Stephen Brenkley: A storm in a sponsored cup... ECB stirs up controversy by selling off the tea break
Tea has always been archaic yet sacrosanct. As an institution it has embodied the entire ethos of a type of game that probably did not exist, except perhaps at Blandings: at 20 minutes in length, neither one thing nor the other.
But attempts suggesting that it had outlived its usefulness, if ever it had any, were rightly repelled. Until yesterday, however, the tea interval had never been seen as a commercial opportunity.
For the next three seasons in Test matches in England, it appears that it will be owned by the Harrogate-based company, Yorkshire Tea. Batsmen trying desperately to survive will be playing for the Yorkshire Tea Break, for which players will troop off at 3.40pm each day.
It is the first time in the long and honourable history of sports sponsorship that the rights to a period when the game is not being played have been sold. Woe betide anybody who forgets the name check. Tea belongs to one company and one company alone.
While both the England and Wales Cricket Board and the Harrogate-based beverage supplier are to be congratulated on their chutzpah, it begs the question of whatever next? Lunch at 40 minutes must be up for grabs shortly and the ECB's energetic commercial director, John Perera, may already be speaking to hamper suppliers or sandwich makers.
If the breaks between play can be sold, why not the breaks between Test match days? Perhaps bed companies could be invited to tender to sponsor the overnight period between close and start of play, or maybe the ECB's beer and cider partners could be enticed to lend their name to the all-night bender.
As Perera observed, cricket and tea go hand in hand, but no more than cricket and ale. The deal was launched with typical brio at Lord's by England's most recent Yorkshire captain, Michael Vaughan, though some of his predecessors – Lord Hawke, the Hon Stanley Jackson, even Sir Len Hutton – might have been turning, or indeed stirring, in their graves.
On the other hand, being Yorkshiremen, they might have spotted the potential ages ago. It is conclusive evidence that every bit of every game is now fair game. The Yorkshire Tea Break will occur in matches being sponsored by Investec featuring a team, England, which is at present in search of a new commercial backer.
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