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Grassroots cricket, the LV= Insurance Ashes Series & “Bazball”

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Our Sales & Marketing Director Jon Mansley sits down with Shubi Arun, recipient of the LV= Insurance Media Diversity Grant, to discuss how he fell in love with cricket, what he’s learnt from our partnership with the England & Wales Cricket Board and his predictions for this summer’s LV= Insurance Ashes Series…

What sparked your interest in cricket?


I've always liked sport. When I was growing up my dad was a mad cricket fan and so I think in terms of school, I probably first played cricket when I was like seven or eight years old and really liked it. I was a batsman as a junior and in terms of really sparking my interest, it probably would be watching cricket in the summer with my dad on telly and just thinking wow this is a great game and just really being hooked on it since. Probably Test cricket on the telly in the 80s and playing it at school a long time ago.  My first real Test series that I can remember was probably the 80' Ashes, I would have been like 13 at the time, and so it was the normal – famed for being Botham’s Ashes but Willis had an exceptional time with ball in hand.
 
Back then you'd have BBC on for the Test but you'd always have Test Match Special on and you can kind of do that now in the grounds with the radios but you really can't do it great on telly as there’s always a delay. So, it was Blowers (Henry Blofeld) and Johnners (Brian Johnston) when I first started listening to test Match Special. Christopher Martin-Jenkins, people like that. They were the sound of summer because if there was a low point in the main game on the telly they’d be discussing what cake had been brought up in the commentary box. It was a simpler time I guess.

 

What’s your earliest memory of attending a match in the stadium?


I live in a county called Cheshire which is a minor County so we're one of the 20 Minor Counties. My local first-class team is Lancashire, which is the other side of the river, so they play out of Old Trafford Manchester. .

Cheshire in the mid-80s were a half decent Minor Counties team, but they didn't have a base. So, there isn't a Cheshire County Ground. I grew up on The Wirral so if Cheshire played out of New Brighton or Chester, I'd go up there fairly easily. I had a family friend who played for them, so I would go and see. In the mid-80s they were a pretty good minor County team and won the minor County Cup. But I think my main first memories would be going up to Old Trafford.

 

What’s your favourite Ashes moment?


There are lots of great memories as individuals but I think my favourite Ashes was probably the 85' Ashes. I know it's got a bit of a reputation because of the Australian team - there was the Rebel Tour issue and a lot of them weren't able to come across but you had people who knew how to hit the ball. So, you know the likes of (David) Gower, (Graham) Gooch, (David) Boon. I think two of the last tests in that series didn't make it to a final innings, so both were won by an innings. I guess in a way it was almost like a precursor to Bazball.

I think Gower, when he was on form, was probably the most majestic player to watch (but) would always seem to get out to a bad ball. You also had Gooch at the height of his powers. There were just some fantastic players in that team and that fed into the (Mike) Gatting team. So, it was kind of everything you expect in a Test series.

Australia were great even though they had a reduced team. I think Craig McDermott came through in that Test series, you know? I think he took an eight-for in one of the games. It was one of those ones where even when the two of the matches were drawn, you never really knew what was going to happen. A bit like the 2005 Ashes.

The 2005 Ashes was exceptional not just because of the standard of cricket but every ball seemed to make a difference and, as limited overs cricket takes more of a hold I think the perception is that there's no pressure or excitement or tension in Test cricket. It couldn't be further from the truth. Probably more so after the first innings because then you have a measure of the track, what a good score is, how much movement there is and what the degradation of the crease is. But, I think my first and greatest Ashes memory is probably 85' and then 20 years later 2005.

 

How did your passion for the game guide your approach to the partnership with the ECB?

I never wanted the sponsorship just to be us putting a label on something. It's very easy to do a sponsorship and say ‘we're going to give some money, you just give us some exposure… here's our logo, go put it on stuff’ and then have a non-involved relationship. I firmly believe that all sports - cricket, rugby, football or whatever else - have a role in a community.
And that's doing the work with #Funds4Runs and how we kind of pushed that out. That was actually our first part of the sponsorship.

We did #Funds4Runs before we did Test or County because of lockdown, the key thing was we wanted to be involved in getting people out and about."

We knew that a lot of local clubs would struggle and would have been the heart of their communities and we wanted to be involved in something more than just Tests. It's why we’re involved in women's cricket, disability cricket, and why we’re involved in County. For Test cricket to survive it has to be strong on all layers of the pyramid. If you don't have good grassroots, then you don't have good people feeding into minor counties. If you have good minor counties, you have good first-class cricket. If you have good first-class cricket, you have good Test cricket.

 

How important is it for brands and counties to take a bottom-up approach when they get involved with sport?


It would be very easy for us to focus just on Tests and I think if you do that, then you’re investing in the short-termism of a sport. You're (just) investing in the now. I believe that any commercial organisation, when they get involved in a sporting sponsorship, should be really focusing on what's the legacy. How do we give back?

It's great that as sponsors we get to have great days out at Edgbaston and Old Trafford. We're going to be at Trent Bridge this year for the LV= Insurance Women’s Ashes Series which is fantastic, the first time a Class A ground is going to be used for the Women’s Test. So we get to enjoy those days, but we can only enjoy those days because people have done the hard work at other levels. Coaches who you’ll never hear of, who you’ll never know, who will have got Joe Root or (Jonny) Bairstow or whoever up to a level where they are now - playing international standard cricket.
With our partnership with ECB we hope in years to come someone will walk out for one of the senior teams men or women’s because of something we helped put in place.

 

What’s been LV= Insurance’s approach when it comes to growing the women’s game?


We give the same kind of commercial rights and exposure to the women's game as we do to the men's. I think the women's team are in brilliant health and some of the obstacles they’ve had to come through are unbelievable and hopefully the funds for runs work will mean there is more opportunity for girls up and down the country to get involved in women’s sport. We're going to host a breakfast before the Test at Trent Bridge and talk about women's sport and women in business and hopefully this will further promote the need to support women’s sport.

Most of the players who play for the women's team now have probably had to come through mixed teams or playing boys’ teams at various levels because the infrastructure wasn't there. The investment into #Funds4Runs and female involvement in cricket was really important. There are horrendous stories around the world - the Afghan female cricket team, how late women's cricket has become professional, how it hasn't really been given equal footing. I'm not a huge fan of limited overs cricket but I think The Hundred has probably gone a huge way to generate the same level of excitement in the women's game as in the male's game and that's testament to how the ECB have put together The Hundred format. I personally hope it stays or elements do if it becomes a twenty over format.

 

What have you made of Bazball and do you think England can win the LV= Insurance Ashes Series?


I love Bazball. I have the honour of seeing the only match we lost (at home) – South Africa at Lords. I was there on Friday with all my buds and by about three o'clock we were heading to a pub somewhere in St. John's Wood.

What I loved about it was that they didn't stop their approach, they carried on with bazball, there is a belief. When you hear the guys being interviewed, when they do media junkets, when you see them at events. I think the players buy into Bazball and the freedom it gives them to play this great game to the maximum of their abilities.

In Tests you always think the bowler’s got the upper hand - how long can the batsman survive? Limited overs is the other way around; the dominance is with the batting team. Bazball kind of moves that dial slightly. There’s more chance for them to be aggressive, more of a chance for them to power down.

But, we can't underestimate the fact that the resurgence of England cricket with Bazball coincided with two senior members of the bowling fraternity returning back to the fold. Stuart Broad and James Anderson were exceptional last year - defied age, defied critics and probably defied the previous management in just how fantastic they were. It gave the chance for the Woods, the Robinsons, the Currans of this world to come in knowing you've got guaranteed wicket takers, there's less pressure on the guys who’ve been blooded in to find their feet. I think we also found out that Harry Brooks is every bit as good as the potential he had. I think he will dominate all forms of the game and could put his names up on many an honours board across the world. 

So my view on Bazball, it goes back to that earlier point, every ball feels dangerous, every interaction on the crease seems exciting. I think that's key for me and I really want to see how they come across going against this Australian team that has some great players like (Steve) Smith and (David) Warner. Cameron Green too, later, I think is going to be some player.

 

How do you expect Australia to fare?


They come here probably as slight underdogs because it's our home test. Let's not talk about us over there, but then they’re coming here with a very explosive team. They've got bowlers who can cause you problems and they've got people who can get stuck in at the crease and really frustrate you. So, I'm expecting it to be explosive and hopefully another classic in the Ashes story.