Steve Elworthy, the former South African medium pacer, built a reputation for himself as an administrator when he delivered a successful inaugural edition of the World Twenty20 in 2007 on his home soil a few months after a disastrous World Cup in the West Indies. He joined England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) soon after that, and was in charge for the 2009 World T20 and 2013 Champions Trophy.
As Managing Director of the 2019 World Cup in England, Elworthy has his plate full. Before that, though, he is responsible for ensuring that ECB does a good job as hosts of the eighth edition of Champions Trophy, which starts from Thursday (June 1), and the 11th Women’s World Cup, scheduled from June 24. He spoke at length to Wisden India about how his team has been working towards making these two International Cricket Council (ICC) events successful. Excerpts:
What was the mandate given to you when you were appointed as MD of 2019 World Cup in July this year?
When you are appointed to run tournaments, with two of them being back-to-back, the mandate is to create the most successful tournaments to have been run. It has always been about improvement, to make sure that operationally the tournament runs well. There are number of elements you look into, but effectively the mandate is to deliver a safe, secure [tournament] and full stadiums with fantastic cricket on, making sure it is bigger and better than the one before so that we are always going forward.
“There is pressure to deliver because you want to leave the game in a better place than when you started. There is enormous pressure for what is going on in the cricket landscape with three different formats fitting in, and seeing how it all works together. These tournaments are incredible as they gather vastly new audiences in different countries. This is a great opportunity to speak to them and get them involved in cricket – whether it be T20 or 50-over cricket or Test cricket.”
The Champions Trophy is about to start. Are you happy where you are sitting right now?
We are really very happy with where we are. Right now we are just short of 90 percent attendance across the tournament. At the end of 2013, we had 82 percent attendance. It is a real sense of pride. We have still got the whole tournament to run for three weeks. There are one or two matches that still have tickets available. When it really hits people’s radar on radio, television and digital channels, and they see how exciting it is and how cool the grounds are, I think we will have further participation by the end of the tournament.
I don’t think I have seen squads as strong as what we have for this tournament in a very long time. The quality of players in this tournament is outstanding. I don’t watch a lot of cricket because I am busy behind the scenes, but lot of people will be watching some incredible cricket.
Champions Trophy gets over on June 18, and six days later Women’s World Cup will get under way. How challenging is it to plan for two events concurrently?
It goes back to mandate. We had a really good planning process, how would we staff it, where there would be joint-efficient teams, what could we do with the Champions Trophy, and what could we do with the Women’s World Cup. Individual departments would be responsible for venue operations, for example, across both tournaments just to make sure there is consistency across both the events. It is to make sure that what is experienced by the men in Champions Trophy would be identical for women in the Women’s World Cup a little bit later.
There are certain things we could do that are specific to both the tournaments for which we can run with the same plan. For example, there is one accreditation system that runs across both tournaments. But then there are other areas where it doesn’t happen. There are specific marketing plan, and there are specific group of people you want to target for the Champions Trophy, and then there is a completely different pool that you want to talk to for Women’s World Cup. We have been planning for it from over a year, and these are the things we have been talking about. Things are very clear now in terms of mandate and what their deliveries are. It has been challenging, but at the same time it has been fantastic. It’s a real turning point for women’s game because we are delivering a World Cup that’s at par with men’s event. That is absolutely incredible.
How much of your experience from previous three ICC events is helping you now?
The 2007 World T20 was a new tournament and it had not been run before as a standalone ICC event. There was uniqueness to it, so it was not a tough sell in terms of getting people to the ground. The operational side of things since 2007 is a lot more professional. The understanding of where players are, where match officials are, where our team is, delivering the transport, it has become lot more complicated and intricate. The attention to detail in terms of operational delivery for the two tournaments we are about to start is probably 10-20 times more than what we did in 2007. That’s a good thing. It really makes sure that you attend to every single facet of the tournament.
In 2007, there wasn’t a necessity for such attention to detail although it was an incredibly successful tournament. I think it is the demands of running international tournaments like these now that this sort of detailing is needed to make it successful, it is an absolute necessity. That is one of the areas that has improved. It means monitoring and finding issues and little snags, which you may not have known about, and fixing it. There is a now a detailed report-back system that maintains how we fix those issues as and when they arise.
One of the issues that has hit Champions Trophy is the suicide bombing in Manchester. How do you prepare for such crises?
Security around tournaments and security in general across the globe is one of the areas under continuous focus now. When we set out to plan these tournaments, it was to develop a security plan that is scalable. It is a word that the security directory uses on a frequent basis.
They need to have a plan to increase the levels of security, awareness and policing depending on what happens at the drop of a hat. Anytime there is a security threat around sports [events], there is a continuous review system. I can’t remember there was a week in the last year where we did not have brief discussion about the plan, and the changes to the plans if necessary. We work very closely with the security directory for that.
“The women’s game has improved incredibly, so we wanted to showcase it in very professional light. The venues have got some incredible heritage. Somerset is the home of women’s cricket (in England). Bristol is an ODI venue, Leicester and Derby are fantastic first-class venues. The tickets for the first game between India and England in Derby are effectively sold out. And, to host the final at Lord’s does not shout out anything more than how seriously we take the women’s game.”
As it happened in the incredibly tragic event in Manchester a week ago, there was certainly an upping of the security plan and enhanced security protocol around the tournament. It’s a continuous assessment and review of the plan because it is absolutely fundamental that we deliver a safe, secure event for everyone involved – players, match officials, fans, broadcasters and sponsors.
What is ECB’s working relationship with ICC for what are essentially their events?
That’s a very good question, and it is one that I have been involved with over a number of tournaments now. So, I have got quite a clear understanding. Effectively, the ICC appoints the host. The governing body, the England and Wales Cricket Board in this case, then is obligated to put together a Local Organising Committee (LOC) to deliver the tournament. They have appointed me to run the tournament on their behalf, and I put the staffing structure in place to deliver. What governs the relationship is the host agreement between the ICC and the host governing body. In that host agreement, there is a clear sense of obligation and requirements we have to adhere to deliver the tournament on their behalf. It is quite clear, but when you get into operational mode there are key areas you need to discuss because they are not necessarily that clear.
So, Steve Elworthy is the man accountable for everything?
(Laughs) I certainly hope so. We have experienced a few challenges over the last couple of tournaments and we have managed to resolve them.
How many phone calls do you receive in a day?
A month ago I was probably getting 10-15 a day. At the moment, my phone is fully charged when I come to office in the morning, but I have to recharge it by lunch time. That probably tells how many calls I get. But it will drop off as we get up and running with the Champions Trophy. Everyone is so focussed on areas that they are responsible for, and communicating with people is an important part. We need to be accessible where people can contact you for the small, little things they want to check about. It’s not necessarily about number of calls; it is about people.
The pitches at ICC events in the past few years have become flatter and batsman-friendly. What kind of pitches could we expect over the next two events?
We saw some fantastic cricket pitches in the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand (in 2015). There were really high scores and some exciting contests. We are working really closely with the groundsmen to deliver exactly that, and ICC have a pitch consultant in Andy Atkinson to look at all the pitches. We want high quality pitches. The three venues for Champions Trophy and five for Women’s World Cup have delivered those. Clearly there is one factor that we can’t control, and that’s the weather. If it happens to be particularly damp and wet for a period of time then it may be that we don’t get those hard, fast, bouncy pitches. But at the same time if the weather is looking good – I don’t want to jinx it – then we can expect some really good wickets. That holds true for both the tournaments because in the Women’s World Cup all the games will be broadcasted live in some fashion. There are ten televised games, and there are going to be 21 streamed games.
There are some challenges because we are competing in a very packed summer of cricket. There were the ODIs against Ireland and South Africa. West Indies will come after that, and there is a full county programme. It is challenging for the groundsmen, but we should get some good cricket pitches.
As a bowler who took 57 wickets in 43 matches for South Africa, what is your definition of a good cricket pitch?
From a bowling point of view, you want to see some carry through to the wicketkeeper at a decent pace and height. I don’t think there is anything worse than running in and bending your back for the effort ball, and the ball coming out like a tennis ball because either it sticks on the pitch or keeps low and bounces before it reaches the wicketkeeper. Similarly as a batsman, you want value for your shots because there is a pace off the pitch.
What was the basis of allocating the Women’s World Cup to Derby, Leicester, Bristol and Taunton, and the final to Lord’s?
ECB ran a process for that wherein various counties applied. We also wanted to showcase the Women’s World Cup at first-class county cricket grounds. It really is a turning point for women’s game. The prize money has moved up to $2 million. It is ten times the amount given to the winners in 2013. The women’s game has improved incredibly, so we wanted to showcase it in very professional light. The venues have got some incredible heritage. Somerset is the home of women’s cricket (in England). Bristol is an ODI venue, Leicester and Derby are fantastic first-class venues. The tickets for the first game between India and England in Derby are effectively sold out. And, to host the final at Lord’s does not shout out anything more than how seriously we take the women’s game. It is a massive statement.
How is the overall ticket sales going for the tournament?
They are really going well. We are expecting it to increase hugely as the Champions Trophy comes in. We have a really strong cross-promotion through the Champions Trophy into the Women’s World Cup. England matches are selling incredibly well. The ticket offers are very attractive. A family of four could come in and watch any of the Women’s World Cup game for 24 £.
We have got an incredibly strong schools cricketing programme wherein we have distributed 11,000 tickets because we wanted the schools to be involved. It’s a key part of the year from a school’s perspective. We have number of club initiatives going on around the ground. We have also been involved with the All-Stars Cricket, which was launched as ECB’s new way of getting young kids engaged with the game. One of the legacies of the tournament is going to be the number of kids that get involved through schools and clubs. The number of kids who take up the game after the tournament will be a huge benefit.
“There was certainly an upping of the security plan and enhanced security protocol around the tournament. It’s a continuous assessment and review of the plan because it is absolutely fundamental that we deliver a safe, secure event for everyone involved – players, match officials, fans, broadcasters and sponsors.”
Cricket continues to fight for attention in the local market in the United Kingdom. From that perspective, what is the pressure on you to produce two world class events this summer?
There is always pressure on these tournaments, and on you also individually. As an ex-player, who was a part of South Africa’s Champions Trophy winning team in 1998 in Dhaka and I played in the 1999 World Cup, I sat on one side, but now I sit on the other side. I really take a lot of this very personally. Cricket is incredibly important for me. I have been involved with the game since I was four-five years old. There is pressure to deliver because you want to leave the game in a better place than when you started.
There is enormous pressure for what is going on in the cricket landscape with three different formats fitting in, and seeing how it all works together. These tournaments are incredible as they gather vastly new audiences in different countries. This is a great opportunity to speak to them and get them involved in cricket – whether it be T20 or 50-over cricket or Test cricket. I genuinely believe they all have their place under the sun. It all revolves around the volume of cricket and the volume of each of those formats that is played. There is a pressure to deliver a successful tournament because the 50-over game is incredibly important. In two years time we have got the World Cup in England, and as per Future Tours Programme the 2023 edition is in India. So, the 50-over game is here for a while. So, we have to do everything we can to ensure that these tournaments are bigger and wider, and engage more and more new audiences.
What is your advice to the local fans this summer?
The only bit of advice is to just get really involved and enjoy yourself. Sometimes when we are organising a lot of these tournaments, the enjoyment goes out because you are so focussed to deliver operationally a smooth event. But even I keep saying this to my team regularly; don’t forget the enjoyment of it all and why we are here. It’s fantastic to play, fantastic to watch, and the atmosphere at the ground is going to be unbelievable with sell-out crowd. People need to enjoy it. They need to be aware that they need to get to the grounds a little bit earlier because of the security measures that we have to keep them safe and secure. It’s all about embracing the multi-cultural nature of what these tournaments can deliver, and having a fantastic time while enjoying yourself.