August 16, 2012

This was surely the longest cricketing day

Goodbye to the emotional ups and downs

Goodbye to the emotional ups and downs. An end to countless hours sat in front of a screen transfixed by a once in a lifetime sporting opportunity. It’s over at last. No, not London 2012, I’ve finally finished the ECB county cricket fans' research survey.

A couple of points. Was I the only one who had a ‘Dear God, this is taking longer to get through than The Lord of the Rings’ moment? There really should be a warning to monitor blood sugar levels before you commit someone to spend that amount of time without sustenance.

And I’m not sure the length of that survey is helpful to collecting the views of domestic cricket supporters. Exactly how many Twenty20 fans will have the patience to complete it?

And I know age was one of the questions asked but the ECB must already have enough of a grasp on the demographics of the average county member to understand that time is becoming increasingly precious to them. I’m not sure everyone who starts that survey will make it to the other side. Or rather, perhaps they will, in a different sense.

It might have helped if the section where you picked your most and least favoured scheduling options hadn’t been as repetitive as Groundhog Day. A lot of people will have given up by that point.

Let's face it, a lot of people won’t have been interested in picking between Championship games ending at nine at night and CB40 games played on Whit Monday. They’ll just want to press a button marked ‘Leave the Championship alone’ or ‘I can only attend at weekends’. Instead you had to navigate through a series of sometimes odd, unpalatable options until you got to the final screen where you could leave a comment.

I’m sure Populus have designed the survey to extract exactly the information the ECB are interested in. But is it the information supporters are interested in giving? I was certainly left wondering if I’d managed to convey my exact feelings about the domestic game or if they’d been lost in a series of loaded questions.

Take this one:

Choose the statement which would most encourage you to attend a county match.

- Two fewer four day cricket matches a season (from 16 to 14), with matches played on regular days of the week and some teams only playing each other once rather than home and away - Retaining the current number of four day cricket matches (16), with matches played on irregular days of the week and each team playing all other teams home and away

Are 16 games played on regular days of the week not an option then? How annoying is it that you can’t vote for that directly? It’s that frustration that already has the internet supporter boards awash with cynicism towards the structure of the questionnaire.

That’s a shame, as this is a rare opportunity to have our voices heard. It’s certainly an opportunity I’d encourage people to take. But part of the problem is that, as far as supporters are concerned, the ECB has form when it comes to canvassing their views.

The Morgan Review was supposed to include supporter input, but that must have been from a fairly small focus group as I’ve never met or heard of anyone who was asked. Although perhaps contributing towards an ECB domestic structure review is on a par with having an STD or owning a Marillion album and it just isn’t something you admit too?

A few seasons before that a questionnaire about Twenty20 was handed out, but only at Twenty20 matches. Many county members felt they were being denied an opportunity to express their preference for championship cricket. It was as if only people in the butchers' queue were being asked if they were vegetarian.

It’s that kind of suspicion that breeds cynicism and leads to the long-held distrust of the ECB felt by many supporters. A distrust that in some ways is unfair.

There are many roads through life that will have led people to work for the ECB but I’d wager that most will have involved a stint working for a county and virtually all will include childhood summers being taken to see cricket at their local ground. So county cricket will have friends within the ECB, it’s just that to supporters it sometimes feels like there aren’t any.

Finding a viable structure for domestic cricket is a major issue facing the ECB. But so is the current disconnect between supporters and administrators.

The feeling that the ECB are on an opposing side to the county game with fans sidelined and ignored. One of the most positive outcomes from this current survey would be recognition at the top of the game that their relationship to the paying public is just as much in need of repair as the domestic schedule.

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