The Wisden Cricketer exclusive: Country v County debate September 16, 2003

Vaughan calls for review of county game

Wisden CricInfo staff

In an exclusive interview for the first edition of The Wisden Cricketer magazine, which goes on sale on Friday, September 19, Michael Vaughan has called for a restructuring of county cricket, in which the number of Championship games in a season would be cut by a half.

"You only have to watch county cricket to see the enthusiasm levels drained out of players," Vaughan told The Wisden Cricketer. "Jon Lewis, of Gloucestershire, said after the Headingley Test that he had played 21 out of 24 days - that simply can't be right."

Vaughan has proposed that the number of first-class counties be reduced by two to 16, to be divided into two divisions of eight teams. Then, instead of the current home-and-away fixture pile-up, each side would then play the others in their division only once in the course of a season, leaving a two-week gap between matches.

"I love the county game but the structure is not working and I feel sorry for the young guys coming into the England side," Vaughan added. "As a step up it is massive. I made my Test debut at 25 and had played county cricket for seven years ... but it still took 18 months to get used to Test cricket."

Vaughan's comments will cause outrage among many county stalwarts, including the Worcestershire chairman, John Elliott, who recently accused Vaughan of biting the hand that fed him. But his sentiments have also been echoed in influential circles. Prior to the Oval Test, the former ECB chairman Lord MacLaurin called for the first-class structure to be limited to 12 teams, a proposal that found favour with the Cricket Reform Group, which includes the former England captains Mike Atherton and Bob Willis among their members.

Martyn Ball, the chairman of the Professional Cricketers' Association, however, was less enthusiastic. "Michael Vaughan is entitled to his opinion but I would question the grounds for his criticism," he told The Wisden Cricketer as part of a major debate on the future of county cricket. "Steve Waugh has said in the past that county cricket is a strong environment and in all probability is the second-toughest domestic game in the world. Poor results [should be] the fault of the guys out on the field and not down to weaknesses of the club structure."

But England's coach Duncan Fletcher, with whom the ECB are keen to secure a new deal, is no fan of the county structure. "When you lose, you should hurt for three weeks and really think about it," he said after the Oval Test. "You should assess what happened and why. Instead, you've got the coach and the captain saying to you: 'Forget about it because we've got another game today.'"

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