United States Anti-Doping Agency over his three missed drugs tests. Coleman escaped a ban on a technicality so flimsy the Athletics Integrity Unit are calling for a rule change.

Coleman, did indeed miss three tests in a calendar year, one of which occured on June 6, 2018.

Yet under the World Anti-Doping Agency's International Standard for Testing and Investigations, failures are recorded on the first day of each quarter, not the day of breach. 

So Coleman's June 6 failure was switched to April 1, meaning he only missed two tests in a calendar year, and can compete at the World Championships in Doha.

One would think, in the circumstances, Coleman would keep his head down and his mouth shut. He's a very lucky man. But, no, Coleman wants an apology claiming USADA were 'going after a big fish'. Who cares about that?

The fact is, they would have landed one had athletics' rules made sense. USADA have nothing to apologise for. By contrast, the athlete currently regarded as the world's fastest has a lot of explaining to do.

A Bulgarian supporter was ejected from Wembley on Saturday for racially abusing Raheem Sterling. 

This is bad, but one individual does not reflect on Bulgaria as a country. If, however, there are hundreds, even thousands, making insulting noises when England play in Sofia on October 14, that is different.

Gareth Southgate's players have discussed leaving the field and the FA should make UEFA aware of this in advance.

It also highlights the difference between isolated personal outbreaks of racism, as documented in this country, and a communal reaction, which is what Romelu Lukaku experienced in Italy. Very different.

A Bulgarian fan was ejected from Wembley on Saturday for racially abusing Raheem Sterling

Bad boys aren't winners 

Daniil Medvedev is the latest to be described as 'the bad boy of tennis'. 

He lost a close game to Rafael Nadal in the US Open final, and behaved impeccably, but even so. 

If these guys are so bad, maybe they should try something really naughty — like winning a Grand Slam tournament.


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