Cricket's striking scorers protest at new boundary

Click to follow
It was a typical summer's day of English county cricket, a match at Guildford between Surrey and Hampshire -flowing strokes on a good wicket and 2,000 people shivering in the biting wind when not dashing for shelter from the rain.

But the appearance of normality was deceptive. There are mutterings about management arrogance, warnings of strikes and confrontations, and the threat that the entire nine-match programme of Sunday League games planned for 31 August could be lost. English county cricket is facing the first prospect of industrial action in its 130-year history and the unlikely militants are - the scorers. They have been regarded as unassuming men content to play their part in a sport they love. Now it is felt they have been taken for granted too long.

The Association of County Scorers, comprising 36 members and representing first- and second-team scorers of the 18 counties, was formed in 1993 to raise their profile and get a better deal from the England and Wales Cricket Board. The trigger for the summer of discontent is primarily the appointment of a non-member of the association, Malcolm Ashton, as scorer for the next England overseas trip, the third consecutive one since he was appointed on the recommendation of Raymond Illingworth, then chairman of England selectors.

There is also anger that financial benefits from the new ball-by-ball scoring system available to Ceefax subscribers have not accrued to scorers. The dispute has brought their work, which is relatively unknown even within the cricketing world, into focus. In the 1860s scores were recorded by whittle marks on sticks. Then scores were kept on credit and debit ledgers. Now scorers have to be computer literate and have a knowledge of statistics, as well as knowing every rule of the game and possessing an encyclopaedic knowledge of players and their achievements.

At Guildford yesterday the Surrey scorer, Keith Booth, looked very much a traditional figure in his Surrey blazer and tie. But that was the only link with the village-green end of cricket. While he tallied up the score with his right hand, the left was operating a state-of-the-art computer. In between, he contacted staff at the other end of the ground operating the scoreboard on a mobile phone, and fielded inquiries from various parties on a land line.

Mr Booth, 54, retired early from a post in university administration. He said: "All the scorers in the counties are retired, or semi-retired. The only former player is Mike Smith at Middlesex. We certainly do not do this for the money. We get a notional salary; I get pounds 6,300 for the summer, plus a little bit more for Test matches and one-day internationals.

"There is certainly a feeling that the work we do is simply not appreciated by the cricket establishment. It's getting more and more complex; the computers were introduced five years ago but the software simply was not adequate. It has taken us all this time to get adjusted to it. We have now got to cope with the Duckworth-Lewis method which calculates targets at rain-affected matches. All the training we got for this was a half- day seminar at Lord's."

"In the past there was a feeling that we did not want to rock the boat. But there is a lot of anger and resentment about the way the ECB are running roughshod over us, and annoyance about the way Malcolm Ashton was appointed and the way this was announced by the ECB. In a way it's an example of their attitude towards us."

Scorers are regarded by much of the cricket fraternity as being obsessive about the game, and being keepers of the "purity of cricket data". Mr Booth said: "I know we say that what we do is not properly recognised, but I love this and cannot think of anything else I'd rather do."