September 4, 2003

MacLaurin warns that English cricket is at the crossroads

Wisden Cricinfo staff

Lord MacLaurin, the chairman of the England & Wales Cricket Board until earlier this year, has warned that cricket in England risks becoming "a former sport of the summer ... like croquet" unless a major overhaul of the way the game is run is undertaken.

In an interview on BBC Radio's Today programme, MacLaurin pulled no punches about what he sees as a game at the crossroads. His most radical proposal was for a reduction in the number of first-class county sides from 18 to 12, with the resultant loss of around 100 players. That would be just part of a widespread streamlining of the entire structure of the game.

"I think the 18 first-class counties that we have at the moment we cannot sustain over a period of time," he said. "Is 2nd XI cricket sustainable? Probably not. And certainly we can't afford over 450 professional paid cricketers. We cannot sustain the amount of professional cricketers we have at the moment in the county game. It isn't as professional and competitive as it should be.

"This is going to cause havoc when the county chairmen hear what I'm saying. They have to sit down and have to talk about it, the structure of the whole game, if it's going to survive in the environment in which we live."

MacLaurin explained that the critical issue which made a revamp necessary was the end of the current television deal in 2005. Despite reassuring noises from the ECB, MacLaurin - and many others - feel that the next deal will provide far less money for the game - possibly as much a 25% reduction on the £65million currently generated. "Each county receives a fee of £1.5million a year," MacLaurin explained. "If the ECB income were to be reduced in any way, then their income would not be as much."

For obvious reasons MacLaurin's views are unlikely to go down well around the counties. Giles Clarke, Somerset's chairman, told the Daily Telegraph: "Any change of structure would be fiercely resisted in every area. If football hasn't had to do it, I don't see why cricket should."