Private dialogue between Seven executives and Cricket Australia has been divulged by the network as part of its ongoing argument for a discount to their rights fees in what has become an increasingly ugly spectacle for the two parties.
An affidavit lodged with the Australian Federal Court on Monday, written by Seven’s head of sport Lewis Martin, outlines the network’s creeping anxiety about the summer schedule and particularly its changes from the originally published fixture – released by CA on May 28 – despite the governing body’s repeated insistence that any plans needed to be subject to change due to coronavirus pandemic.
It culminates in the written reproduction of conversations between Martin, CA’s head of commercial Steph Beltrame, its head of cricket operations Peter Roach, and the head of the Big Bash League, Alistair Dobson. The first conversation took place on August 7, a matter of weeks before Seven’s complaints about CA went public on August 25. The more recent exchange, between Martin and Beltrame, is reported to have taken place around November 12.
Seven’s quest for a discount to its A$450 million portion of the A$1.2 billion rights deal signed alongside Foxtel in 2018 has taken it from multiple private conversations through the early part of the year, to public criticism of CA from the chief executive James Warburton since the time of its financial reporting in August, a request for independent assessment of the rights fee through the Australian Chamber for International and Commercial Arbitration, and now lodgment of court documents seeking the release of further correspondence between CA, the BCCI and Foxtel.
The network’s primary complaint all along has been about the value of the BBL, which the network bought the rights to in 2018 at the same time CA confirmed plans to vastly expand it to a 14-game full home and away fixture, even though broadcast audiences had been trending down since the tournament peaked in 2016 while being aired exclusively on Ten. Much of the early part of 2020 had been devoted to meetings between the broadcasters and CA about how to improve the competition for its 10th edition.
However the shift of the IPL from April to October and the subsequent postponement of the T20 World Cup in Australia from this year to 2022, meant CA needed to make substantial changes to its plans, namely to push back the Test series against India – which Seven has rights to broadcast alongside Fox Cricket – and start the home international season with ODI and T20I matches that Seven does not have rights to as a result of the 2018 deal. Seven is arguing these changes were made due to the wishes of the BCCI, rather than circumstances forced by Covid.
In the August 7 conversation reproduced by Martin, he discusses the changes with Dobson and Roach.
Martin: “Guys, this is a radical shift from anything we have talked about or contemplated.”
Dobson: “Lewis, how so? What’s the issue?”
Martin: “Any one of these options is a radical departure from the published schedule. We have been working out our planning for the season based on the published schedule since May. This is ridiculous. This is not the season we have been planning for. Why have you put the ‘white ball’ (T20 and ODI) matches before the first India Test and BBL season start?”
Roach: “The Indians won’t quarantine twice. They want their Test players and white-ball players to quarantine together at the same time, and then after the white-ball matches are played the white-ball players can go home and the Test players will stay in Australia.”
Subsequent to this conversation, Warburton went on a public attack against CA, stating on August 25: “It’s been frustrating with Cricket Australia, that’s for sure. Ultimately … they need to look at what is possible to deliver, stop talking about international borders being closed, or borders being closed, and start to look at what really is the season we are going to deliver. Like we have done with the AFL, our obligation then is to really deliver something for the fans and the players and to put our best foot forward for all of our commercial partners as well.
“But, at the moment, you pick up the paper every day and you read four or five different things. You have got the Australian T20 and one-day captain saying one thing, you have got the coach saying another, you have got BBL franchises talking about no international players – or [having more] grade cricketers. We could send the cameras down for free to telecast grade cricket.”
On August 28, Warburton escalated his rhetoric further, referring to CA as “the most incompetent administration I’ve ever worked with, and going on to say: “This is not an acceptable product and we will not support the season. Cricket Australia have an obligation to deliver a competition of no lesser standard than the past. What a bumbling, stumbling administration. How stupid to schedule international cricket against the BBL and drain the resources of a competition already under pressure. It’s a joke and it rips off the fans.”
The November conversation, again reproduced by Martin, has him debating the schedule with Beltrame, who is left to state the obvious.
Martin: “You easily cancelled the 3 x West Indies T20 matches, the World Cup was cancelled and the Afghan Test was cancelled, so why couldn’t the three T20s against India be cancelled as well? Had you postponed or cancelled the 3 x T20s and left the 3 x ODIs where they were, the summer we built would largely be intact.”
Beltrame: “The West Indies did not have a series and it has been postponed and not cancelled. The Afghan Test has been postponed and not cancelled. We have done so much for Seven. It is a worldwide pandemic for god’s sake Lewis, nobody knows that more than you.”
Martin: “The West Indies T20s and the Afghan Test haven’t ruined the summer the way the six white-ball matches and the Australia A match have. Why don’t you postpone the 3 x T20s and allow that ripping summer we built through the year to happen and give BBL 2.0 the best chance?”
Beltrame: “You keeping saying 2.0 (while referring to the 2020-21 season of BBL cricket).”
Martin: “Your CEO called it 2.0.”
Beltrame: “He referred to it once in a meeting.”
Martin: “He referred to it several times in conversation with me. Steph why did you jam those six matches against India? They have had a huge impact on our business and any chance of the BBL recovering.”
Beltrame: “We don’t think it has, we have done so much for Seven. We think we will deliver the summer.”
Martin: “Those six white ball matches have meant 50 per cent less BBL prime time matches pre Christmas, competing schedule with Aust A, no players, less Test matches pre Christmas. Surely you must see how this has impacted us?”
Beltrame: “Lewis, we have a 10 match bilateral agreement with BCCI. I have to go but I am happy to continue the conversation later.”
At the same time as it released these conversations and requested access to more correspondence, Seven argued for privacy in terms of the terms of its media rights agreement with CA. “The terms of the MRA are confidential and many of its terms are commercially sensitive to Seven,” Martin wrote. “The public disclosure of those terms would be likely to prejudice Seven’s ability to negotiate future rights agreements both with CA and other sporting bodies.”
Prior to the release of the affidavit, CA’s interim chief executive, Nick Hockley, decried Seven’s approach to seeking a rights discount at a time when the summer was well underway.
“With so much positivity around Australian cricket, it is disappointing that Seven West Media has again chosen to use the media to talk our wonderful game down,” Hockley said. “CA has maintained all along our commitment to delivering a thrilling summer of cricket and on behalf of all involved, be that governments, partners, players and staff, I’m proud to say we are doing just that. We remain confident in our contractual position.
“We continue to have tremendous respect for the hardworking people across Channel 7’s cricket and news broadcast teams and congratulate them on the substantial increase in ratings cricket has delivered them to date this season. We have, and will continue to, fulfil our obligations to our partners and supporters by scheduling a brilliant summer of cricket, despite the cost and complexity of doing so given the current public health situation.”
As for Martin’s public positioning, he told Media Week in October: “We love our cricket and we are hoping there will be a sustainable outcome for the sport. Seven is the home of cricket. We love cricket, but we are looking for a sustainable outcome in these dynamic times.”
Eng vs SL 2021 – Jos Buttler ruled out of Sri Lanka white-ball series with calf injury
Dawid Malan added to ODI squad after MRI scans reveal small calf tear
Buttler, England’s vice-captain and wicketkeeper, scored an unbeaten 68 opening the batting in the first T20I. According to the ECB, he “felt tightness and discomfort” at the end of the game and was sent for an MRI scan on Thursday morning, which revealed a small tear. He sat out the second T20I, which England won by five wickets.
England had already suggested they may use the Sri Lanka T20Is to experiment, with Jonny Bairstow moving up to open in Buttler’s absence – although he made a three-ball duck as England initially struggled in their chase of 112. Liam Livingstone, whose unbeaten 29 helped secure victory, regularly opens in T20 cricket and could also deputise.
Dawid Malan, the No. 1-ranked T20I batter, has been added to the ODI squad, with Bairstow and Sam Billings in contention to take the gloves in the 50-over format. Billings scored his maiden ODI hundred last summer and would have been vying for a middle-order berth, regardless of Buttler’s availability.
“In terms of ODIs I had a really good summer last year and averaged 83 in that format so I would be pretty disappointed if I didn’t get a gig but this team is a very hard one to get into to,” he said.
England have already secured the T20I series ahead Saturday’s third match, at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton. The teams will then play three ODIs, at Chester-le-Street, The Oval and Bristol.
ENG vs SL 2nd T20I – Mickey Arthur on England and Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s head coach said he wants the batsmen to be more proactive against a world-class England attack
“Just not enough runs again,” Arthur told the BBC, when asked for his take on his side’s defeat. “We’re coming up against a really good bowling attack. They’re ranked No. 1 in the world, we’re ranked No. 9, and you can see the difference. We’ve started a journey with a young team and for us it’s about getting better, competing, learning from every game and every experience and getting better and better as we go along.
“It’s tough. We’re consistently talking about freedom, about taking the handbrake off as a batting unit. But you can only bat as well as you’re allowed to and I thought England were world-class with the lengths they hit. They put us under a lot of pressure with the bat.
“We can be more proactive and we’ve got to go back and work on that. We can walk around the crease a little bit more and try to do different things but our batters are learning all the time, particularly in these conditions. We’ve got a really exciting batting unit in our conditions but it’s about transferring those skills to conditions outside our own environment.”
“I thought we bowled really well,” he said. “Our fielding has gone up to another level. Fielding is all about attitude, it’s measurable, and I think the guys are getting better and better with that. We’re really excited with our bowling unit and we’ve got a couple of guys that are injured as well, so when we get them back we’ll be good.”
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98
England vs Sri Lanka T20Is – Liam Livingstone makes virtue of versatility in pitch for England World Cup role | Cricket
Teams can take a squad of 33 players to cover 15 starting positions in rugby’s next World Cup, and 23 for 11 spots in football’s, but cricket diverges from the norm. England will take a 15-man squad to the T20 World Cup this winter – albeit with the possibility of a couple of reserves as a Covid precaution – and as a result, the ability of back-up players to cover a range of roles is crucial.
With that in mind, Liam Livingstone has done his chances of inclusion no harm at all in the first two games of their T20I series against Sri Lanka in Cardiff. An innings of 29 not out off 26 balls and four tight overs of liquorice-all-sort spin that have cost 19 runs do not demand retention in themselves, but have demonstrated the flexibility that Livingstone would add to a touring party as a utility player.
“It’s something that I pride myself on, being as versatile as I can,” he said after the second T20I, in which he won the match award after steering England home from No. 6. “It’s something that’s rolled into my bowling as well, trying to bowl both legspin and offspin to give people different options [and] it’s the same with my batting, trying to make myself a player who can bat all the way from No. 1 to No. 8.”
While he has made a reputation for himself as a power-hitter who deals in sixes – in last year’s Big Bash, he scored a higher percentages of his runs in sixes (39.4%) than anyone else in the top 25 run-scorers – Livingstone’s innings on Thursday night demonstrated his willingness to adapt, with a single ramped six standing out alongside a series of clips and pushes into gaps to suit the situation and build a partnership with Sam Billings. Four years on from a pair of frenetic innings in his first two T20Is, he looked a different player.
Importantly, given England’s logjam of top-three options, it also demonstrated an ability to bat in the middle order. Twenty-five of Livingstone’s last 26 innings in domestic T20 cricket for Lancashire and Perth Scorchers have come as an opener, with Jos Buttler even moving down to No. 4 in order to accommodate him at the top in this year’s T20 Blast, but there is little chance of him batting there in an England shirt.
While he will have limited opportunity to do so before the start of the World Cup, Livingstone should consider shuffling down the order for one of his clubs if he can – potentially for Birmingham Phoenix in the Hundred – in order to gain more experience in the role, though batting in the middle order for Peshawar Zalmi and Cape Town Blitz two winters ago meant he had something to lean back on.
“I batted at No. 4 and 5 in the PSL and in the South African T20 [MSL],” he said. “I guess that’s the reason I go away and play in these competitions: trying to get experience of batting in different roles, which has obviously helped me coming into an England side, batting in a position I’m not really used to.”
But it is with the ball that Livingstone is particularly multi-talented, as he has demonstrated in this series. He generally bowls legbreaks to right-handers and offbreaks to left-handers, and while not a prodigious turner of the ball, he gets enough spin both ways to keep batters guessing and forcing them to watch him carefully out of the hand.
“It’s certainly advantageous isn’t it?” Buttler said after Wednesday night’s game. “It’s a fantastic skill to have, to be able to bowl offspin and legspin to international standard. We will potentially see that come into the game more and more. He’s an exciting package, a great guy to have in your squad and your XI.”
Livingstone is not the finished article with the ball. Two of the three most expensive overs of his T20 career have come at crunch moments, confirming Lancashire’s exits in the quarter-finals and semi-finals of the last two Blast seasons when Ravi Bopara and Dan Christian took him down, but he insisted that those experiences have been beneficial in the long run.
“[My bowling] has always been well-regarded at Lancashire,” he said. “I’ve obviously had a couple of tough moments with it over the last couple of years, but they are the moments that have made me a better bowler. It’s something I’ve worked hard on for this sort of opportunity, to push my way into a team as someone that can offer something in all three facets of the game.”
As an excellent outfielder too, Livingstone’s case for inclusion in the World Cup squad is strong: even if he is unlikely to start once Ben Stokes returns from injury, the fact he offers some overs as a second – or even third – spinner, can cover a number of batting roles and is a good option to come on as a substitute fielder mean that he has quickly become England’s Mr Versatile.
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98
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