August 9, 2012

Keep it simple, stupid

I love county cricket as much as the next man - unless the next man happens to be George Dobell

I love county cricket as much as the next man - unless the next man happens to be George Dobell. Not that he ever is the next man, though.

Cricinfo’s No 1 Rikki Clarke fanboy enjoys the pampered luxury, giddy intellectual discourse and Michelin-star dining on offer in the average county press box. While I sit in the stands overhearing 20-minute conversations about the difference between fast-medium and medium-fast, sampling the culinary delights of the burger van that time forgot and, during my latest day of spectating, finding myself sitting near someone who, for no discernible reason, decided to change into a pantomime cow outfit for the middle session of play.

Well, at least I can claim to love county cricket as much as Random Animal Costume Man. Probably a bit more actually, as he didn’t seem to mind missing a wicket whilst putting on an imitation Friesian head with ‘come milk me’ eyes and an ‘I failed my GCSE in Common Sense’ lolling tongue.

But something odd happened recently. That love I have for the county game was tested when I had a mini existential cricket crisis. Not a dramatic, full blown apostatising of the lbw laws in favour of the rules of offside. But I did - and this is difficult to admit - notice that my county’s latest CB40 game was being televised and thought to myself: “Meh, I can’t be bothered to watch.”

Worrying, I know. A wandering from the righteous path that I could try to pass off as a temporary infatuation with the Olympics; because, yes, like so many others, London 2012 has drawn me in, covered me in gold dust and then spat me out like an overweight, middle-aged, male Shirley Eaton. Sure, that’s a pretty great look, and I’ve the cheekbones to carry it off, but the Olympics are only part of my temporary cricket ennui.

My problem is more a deep-rooted dissatisfaction with the CB40 at this point in the season. Games are being played in dribs and drabs to fit in with Sky TV scheduling requirements, rather than as part of a full round of matches. It leaves the tournament lacking a sense of structure or momentum.

There’s little feeling that the group stages are reaching any kind of climax. The qualifying tables are a mess, with some teams having played eleven games, some seven. How is the casual sports fan, the spectator the game desperately wants and needs to attract, supposed to work out which sides are doing well from a quick glance at the tables?

But then the later stages of the CB40 always feel to me like they lack soul because it’s a competition that lacks quarter-finals. I’ve mentioned before in this column that three groups of seven feeding straight into semi-finals leaves too few teams with any realistic chance of qualifying by the time they’re even halfway through their games. Why would spectators want to pay good money to watch teams with nothing to play for, no goal to motivate them?

It’s an all too typical example of how the politics, scheduling and financial imperatives of the domestic game manage to complicate what should be a simple task. Four groups of five, top two qualify from each into a quarter-final stage with most teams having something to play for right to the very end.

It seems easy. But counties understandably fear the loss of income as the number of home matches drops from six to four. Any reorganisation of the CB40 would require a certain leap of faith that spectators would turn out in greater numbers for games were both sides were fully motivated.

Perhaps the muddle of the CB40 highlights how well the two-tier championship has worked, how strange the calls are for it to be altered. Back in the days of the single division championship would a ninth-place Durham, minus the threat of relegation, be staging the kind of revival we’re currently seeing? Would they be on the verge of a second consecutive win if their motivation was seventh in the table?

Instead of commissioning reports that recommend altering the structure of the County Championship, English cricket should recognise it as the blueprint for a successful tournament. Two divisions, two up, two down, everyone plays each other home and away: the genius of simplicity.

Cricket is a complex game, that’s one of its many attractions. But administrators need to avoid extending that complexity to the structure of tournaments. Keep them clear, easy to follow, and whenever possible, organise them so that games remain meaningful throughout the qualifying stages. It’s not as difficult a task as cricket sometimes makes it out to be.

Kenny Shovel has never sat in a press box or charged a match programme to expenses

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on August 13, 2012, 22:01 GMT

    What do u guys think about the T20 league.Is a franchise system feasible?I have read many pieces wherein the experts have claimed that such a league won't work in England,because of deep rooted loyalties to the current counties. however my point is,if the loyalties are so deep rooted why isn't the competition as a big a success as the IPL or the big-bash?Watching the games,u suddenly realize that this could have been dealt with in so much more efficiency. thoughts?

  • testli5504537 on August 10, 2012, 21:33 GMT

    This year is an exception because of the Olympics but there is normally a five week period between the end of Wimbledon and the start of the football season when cricket has the stage much to itself. The domestic game needs to take advantage of this and fails completely to do so with the resumption of the CB40, spluttering back into life as it does in its current format. It just isn't good enough.

    Play the CB40 group matches (2 groups of 10 with each county guaranteed 4 home matches against county opposition) between the early May Bank Holiday and the middle of June, the last four games being played over the course of a week. Then restore the quarter and semi finals to their traditional high summer slots on the Tuesday / Wednesday following test matches. Play the final on the first Saturday in September when there is no premier league football.

    T20 - fourteen group games from mid June to mid August, mainly Fridays and Sundays, with finals day at end of August

  • testli5504537 on August 9, 2012, 20:45 GMT


    I think there are some separate issues at play here.

    The main change I'd like to see - the inclusion of quarter-finals - wouldn't have a big impact on the (almost) nightly CB40 games you enjoy.

    The issue of games being played in dribs and drabs, to use my own phrase, resulting in a table were some teams have played 3 or 4 more games than others is, I think, also solvable without effecting the TV schedules. Surely it's possible to have several games televised during the week with the teams still having played roughly the same number of matches? Do we need Steven Hawking to work that out?

    btw: No need to apologise for thinking I'm reactionary. We all have different views on the game we love and I've been called far worse.

  • testli5504537 on August 9, 2012, 18:24 GMT

    The CB40 should be four groups of 5 with the top 2 from each group going into knockout quarter finals. This would all-but eliminate the meaningless fixtures which are contributing so heavily to its decline. The County Championship is fine as it is, or at least it would be if it wasn't for the season being interrupted by T20. I favour spreading T20 fixtures out over the season. This format may not be attractive to overpaid mercenaries from overseas, but how many of these ringers actually justify the money spent on bringing them over in any case?

  • testli5504537 on August 9, 2012, 18:19 GMT

    Some people watch TV so the nature of this competition's structure actually is very good for that. people can see their own side more often and watch cricket almost daily inj the evening. Sorry to say but I disagree with your sentiment as reactionary.

  • testli5504537 on August 9, 2012, 17:28 GMT

    Pretty much agree completely here. 4 groups makes for a few fewer games but hopefully with more impact. Scheduling of especial importance - season really needs to have some kind of structure with three types of domestic cricket being played and it allows teams to build up some momentum and strategy etc. The Madness that is the massive gap between the T20 Quarters and semi/finals day is the most glaring example of how this can go wrong.

  • testli5504537 on August 9, 2012, 16:31 GMT

    Keep it simple. Cricket played on Saturday and Sunday. Same day each week for the CB40. Then those with a family and a distance to travel, know that once every 2 weeks (roughly) your team will have a home game which starts at 2pm or 4pm or whatever. Simple. I will stay with the CB 40. What is it, a league or a cup?? Its both of course, but who cares really. That is the problem, there should be room for a 50 over cup knockout competition and leave the CB 40 to a straight league. Its probably my age. The championship is OK as is.

  • testli5504537 on August 9, 2012, 15:56 GMT

    Totally agree ... I'm a Surrey fan (so we haven't got much else to look fwd to), but we're top of the table with a few to play ... but if we weren't in the top 2 or 3, I wouldn't care less.

    I think at a minimum, we need QFs for this competition.

  • testli5504537 on August 9, 2012, 14:44 GMT

    Thanks for your comments guys,

    Just to clarify, I wasn't advocating a two division CB40 as such - although that is an option - more using the championship as an example of a domestic cricket tournament that works brilliantly with a simple structure.

    What I’d like to see happen with the CB40 is to find a format that is easy for the casual supporter to follow, allows more opportunity for teams to progress to the knockout stages (thus making more of the group games competitive and giving counties the chance of a decent pay-day) and has games played in blocks so one team hasn’t qualified whilst others have four or five games to go.

    There are probably a number of ways you could achieve that in a far more satisfying way to the supporter than the current format.

  • testli5504537 on August 9, 2012, 14:20 GMT

    Hear hear - I totally agree. I hope the game you are referring to was NOT a fabulous victory where the Falcons beat the Sharks...?

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