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Does county game deserve Ashes blame?

England's Ashes whitewash has again invited criticism of county cricket, but what is needed more urgently than revolution is a good dollop of honesty

David Hopps

January 13, 2014

Comments: 109 | Text size: A | A

Lord's on a beautiful sunny day, London, July 18, 2013
There will be more agonising at Lord's after an Ashes whitewash © Getty Images
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England have been whitewashed in an Ashes series, so it was no surprise to hear the old debate rearing its head again at the weekend. Sooner or later somebody pins the blame on county cricket and sure enough it fell to Lord MacLaurin to propose the amalgamation of the smaller counties to best serve the England cricket team.

Lord MacLaurin is a retired businessman, a past chairman of Tesco, Vodafone and, as an additional hobby, the ECB. He could barely look at Leicestershire or Northants during his time at the ECB without mentally drawing up some sort of merger plan. Most powerful businessmen are consumed by an acquisition obsession just as most fans have a knee-jerk opposition to change.

To complete the debate, all you need then is to find one such idealist from the Shires, somebody who regards 18 first-class counties as a vital part of the fabric of England. It is a Midsomer Murders version of the English professional game, a vague, rose-garden attachment to a simpler age, and it has long held sway on a circuit which both brings pleasure to its devotees and it is ignored by millions.

As the businessman affectionately known as The Grocer mounted his soapbox once more - that is a metaphorical raised platform by the way, not an old carton of Persil - he condemned the outdated set up of county cricket and at one stage mentally joined Kent to Sussex, in essence creating a supermarket where once there had been a couple of corner shops.

Whatever view you hold, it was all a depressing sideshow as the review into the Ashes debacle is about to play out at Lord's, and in Australia, under the stewardship of the new MD of English cricket, Paul Downton.

The Ashes review will be limited in form and will not be revolutionary. Far from supporting MacLaurin's contention that an 18-county structure is unfit for purpose, the ECB likes to present them as "18 Centres of Excellence" and, indeed, progress has been made on the development of academies and discovery of new income streams so that county cricket becomes more financially self-sustaining.

But in the pessimistic dawn of a failed Ashes challenge, much remains unfit for purpose. If you want a single premise to convey what is wrong with county cricket, it is not particularly that there are too many counties, it is that the catchment these counties draw upon is too small.

For example, a quick rifle through the 2013 Cricketers' Who's Who confirms that Leicestershire, bottom of the pile in the Championship again last season, draw more players from a couple of public schools with an excellent cricket culture than they do from the city with the highest percentage of Indian immigrants outside south Asia, young people too. How can that possibly still be the case?

The absence of cricket in State schools remains a colossal drain on English cricket's resources, robbing the game of its maxium number of ready-made players and fans. It is alleviated but far from solved by the admirable Chance to Shine charity, but a further dramatic shift of resources to strengthen bonds between state schools and nearby clubs that can provide the facilities they need is long overdue.

That would be considerably more effective than tacking Sussex onto Kent and calling it South.

But there is another malaise. For all the expressions of faith in an 18-team professional system, the ECB repeatedly encourages England to act in a manner that not only weakens but rubbishes county cricket at the same time.

Under this duplicitous arrangement, when England win Team England gets the credit. When England lose, it is not long before blame is pinned at the door of the county game.

One of many examples last season of Team England running roughshod over the county cricket structure it clearly does not view as excellent came when Jamie Overton, the most promising young fast bowler around, was withdrawn from Somerset's relegation fight because sitting around with England's ODI squad in the series against Australia was regarded as more useful for him, even if he did not play.

This same dismissive attitude was seen in the perpetual use last summer of Jonny Bairstow as an England drinks scuttler. At a time when Bairstow is as confused as England over whether he has more talent as a long-form or short-form cricketer, and whether keeping wicket remains a sensible career move, he needed as much cricket as he could get.

The outcome of that was Bairstow's two bad Tests in Melbourne and Sydney and a pile of personal abuse. It is a strange system which crams so much cricket into an English season that the contradictory result is that some players do not play enough.

Only an England set-up with such a disregard for the county game could have conceivably selected Chris Tremlett above Graham Onions for the Ashes tour in the belief that by some strange transformative process brought about by an England net or two Tremlett would regain the sort of form that had been conspicuously absent for Surrey. It was a selection based on theory and not on actuality.

The ECB champions the county game but then suffocates it with a non-stop international schedule, Lions matches included, even treating its showpiece limited-overs finals with disdain by leaving it until the last minute to decide whether England players will deign to take part. Excellence cannot prosper with such an approach. No wonder there is a perception that standards have faltered again in the past year or two.

Neither is there much chance that this summer's latest revamp of the county game will be promoted with any conviction. The main interest in a deeply conservative reshuffle is that Twenty20 will be played primarily on Friday nights all summer long. But it is asking a lot of 18 county clubs to produce the sort of high-quality entertainment needed to pull in the crowds and widen the fan base when top-grade overseas players will be hard to attract over such a long time span and when England players will be conspicuous by their absence.

As Lord MacLaurin took to the airwaves to recommend slashing the counties by a third, it seemed that what English cricket needs above all is a good dollop of honesty.

If the 18 counties really are centres of professional excellence, valued by the communities they serve, then the ECB should demand ever more aggressively that they prove it. If revolution is not the answer then make evolution happen faster than ever.

Prove the worth of a county by results, by coaching (and no more fiddled figures), by compulsory involvement in school-club links, by growth in membership and attendance figures, by a rise in cricket and non-cricket revenue streams, by website engagement (we will even send the ECB our figures- and they tell a tale or two), by as many sensible ways as can be devised to measure their worth.

If and when they prove their worth, it is high time England treated them with respect. If a couple of them are not up the the job, then at least a couple of bankruptcies or mergers will bring some sanity to the fixture list.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by   on (January 20, 2014, 2:32 GMT)

Sorry but the "cricket not played in state schools" argument is the biggest myth going. State schools don't have and will never have the time, money, facilities or the coaches to play a high standard of cricket. It takes too much time & money & it isn't an efficient use of school time. Even the surviving Grammar schools struggle to run decent cricket teams. It is the clubs that are key to youth and elite development not schools. In Australia cricket is focused around clubs not schools and that is one of its strengths. It is the clubs that have the time, the money, the expertise and the will to play a high standard of cricket not state schools. It isn't surprising that the counties with the strongest club systems produce the best young players. Yorkshire, Lancashire, Durham and Warwickshire. The state schools argument is a massive red herring.

Posted by kafkasghost on (January 15, 2014, 20:38 GMT)

Spot on with nearly every major point. What especially rankles is the choice of Tremlett, and, as the article so rightly says, the utter contempt it shows for the County game, the staff at Surrey, and most of all, for those bowlers and batsmen who craft worthy careers which are ignored due to some perceived lack. Compton and Onions should have been in that Ashes squad. Would it have changed the result? No. Would England have played with a little more spirit? Certainly. A jaded group of players, tired and bored need revivifying by County players eager to make a name for themselves. While the selection policy of the earl nineties was stupid in the extreme, the hermetically remote Team England of 2014 also needs to change, and quickly.

Posted by pjrfd on (January 14, 2014, 22:56 GMT)

Next time there's an earthquake or unscheduled solar eclipse,Lord MacLaurin will find a way to blame that on there being too many first-class counties, too.Merging to 12 teams leaves only 6 current counties unaffected- Yorks & Lancs to become 'Aye-LadShire'? Ridiculous - will he be so keen if his own is one of those consigned to the scrapheap? Possible*real*reasons the Ashes were lost:(1)Cyclical change- inexperienced Aus team getting better;experienced Eng players just past their peak.(2)Excessive number of Ashes tests in last few years- no matter how players may spout that 'This is the Ashes,it's huge',when they've won them 3 times in 4 years, can they really be quite as motivated for the 16th-20th Ashes Tests in that period, as for the first 5? (3)The ludicrous, loathsome need of modern British crowds,to bait & ridicule an opponent when he's down,may just have spurred on MG Johnson's development into a world-class bowling all-rounder? (4)Simply,6 of 10 times,being out for under 200.

Posted by jb633 on (January 14, 2014, 21:45 GMT)

@Big_Chikka, the ECB now pay for the expenses of players and coaches when travelling to any ECB youth event. I am just saying I think there needs to be more coming from the individuals within the minority groups as the ECB are trying desperately to find any young talent within those groups. At the end of the day if the counties offer the trial, pay for expenses and encourage participation then surely the rest is down to the individual or the parents to perhaps move out of the comfort zone and give it a go. In terms of the state school argument i agree entirely. I think one logistical problem with cricket in the UK is the fact it always clashes with exams and has to cope with a shortened summer term. The state school cricket simply must be improved as it is an utter shambles at the moment. Kids need to be encouraged more at primary school and hopefully participation at a secondary school level would improve. Enough of the egg and spoon race, we want competitive sport with winners.

Posted by Cyril_Knight on (January 14, 2014, 21:04 GMT)

The first division of the County Championship is by so way the most competitive form of the longer game. The standard is incredibly high with many home-grown players performing superbly. The ECB have a vendetta against the counties, they want to bankrupt the smaller ones, the Leics and Derbys, to eventually create their franchise T20 league. The baffling selections of out of form players show the contempt with which the establishment view County cricket.

It's time for a rethink, but it's nothing to do with the failure of the England team. County cricket fans have to start turning up, which is even harder with the nonsensical fixtures produced by HQ. Cricket lovers love watching great players, we need the England players to actually play County cricket, when Graeme Smith and Kevin Pietersen are playing for Surrey this summer, you can guarantee attendances will swell. The obsession ECB has with T20 will ruin cricket for everyone unless all cricket fans actually start attending matches.

Posted by JG2704 on (January 14, 2014, 20:48 GMT)

@salazar555 - I agree that loyalty is starting to go out of the player and Jos leaving still hurts. I suppose Somerset were put into an impossible situation whereby if they bowed to Jos they'd have been showing disloyalty to Craig. I certainly don't think it should be encouraged though

Posted by StraightDRIVvE on (January 14, 2014, 19:53 GMT)

County Cricket, is not responsible for Englands failure.

The people responsible for selection is to blame, I mean some should not be even be in the squad.

Another thing is state schools need to play more cricket and more University needs to be part of MCC universites giving people with state school background an opportunity whilst assuring there parents their academic is not at risk. Not everyone might want to go to those handful universities part of mcc as it may be too far or a certain subject is not there. this will ensure the roots of england cricket is giving players with talent an opportunity all over the country rather than them worrying what shall I follow/sacrifice. Universities can also organise series/matches abroad or foreign University teams playing university in England. This allows both sports(cricket) and educational development.

Posted by salazar555 on (January 14, 2014, 18:40 GMT)

The structure top to bottom is bust, more local cricket clubs are needed right across the country and more cricket needs to be played in state schools. Get it right at grass roots and hopefully we'll see the results at the top. For too long cricket has been a game for the privileged so it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that we have to have 4-5 overseas players making up the numbers because we can't find players good enough for the top level. The population of the UK which is 65 million, 3 times that of Australia can't get a decent team of home grown players because they are being chosen from a very small group within that 65 million.

@ Chikka - The huge group that is missing out is not minorities who make up 10% of the UK population, it's white working class kids in state schools who by far have the biggest numbers of people and are the least represented

Posted by Big_Chikka on (January 14, 2014, 16:21 GMT)

@jb633 yes, some kids don't turn up to county trials, some parents can't even afford the junior age group county circuit traveling up and down the country either.......to clarify the point though : 1,consider state school cricketers to be in a minority, as would be people from west indies in the set up...its not just the race; 2. accept the statistically proven point that while asians play lots of cricket the data shows more are disproportionately discarded by counties come the business end of contracts/trials. why? its not talent, if one were to believe that that, india, sri lanka and pakistan would never have won world cups, produced the akrams, desilva's of this world. as i said open the game up, more routes to the top not just academies, more opportunities and above all more competition so it really is the best we see in the national side. win / lose pick the best from a much larger pool, e.g. make it possible again to play for england schools even if your don't have a county.

Posted by   on (January 14, 2014, 16:09 GMT)

Having coached cricket myself, the interest in cricket would be there at the lower levels if the coaches understood the young players more. Then there is the issue of cost: in a time of "recession" parents cannot afford cricket bats of several tens of pounds, and then pads, boxes, helmets, gloves, whites, spikes or trainers. Then there's the length of the game and how disconnected some kids can feel from cricket. That's the long term issue: the short term issue is that England over coach what they have got. The pool of players is such that they can be over coached to be too correct. I say to stop that. In Australia I am certain that if they want a bowler to bowl more accurately, they'd set up a set of cones in the area they want the bowler to bowl and say, "Go on, get the ball in that area". They wouldn't start changing the action to achieve it unless there was something woefully wrong. Mitchell Johnson's action isn't so different now: just stronger. Keep it simple from the ground, up

Posted by Gazzypops on (January 14, 2014, 14:08 GMT)

Crikey. A great article and some consistently well-considered comments too! Must agree with the lack of school cricket but that didn't cause this 5-0 just as much as it didn't do much for the 3-0 last English summer. The main problem, as so many here have already said, was an England team that had collectively played dreadfully against an Australian side that excelled itself.

Posted by jb633 on (January 14, 2014, 14:07 GMT)

@BigChikka, not sure I agree with all your points here. I do quite a lot of coaching on top of my job and think it is wrong to say minority groups are somehow discouraged from playing. I am all for trying to get anyone (regardless of race, background) to enjoy the game and play as high as they can and want to. What I have noticed with some minority groups is they are incredibly reluctant to participate without their social group with them. For example I coach some brilliant players of Pakistani orginis and believe them to be good enough for the league side and county trials. They have been invited by counties to trial but sadly a lot of them never show up. I am not sure how we can reach these people but there must be some drive from the individual to play at the top. I think a lot of it comes down to support from the parents as lots of them see cricket as a waste of time, time which should be spent studying or with family. Im not saying this opinion is wrong, it is just a common one.

Posted by   on (January 14, 2014, 13:58 GMT)

Typical fickle mentality to play the blame-game at every angle possible. As others have stated, England won 3 Ashes in a row and now it's panic-stations because they lost this one. The only alarming thing about this is the manner in how they lost, there was no competitive fight at all, as the Senior Batsmen were nowhere to be seen and usually when you tour down-under against a good Aussie side, you need your experienced players to perform under pressure, but that wasn't the case this time round. Complacency and a unsettled dressing-room amongst some individuals is never good for Squad morale. Australia's upcoming tour of SA will tell us how much they've really improved, which could put a interesting perspective to how bad England actually were.

Posted by woody3 on (January 14, 2014, 13:41 GMT)

I believe people put too much emphasis on systems. Aussie system doesnt change much and go from losing several series between whitewash wins. I think the exceptional game breaking players determine test success, if Shane Warnes parents come to England when he was a kid the last 20 years of ashes would be different. Mitchell Johnson, an extraordinarily talented cricketer who has generally underperformed broke England this series, where was he last summer? Failed by Aussie system? Put 3-4 game breakers like Haddin/Warner/Johnson together and crucial sessions were won. Warner debued for Aus without playing a shield game, shows how essential the fc system is now.

Posted by igorolman on (January 14, 2014, 13:09 GMT)

County cricket *is* to blame for England losing.

Australia finally found a decent opening batsman prepared to patiently build an innings and let the strokemakers play round him. And who does Rogers play for? Middlesex.

I'd love to know how the counties are at fault when the England team don't even play for them! And then England pick players woefully out of form (Tremlett), ignore those in form (Onions) and completely ruin players who have come through the ranks (Finn, Bairstow, Kerrigan).

Posted by MarkTaffin on (January 14, 2014, 12:48 GMT)

As many have pointed out, some of our "best" players don't play county cricket so it's hard to use it as a perfect barometer.

HOWEVER, if you pick the players who do well in the CC, ideally Div 1, like Taylor, Compton and Onions, there's a far better chance they'll do better than those who don't, say, like Carberry, Tremmers (sadly) and Rankin.

And, of course, the Performance brigade route isn't roducing any superstars who are taken out of CC...

Half the side that plays at Lords against SL should be those with the best CC records for the summer at that time

Posted by BradmanBestEver on (January 14, 2014, 11:54 GMT)

England's serious, hard-wired faults were shown up by the Australians - this is the important thing that must be taken from this monumental pasting that was the recent Ashes series.

In short - too many English players are not capable of doing the hard yards when the going gets tough.

The English selectors need to select a different type of player if they are to compete with tough teams like Australia is rapidly becoming.

Posted by george204 on (January 14, 2014, 11:51 GMT)

I was wondering when one of these "country cricket is the root of all evil" articles would appear. It is, of course, total nonsense: as several in these comments have already pointed out, the players who failed most spectacularly play hardly any county cricket. As George Dobell has written repeatedly, the crazy scheduling of the Championship is not helping England produce test players, but that's a different issue entirely as the changes to accomodate 20/20 are too recent to have had much effect on the current squad. To blame county cricket for this latest debacle is preposterous. England lost because Australia played better (not stated often enough), because Australia wanted it more, because England were complacent, because the England setup has become excessively bloated & micro-managerial, and because two of the three leaders (a problem in itself) aren't really leadership material.

Posted by PJD74 on (January 14, 2014, 11:18 GMT)

Good article, which raises some interesting points on the problems with county cricket and the structure of sport in this country in general.

However, to blame the Ashes debacle on County Cricket is absurd. One of the few plus points from the Ashes, Stokes, spent last summer playing County Cricket, whilst the biggest failures Cook, Trott, KP, Bell, Prior, Swann and Anderson haven't played County Cricket for some time. Even if County Cricket was producing world class players, these 7 were always going to play, so the Ashes didn't highlight the problem with County Cricket but the failures of the uncompetitive and insular central contract system.

Posted by Big_Chikka on (January 14, 2014, 10:50 GMT)

whats wrong, 1. too few opportunities; 2. too few routes to the top; 3. academy's not allowing in late bloomers; 3. elitist mentality with private schools dominating selection at county and minor county level; 4. reducing the game instead of expanding it; 5. disproportionate opportunities for minority groups; 6. THE PEOPLE RUNNING THE GAME............. Some things to think about , 30 years ago cricket was popular among west indians why not now? ans instead allowing those teams into the leagues administrators created barriers to entry, knowing full well the teams would eventually fold for lack of access to something better.........in short an elitist game for a few, i'm in the game but this is the truth for all but a small group....the game is beautiful, and there should be room and opportunity for all..................and at different times of the players development lifecycle

Posted by Yevghenny on (January 14, 2014, 10:49 GMT)

2013 Ashes won at home where Jimmy Anderson is effective.


err...Jimmy wasn't too bad in the 2010 ashes in australia

Posted by TheVoiceOfReason on (January 14, 2014, 10:32 GMT)

"There did not seem much wrong with County Cricket when England won three Ashes series on the trot 2009 - 2013!"

2013 Ashes won at home where Jimmy Anderson is effective.

Is it a coincidence that the decline in number of foreign born players has been matched by a decline in Team England fortunes?

There are too many Counties for the number of players being produced by the system. Either step up the talent identification & development structures or stop making it harder for good quality foreign players from SA, etc. to take up County contracts in the place of an English player who will not add value to the system & just waste development resources.

Sheffield Shield = 66 players in a full round of matches Sunfoil Series = 66 players in a full round of matches County Championship = 198 players in a full round of matches

Where is the quality when you have no England players, struggle to find top class overseas internationals & you discourage the signing of Kolpak/EU players?

Posted by RGWRGW on (January 14, 2014, 10:03 GMT)

There did not seem much wrong with County Cricket when England won three Ashes series on the trot 2009 - 2013! Knee-jerk tinkering last thing we need now.

Posted by SquareLegs on (January 14, 2014, 10:00 GMT)

I think this article sums things up pretty well. At county level, first class cricket has not changed much over the past 3 or 4 years, since England were climbing towards the No 1 spot. England now play a huge number of Tests each year, however - about twice as many as South Africa, who supplanted them at No 1. Perhaps England play too many Tests. Whatever the case, the one thing I am sure of is that MacLaurin is a nitwit.

Posted by   on (January 14, 2014, 9:58 GMT)

England won consecutive Ashes series prior to the recent calamity with the county structure no different from what it is at present. The recent thrashing is entirely due to factors such as bad team selection, weak and negative captaincy, weak fielding and defensive attitude.

Posted by zoot364 on (January 14, 2014, 9:58 GMT)

It's the same county structure that was in place when England won the 2005 Ashes, when they lost the following Ashes series 5-0 and when they became the No.1 Test team. So what conclusion can be drawn from that? I thought with central contracts and key player development through England age group cricket at youth level the current approach is to by-pass the county system as much as possible.

Posted by JG2704 on (January 14, 2014, 9:57 GMT)

@mikeyp147 on (January 14, 2014, 0:11 GMT) I don't think you can go too much with what Onions stats are in SA. I think he has only bowled in 3 inns in 3 FC matches. His 1st match was 0-49 , his 2nd was washed out and his last match 3-43 and 1-23 (combined 4-68). In his last match - when Tino was hammering everyone - and it can happen - let's not forget Agar taking a liking to our 1st string attack - he ended up with figures of 4-88 at an ER of less than 3. So I guess he must have had ultra brilliant figure before Tino started swinging. Our batsmen were more to blame and it would more than likely still have been 5-0 and Onions may still not have got a look in anyway but the guy does it year in,year out and only half the matches are played at Durham

Posted by   on (January 14, 2014, 9:15 GMT)

My son is 7 and has never played any competitive sport at school! Yes he has never played any of our major sports and their lies the problem of British sport. All the schools are the same around here, I think they do something after school but I have never received any information on it, even sports day has changed the last few years were they don't allow any kids to lose! It is an absolute joke, can you imagine this happening in Australia or NZ. It does not matter how good the training or facilities are for young sportsmen if their is no pool to draw from because sport is not compulsory at school. I don't see this changing in my life time with the left wing nature of our school teachers. If you look at the England team it's very embarrassing, I have no problem with using players born in another country and I think we have been quite clever in how we have done that, but were are the English born players!

Posted by   on (January 14, 2014, 8:27 GMT)

The number of players per county picked for England is not a good metric. Appearances would be better. How many times did, Kabir Ali and Dimi Masceraneas, Usman Afzaal, Luke Wright, Martin Saggers and James Taylor play TESTS for England (after all tests is what we are talking about here) the average is less than 2 tests per player. The disparity between the top counties and the rest is enormous by any meaningful metric. The bottom Five counties have barely contributed enough appearances to warrant needing to take your socks off To count them. And over a ten year period that's a much more meaningful stat. I'm not counting Kevin Pietersen as a product of Hampshire. He played one first class game for them in total and certainly wasn't a product of their first class system or county game.

Posted by 200ondebut on (January 14, 2014, 8:14 GMT)

The Counties in effect run the ECB - so defacto "yes" they deserve part of the blame.

That said you cant really pin one series result on how the infrastructure is set up. The infrastructure didnt create the complete lack of form of most of the senior players. This is the coaching staff and management that ned to take the heat for this.

You do though have to question whether the current set up is viable. The counties themselves have to import non-qualified players to fill their sides and the structure doesnt allow the best players to be playing each other. It is all diluted because of the number.

The two tier system also doesnt work. You only have to look over time at the number of players that made up the national side from Div 2. Time to review the structure. Sure, have the same number of profesional teams - but lets get them into a proper pyramid structure.

Posted by   on (January 14, 2014, 7:54 GMT)

Can't see me ever supporting a team called South Midlands or whatever. I have no emotional attachment to made up areas like that. Far from it. Local rivals are exactly the teams that have traditionally been our main focus for winning. Worcestershire still remember Gloucestershires objection to Kabir Ali and the idea of being Ina team with them? Pretty certain I'll have no interest in that, certainly wouldn't pay to watch them.

Posted by   on (January 14, 2014, 7:39 GMT)

The anti competitive rules regarding senior players and Kolpak players means that Worcestershire and other sides have prioritised fielding many young and untried players who are cheap and meet the new rules. Most of these players will not make the grade and are certainly not putting any pressure on those higher up the performance ladder. Over time the county system is kidding itself it is strong as below average teams play each other and the assumption is that the winners are "good" when in fact, objectively, they are just the best of a poor bunch.

Posted by   on (January 14, 2014, 2:05 GMT)

give ireland test status now we are also on a par with england as we are capable of losing 5 0 to the aussies but would put up a better fight and not crumble into our shells

Posted by salazar555 on (January 14, 2014, 0:54 GMT)


There isn't much loyalty in sport. Players go where the money is. That's why the IPL exists. If players have England futures on their mind and extra money (which I think Div 1 players should get over division 2 players), then they will go. Butler has just moved to Lancashire, not because it's his home or because he wanted to move but because he got told if you don't start keeping wicket then you can expect to lose your place in the England team.

As such, loyalty to county went out of the window and he's gone.

Posted by mikeyp147 on (January 14, 2014, 0:11 GMT)

I really do wish people would stop babbling on about Graham Onions as if his non-selection was the reason we were hammered in the Ashes.

He's a good county bowler who plays half of his matches on a seamer's paradise against half-decent batsmen. His figures in South African domestic cricket have been average at best, and since his injury problems he bowls at roughly the same pace that Tremlett and Bresnan have been widely pilloried for.

Furthermore, anyone remember his last Test? Getting belted all around Birmingham by Tino Best?

There are plenty of reasons why we lost the Ashes, but Graham Onions wouldn't have changed much. Get over it, folks.

Posted by Puffin on (January 14, 2014, 0:10 GMT)

If you select the wrong players then it doesn't matter if the county system is functioning or not.

Posted by   on (January 13, 2014, 23:47 GMT)

What a superb and insightful piece.

Posted by liz1558 on (January 13, 2014, 23:32 GMT)

Nothing to do with county problems. In the short term, England lost because the series was a bridge too far. If there had only been one Ashes series last year - either in Aus or England - England would've won. And that would've been right. In the long term, England couldn't maintain the right levels because the side has been in decline for the last two years. This process was accelerated by having to play two Ashes series in a year. The decline was reflected in the style of play - which was just getting slower, tighter, less imposing and in need of overhauling. The second Ashes series has made this crystal clear.

Posted by yorkslanka on (January 13, 2014, 22:14 GMT)

is it the fault of county cricket or the central contracts that restrict players from palying for their counties?

Posted by   on (January 13, 2014, 22:00 GMT)

I've been crunching numbers. Based upon the last 10 years test match players split from counties as follows:- EAOE It was from Wiki! Yorks 10 Warwicks 6 Surrey Somerset Durham 5 Lancs Essex 4 Kent Notts Middlesex Sussex 3 Hamps Leics Northants 2 Gloucs Worcs Glam 1

So in actual fact the only county not to produce a player that was first picked for England whilst playing for the county (so Blackwell doesn't count) is Derbyshire. But hey Devon Malcolm doesn't miss by much!!...

Therefore in reality the split of players being produced by the counties is pretty even, if you disregard Yorkshire who are streets ahead on everything tha Knaws...

So who do you chop them Lord Mc????

Posted by JG2704 on (January 13, 2014, 21:45 GMT)

@salazar555 on (January 13, 2014, 17:39 GMT) That's unfair on players who have both England ambitions but want to stay loyal to their home county. It's hard enough for the clubs of lesser standing to keep their prized assets as it is

Posted by glovescarf on (January 13, 2014, 21:42 GMT)

Lord MacLaurin did a lot of admirable work when he was chairman of the ECB but it's a typical knee jerk reaction after an ignominious defeat to put the blame on county cricket. I don't seem to remember him crediting the county set-up after England won the Ashes four times in five series, became world number 1, beat India away for the first time in nearly 30 years, World Twenty20 champions etc. There is some merit in what he says that some counties are contributing less to the greater cause than others but surely no one can suggest the result would have been any different irrespective of who was chosen and from where?

Posted by lodd on (January 13, 2014, 21:27 GMT)

Great reaction and debate to the Hopps piece. Would like to chat with him.........

Posted by jb633 on (January 13, 2014, 21:24 GMT)

The debacle of this tour would not have been changed by any changes of the county circuit. IMO blame for the desperate performance on this tour can be easily apportioned. The selectors were incredibly conceited in the selection of players and in believed their knowledge was superior to the facts and stats of the county game (Tremlett over Onions, selection of Carberry/Finn). The players have been mollcuddled for too long now and their mistakes pre ashes tour seem to have not even come into consideration. The batting in the first ashes and in both series was well below par but it seems to me like the management have done nothing about this. Also Australia's bowling was far too quick for us and the fact we have been playing on turgid pitches since 2009 has come back to bite us as we seem to have lost the technique of facing quick bowling on decent wickets.

Posted by TripleCenturian on (January 13, 2014, 21:18 GMT)

It's bizarre to blame the county system for England's failings when one of the few bright lights to emerge was Stokes who was a product of the newest county on the circuit. Would he have been there if Durham had not been given first class status or would we have had to rely on Northants to continue to talent spot in the North East as they did with Willey, Milburn and others?

The Ashes demise was caused by the failings of the old guard who have sod all to do with the county game these days. Cook, Bell, Swann, Prior, Anderson and Pietersen would not know how to find their way to a county changing room these days.

Posted by jb633 on (January 13, 2014, 21:07 GMT)

I made this point a couple of years ago whilst we were getting thumped in the UAE but our younger players need to try and play as much as they can in overseas conditions. I know A tours have been set up to try and get the youngsters to familiarise with foreign conditions but these tours lack the intensity and skill levels a professional domestic circuit would provide. I think even if the ECB have to subside provinces or state sides our youngsters must find a way into overseas domestic circuits. I applaud the decision of Graham Onions to get himself playing cricket in South Africa. More of our guys should do the same and the ECB should be doing something to make this happen.

Posted by jb633 on (January 13, 2014, 21:00 GMT)

A huge thing I believe is wrong with county cricket is the fact that after the ages of 16/17 counties do not seem to pick guys who have outstanding club form and are better than the guys in the squad. I remember a few years ago my club had Simon Marshall as the lead spinner (back then he played for Lancs). In the club circuit it was almost a running joke that he played professionally because he couldn't land it on the cut strip. By comparison 3 other leg spinners just within the league churned out 100 + wickets each year and yet never got a look in at a county. Surely there must be avenues for players who do not make the cut age 16/17 to succeed in the county game. As a rule for example spinners do not tend to come into their own until their mid 20's, leg spinners late 20's. There must be more communication between counties and the clubs in this country so talent does not go amiss. Look how well the leg spinner aged 40 has done for the Rajistan Royals (plucked out of club cricket).

Posted by Jaffa79 on (January 13, 2014, 21:00 GMT)

Every single Ashes series, the losing team descends into self-analytical gloom; for the last few Ashes, the Aussies system has been questioned and an over reliance on T20 has been blamed. Now they win, that same system has been lauded. Similarly, the English set up, with it's 2 divisions, central contracts, Lions set up was applauded for producing and protecting international cricketers. Truth is, that you need to not get so self absorbed, dust yourself down, admit you were beaten, be certain that the leadership is the one to take you forward then get on with it! All you need to do, is give youth a chance; the older brigade have been found wanting, so allow the youngster a chance to shine.

Posted by BWinfield17 on (January 13, 2014, 20:53 GMT)

To suggest we improve the England team by merging counties is incredible. Surely this is like suggesting we merge Manchester City and Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham, Liverpool and Everton, etc to try to improve the England football team. Seek to improve the quality of young players coming through, of course, but don't treat county teams like their sole purpose of existence is to feed the national team.

Posted by   on (January 13, 2014, 20:27 GMT)

Part of the issue is too many average/below par overseas players coming in for a month, and too many old pros(living off one good season when they were on there up) clogging up places in starting xi across the county scene.

There are plenty of good talented players in county feeder leagues that just dont or cant get a chance because of this attitude from counties.

Posted by mrpfister on (January 13, 2014, 20:22 GMT)

Thank you Mr.Hopps for responding to my comment. I think you hit the nail on the head there 'Integrate it and make it long-lasting.' I'll subscribe to that.

Posted by salazar555 on (January 13, 2014, 20:07 GMT)


I lived in a village growing up surrounded by fields. We had three football fields for a population of 2000 people and no cricket pitch. We only played football and did some athletics in the summer at school. I only got into cricket when I was about 22. Never played, just watched. The only school that played cricket within 20 miles of where I lived was a Grammar school.

I'm sure you and I aren't the only ones around the country who never got a chance to play growing up and now it's on pay per view, there are millions who won't even get a chance to watch

Posted by CricketingStargazer on (January 13, 2014, 20:06 GMT)

@salazar555 The only *slight* justification *might* be to exclude Scottish players. However, I challenge you to name one Ireland or Ireland A player who does not play county cricket. A Scot has captained England not long ago. It is just a historical happenstance that the side is called England, even though it is the England and Wales Cricket Board: it does and always has represented all British cricketers. Scottish players have club and Minor County cricket, but aspire to play for England if they think that they can make the grade.

The fact that there are players whose parents or grandparents emigrated - in my family's case like many others, after WW I - and their sons, born abroad returned later, should not exclude anyone playing for England (Nick Compton comes from a very English cricket family - check up the Comptons). Other countries use far more flimsy national connections than having a British parent, or having settled and been educated in a country to play for that country.

Posted by mtfb on (January 13, 2014, 20:04 GMT)

Central contracts and over coaching are the root cause. Players need to play. Bowlers like Harmison needed to bowl to get into and maintain rhythm - not gym and net sessions. Bairstow has been handled dreadfully. England take players from county cricket, stop them playing meaningful cricket, coach any natural talent out of them, and then have them carrying drinks for months on end. Let them play for their counties.

Posted by salazar555 on (January 13, 2014, 19:59 GMT)

@cod and chips

What about them? The discussion was about whether England should be counted as having a population of 65 million (the UK size) or 52 million which is the population of England. I argued it should go off the England size as it is the England cricket team not the UK cricket team. Scotland have their own team, as do Ireland. Whether they are any good is neither here not there, they have their own teams.

Posted by SkyBlueAndy on (January 13, 2014, 19:55 GMT)

The counties at the lower end of div 2 might sit up a bit if there was the threat of relegation on to the Minor Counties circuit with the top MC team taking their place?

Posted by salazar555 on (January 13, 2014, 19:45 GMT)

Splitting the teams into 2 divisions was suppose to solve the problem. The cream and England hopefuls were suppose to be in division 1 and the lesser players in division 2 as is the way in football. Players are still being selected for England in division 2, they are not being forced to move, the best are not playing the best

Stats mean less and less as we are unable to determine the averages. Is 50 in the 2nd division better than 40 in the 1st division? Without the best all playing in div 1 and England only picking from div 1 we will never know

Don't blame the counties for England selectors failings


Posted by Truemans_Ghost on (January 13, 2014, 19:35 GMT)

I'm a bit mystified. Cook, Pieterson, Bell, Anderson, Prior all of whom were formed by country cricket and have been excellent in the past, but have hardly played in the Championship for years all failed. If those 4 had even average series by their standards, the result would have been very different. County Cricket caused this how?

Posted by CodandChips on (January 13, 2014, 19:28 GMT)

@salazar555 what about those born abroad who have grown up here (eg Stokes, Prior) who therefore primarily consider themselves English and are considered by their friends to be so. You probably encounter these sorts of people in your daily life, and you would only consider them to be non-British if they were to tell you they were born abroad

Posted by   on (January 13, 2014, 19:26 GMT)

Agree about the lack of cricket in state schools. I went to a comprehensive in London and barely picked up a cricket bat the whole time. I didn't actually develop a real interest in cricket until my mid-twenties. What a waste.

It's basically a class issue. Cricket is still generally a middle class game in England. So us working class kids get very little exposure to the game. Especially now it's all pay-per view. And test match tickets are £80 or more per day.

Having said that, getting cricket into state schools is no guarantee of success. The England football team has young players gagging to make it pro all over the country. But the National Football team are still as awful, listless and unsuccessful as ever. The cricket team have actually done marginally better over the last ten years.

Anyway, was the failure of players IN the England team, who never play country cricket, that let England down. The same players who were world beaters a couple of years ago. What happened to them?

Posted by   on (January 13, 2014, 18:53 GMT)

The batsmen don't bat often enough and the bowlers don't bowl enough due to Team England. Bairstow should be a regular in all formats but has gone back due to being a Drinks Waiter for most of the summer instead of batting & keeping with Yorkshire

YCCC had a similar issue with Rashid who was ruined by the way England treated him

England have done well but with some luck and some strange decisions - Woakes, Kerrigan, Tremlett to name a few

Posted by 200ondebut on (January 13, 2014, 18:50 GMT)

The County structure is massively out of date - but they are the ones in charge of the ECB. In the same way that turkeys dont vote for Xmas - counties wont vote for restructure.

Posted by OhhhhhMattyMatty on (January 13, 2014, 18:42 GMT)

No one would care if you got rid of 4 or 5 of the counties by merging them, or by creating a city based structure.

Some of these counties are an embarrassment to the term "centres of excellence". They should be held accountable and punished!

Posted by Whatsgoinoffoutthere on (January 13, 2014, 18:26 GMT)

How can the county system be to blame when the best players hardly ever play?

How is anyone supposed to develop an interest in cricket when the television rights are auctioned off to a pay-to-view channel, with lip service paid to those not in a position to pay via a brief highlights package at best?

Not too long ago Yorkshire provided few players to the national team and Durham were often dismissed as a basket case; this is far from the current situation & what goes around comes around. How can amalgamation of counties be in the best interests of the game when the individual contribution of each county to the national sides varies so greatly between generations of their players?

The approach of several leading characters in the Tesco setup led to a stellar rise in performance, followed by the current decline. Boom & bust. Live for now & don't plan for tomorrow. Knee-jerk management & get out before someone spots the culprits. Is county cricket to get the same makeover?

Posted by CodandChips on (January 13, 2014, 18:25 GMT)

Arguably England's selectors should take more notice of county cricket. Continuously ignoring James Taylor (although he was next in line for the Old Trafford test, but he has played for England in all forms just 4 times).

For the ashes, picking Rankin and Tremlett over Onions and Jordan. Picking Bairstow as a reserve keeper over Davies. Although in fairness Stokes over (arguably) the more deserving Woakes was a good call.

Posted by salazar555 on (January 13, 2014, 18:23 GMT)


Regardless of where players are selected from, England is England not the UK. We have players playing for England who were born in Zimbabwe, South Africa, New Zealand, West Indies. Surely we aren't going to count those countries as the UK or England.

Scotland have their own team, as do Ireland. You could class England as England and Wales as Wales do not have their own team but England cannot be classed as the UK when Scotland and Ireland have their own teams, and therefore their population should not be counted

Posted by Johnloshed on (January 13, 2014, 18:10 GMT)

I remember Messrs Parkinson, Willis and Atherton saying something like this but went quiet after 2005 Ashes win. Why didn't Maclaurin propose this when England won three consecutive series? Will fewer counties make Ian Bell recover his form or stop the selectors picking the wrong pace attack? And if 12 counties didn't improve matters would he want further reductions?

Posted by CricketingStargazer on (January 13, 2014, 18:02 GMT)


No. Any player born in the UK can play for England and English counties are also the source of First Class cricket for all players born Scotland and Ireland so, actually I should probably have used the population of the British Isles rather than the UK.

I did think of just using England and then thought of players such as Mike Denness, Gavin Hamilton, Boyd Rankin and many, many more who were not born in England., but play for English counties, without including all the Welsh who have their own county side.

Posted by skilebow on (January 13, 2014, 17:49 GMT)

CricketingStargazer - Completely agree with you about the test players. Plus the ECB should give each county money to sign a really high quality overseas player.

Think the problem England have had in this series has been down to poor man management. Yorkshire have already come out and said they are appalled at how their young players have been treated in the last year or so for England

Posted by   on (January 13, 2014, 17:45 GMT)

Hi David. It is very annoying (as you can see!) that Leicester get singled out as the club not pulling its weight. Effectively we are already a feeder club anyway, as Notts and other 1st div clubs have consistantly creamed off our good home grown players for some years now. - I won't do the list! but it is clear for all to see.

If the ECB want to improve the quality and breadth of their player development pool, they might consider levelling the financial playing field to encourage all 18 teams to develop their own players rather than buying domestic success. -See the football premier league and the England football team to see what happens when you stop developing home grown talent.

Lets also be honest, England's success over the last 10 years has been skewed by lot's of players who as a minimum cut their teeth outside English cricket....Not players fully home grown...

Posted by salazar555 on (January 13, 2014, 17:39 GMT)


It's England, not the UK. England population is about 52 million

The model is fine as long as it is made clear to players that they will only be picked for national duty from Division 1. Players must be forced to move to sides in Division one if they want to play for England. You will then have the best players all made up from 9 sides.

If players like Bopara, Carberry, Kerrigan and so on continue to be selected on division 2 form it makes a mockery of having two divisions. All the best players should be in division one so the best batsman can fight it out against the best bowlers with the cream coming to the top

Posted by InsideHedge on (January 13, 2014, 17:38 GMT)

Kudos to David Hopps for kickstarting an important discussion. You nailed it when you state that Team England takes credit for wins but blames the counties for defeats.

Last season, everyone was astounded with the early season Lions fixtures clashing with impt county fixtures so early in the season. Some counties suffered more than others.

The showpiece Lord's Final no longer creates the buzz of old, esp the glory days of the 70s/80s. I also believe the prices to attend a single day's play at a county game is too high: 15 Pounds at most counties. Memberships are too expensive for anyone aged between 16 and 21, there are notable exceptions such as Notts that offer a Youth Membership but most counties charge Adult prices as soon as you're 17 yrs old.

But if you think things are bad, at least Eng doesn't tour overseas smack in the middle of the domestic season unlike the sub continental teams The advantages of a Northern Summer!

Posted by AlexPG on (January 13, 2014, 17:33 GMT)

Quick stat - the two players who played significant amounts of county cricket last season (Carberry and Stokes) finished second and third in England's runs scored list - and if he'd played the first test Stokes may have topped that list, and potentially been England's leading wicket taker too. Not such a bad training ground after all?

I think part of England's batting troubles was that there is little variety between the test wickets produced. The batsmen are used to slow test wickets produced to aim their game. But when they got fast, bouncy Australian wickets, the like they hadn't seen in years, they were all at sea. Hopefully the county championship can be set up to give more variety in the wickets players learn their trade on.

Posted by Mans77 on (January 13, 2014, 17:24 GMT)

Lots of interesting points to debate here, but can I suggest a very controversial, but fundamental one: Whilst we all want to see England doing well, can I challenge the notion that the Counties exist for the sole purpose of providing a strong national team? County cricket exists in its own right, as a competitive level of representative cricket and as entertainment. The most important level of the game is that which provides recreation and fulfilment to thousands in clubs and schools, and if anything, I would argue that the apparent priorities should be reversed - that the national team exists to support the county game, which in turn should be more heavily involved in increasing participation and standards within its geographical compass. (I know this is how it works financially anyway, and that a strong national team helps the finances, but there is a more fundamental point I'm trying to make here!)

Posted by CricketingStargazer on (January 13, 2014, 17:16 GMT)

There is a persistent argument that there are too many First Class counties and that we would not do it this way if we started again. Well, we did take well over a century to reach 18 counties anyway. One suggestion was to amalgamate Glamorgan and Gloucestershire: take away the only non-English county! Brilliant! Amalgamate Sussex and Kent - do they even share a common border??? If someone had suggested amalgamating Surrey and Middlesex I suspect Lord MacLaurin would not have been so keen.

However, let's take the Australian model. Just 6 sides. Concentrate the talent in a few teams. How many teams would be optimum in the UK??

2011 census: Australian 21.5 million, UK population 63.2 million. Scale the Australian model to the UK population. Optimum number of sides = 18 (actually 17.6).

Posted by   on (January 13, 2014, 17:14 GMT)

The Ashes squad was made up of old stalwarts, almost all totally out of form, and a few youngsters who were along for the experience and plenty of fielding duties while the old stalwarts rested in the pavilion between bowling spells. Never has a selection policy been so exposed before. To blame the counties for this is absurd. There are a number of players who could have been given a chance while out of form stars were rested and allowed to go back to their counties to deliver some morale boosting perfomances.

By showing too much loyalty to the old guard Flower, Miller et al built up the problem to disaster proportions.

Posted by 2.14istherunrate on (January 13, 2014, 17:10 GMT)

Instant fixes such as those proposed by Lord Mclauren may provide novel enthusiasm but I suspect nothing more. Supermarket chiefs are always satisfied by the rearrangement of the shelves-a total pain in the backside for any shopper-in an attempt to provide the appearance of better.The fact is that this usually totally confuses shoppers until the next shelf rearrangement happens escapes supermarket managers The ECB does not tell his like how to run grocery stores and supermarkets so why should his silly proposals be listened to? There is no guarantee the quality would go up, when in fact the net needs to be cast wider to find talents who perhaps are put off by the professionalism involved.

Posted by CricketingStargazer on (January 13, 2014, 17:06 GMT)

As an exile I do not get to many county games, but I do follow the commentaries and the match reports. Radio London has had as many as 20 thousand unique listeners for a day of commentary and, despite the fact that attendances do not include members(!!) the number of people paying at the gate has increased steadily over the last few years. It is certainly the most watched First Class competition in the world and several counties would claim to get regular attendances far higher than some countries see for Test cricket. The last three games that I attended (2 seasons ago), I saw 5 days play in total and respectable crowds - certainly well over 1000 in two of the games.

I do not hold with the "one man and his dog" myth.

What needs to change is for counties to see far more of their Test stars. The aim should be to play at least one third of the fixtures. Players should be encouraged to turn out for their counties rather than just training and netting when not playing internationals.

Posted by   on (January 13, 2014, 16:48 GMT)

Defeat in Australia is down to poor squad selection and then poor form of key individuals + a rejuvenated Australian team who were better led. Rejigging the country scene is a favorite hobbyhorse which wouldn't have made any difference to the Ashes debacle.

Posted by   on (January 13, 2014, 16:37 GMT)

whenever England have a bad series merging smaller counties is instantly brought up as the number 1 solution to the problems. if theres a problem with county cricket it is teams throwing money at ageing players + kolpack's in desperation for short term success. unfortunately due to EU laws, etc it'd probably be impossible to ban counties signing kolpacks or SAfrican's or Aussies who have an English granny but have no intention of playing for England. in an ideal world teams would only be able to field 1 player in County matches who isn't qualified for England but that'll probably never happen.

there are too many people at the ECB who no one really knows what they do yet they seem to look great when England are winning yet when there is a crisis they just don't know what to do.

Posted by davidhopps1 on (January 13, 2014, 16:32 GMT) - Staff member

@mrpfister and others. I gladly bang the drum for all urban youth from my, ehm, country abode. The Leicester example, however, I find striking from an Indian viewpoint considering their incontestable passion for the game. But I would not waste money on endless new schemes dreamed for or by the latest sponsor. Integrate it and make it long-lasting.

@Wafer. I was worried where it was going as well.

@DavidSimkins: Think that's a slightly emotional rendition of what I said, but your list of successful players from the county is a fair one, which of course counters the MacLaurin argument, and if the good people of Leicestershire can match your passion with deeds then that can only be positive.

Posted by salazar555 on (January 13, 2014, 16:30 GMT)

The mentality that only fee paying schools and grammar schools should play cricket is what has damaged cricket in England over the years, England have had to get overseas players to play for them because of huge amount of potential talent that is going to waste by not having more cricket played in state schools.

Posted by JG2704 on (January 13, 2014, 16:21 GMT)

Re the bowling selections for the tour. Worse than selecting Tremlett over Onions was the fact they selected the 3 lankies and between them they played 2 tests, I was dead against the Tremlett selection but to be fair to him he took 4 wkts at 30 a piece which only Broad bettered. Did they seriously expect more from him? I'm actually surprised he did that well.

Also if the schedule is so demanding then why do we have our test batsmen playing the shorter formats? Especially Root who is absolutely shot of confidence. He's the only player I can think of who has played regular cricket for Eng across all 3 formats and has probably played more CC cricket than most too. Surely the guy deserves a break and it's not like we're losing a form player by giving him a break either. Surely guys like Hales,Wright and Lumb are worth a punt in the ODIs and if you want accumulators in there what about trying guys like Taylor,Ali and Hildreth etc?

Posted by davidhopps1 on (January 13, 2014, 16:18 GMT) - Staff member

Thanks for the interest. A few replies: @Kentheavenonearth: I hope you are proved right @Pierre_Oxford. You can't cover everything in one piece! But yes the closed shop must be irritating. I'm all in favour of calling a part-time Minor Counties Division, division 3E and 3W or whatever is most appropriate and funding club/school work in tbose regions and perhaps even having a 1 up, 1 down play-off with Division 2, although I am not 100% sure on that last one.

Posted by Nutcutlet on (January 13, 2014, 16:12 GMT)

The appeal of county cricket endures, but it is impoverished by the lack of the centrally contracted players who are wrappped in cotton wool and often have no genuine form because the management wants them to rest, train and mentally prepare for the upcoming international matches rather than appear for their counties. That is wrong. The England management owes it to the county cricket-loving public to let their stars play for their teams and develop some form and confidence. There are too many players on the fringe of international honours who are caught in the doldrums of being contracted (in some form or other), yet play very little competitive cricket for county or country. The example of Bairstow is prime. No, it's no good shovelling off the England's failures at all levels in the Ashes on the county circuit - far too convenient for Andy Flower et all. Eng's failings were down to micromanagement, a complete lack in the joy of playing, awful selections & poor, uninspired captaincy.

Posted by   on (January 13, 2014, 16:11 GMT)

Ah its time for the 'Things aren't going well so let's blame Leicestershire' again... So tell me, who has won the domestic T20 cup the most times? How many teams have won the County championship twice in the last 20 years?

Broad, Taylor, Nixon, Snape, Maddy.. Heard of them? ... and how about Lewis, Mullally, Defraitas, Habib, Agnew, Gower....

Still think Leicestershire add nothing to English cricket ?.. Okay.. James Whittaker played for ... and as for the assertion we have no 'Leicester' players there are 4-5 Asian players in the squad.

But you are absolutely right. It is Leicestershire's fault we lost 5-0 to the Aussies. After all they are on record as hating playing at Grace Road....

Posted by JG2704 on (January 13, 2014, 16:11 GMT)

Not sure how the international fixtures rack up with yesteryear's schedule but the CC schedule is less than it used to be.I remember when they often used to cram 2 3 day games and a 40 over game into a week and the Eng players would play alot of those games when not on Eng duty. It probably (as mentioned before) led to shortened careers ets but now I reckon we overdo the rest and I wonder sometimes if our players lack both physically and mentally becuase they lack stamina? As a Somerset fan - Overton was wasted in the ODI squad and Eng really took the buscuit when they demanded Somerset rested Compton only for them to drop him a month or so (a few inns later) - not to mention them making him guest for Worcs where he outperformed the 2 Yorkies both for Somerset and Worcs before they said no. The way I see it is if Eng continue to overrest players when they're in form and continue every game with players who are in woeful touch then how can the counties be to blame here?

Posted by JG2704 on (January 13, 2014, 15:58 GMT)

@Mr Hopps - Just one point to pick up on it says re Jonny whether keeping wicket remains a sensible career move. He always has kept wicket hasn't he so keeping wicket is not a career move?

Posted by jackiethepen on (January 13, 2014, 15:54 GMT)

Mr Tesco would never criticise the selling of cricket's future to Sky preventing most kids from being familiar with the game.

Apart from that, is this another red herring to divert us from the England coaching system rightly criticised by David Hopps where players are kept from playing for their Counties for months on end for no reason than carrying the drinks and being over coached. The players would be far better - and be fitter for purpose - if they actually played cricket. The England team players were all banned from playing for their Counties at the end of the summer Ashes. In the past many would have returned to their Counties for important end of season games.

It is still extraordinary that everything seems to feature as a possible cause of the Ashes failure except the conduct of the coach Flower and captain Cook. Until this is addressed fans are sceptical that any meaningful review will take place.

Posted by salazar555 on (January 13, 2014, 15:43 GMT)

Selectors are at fault. They have picked players who are not in form, especially in the backup players. I'm not sure the selectors give much credit to county cricket anyway when the leading wicket taker in county cricket couldn't even make the squad (G. Onions)

Posted by Kentheavenonearth on (January 13, 2014, 15:31 GMT)

No need salazar555. Players with England ambitions will always look to join a top county. Look at Stuart Broad and latterly James Taylor. Sorry Pierre, but you don't kill clubs' culture and devolve to more small outgrounds when the counties need bums on seats to survive. Oxford actually has first class cricket, go along to the Parks or make the short hop to Edgbaston. This isn't that big a country you know !

Posted by 2929paul on (January 13, 2014, 15:28 GMT)

The idea of two divisions was to have the best playing against the best as often as possible. Take out all the England players and suddenly that isn't happening. You can't blame the Counties for that.

Coaching standards have deteriorated over the last 15 years or so, which means that only the rich can guarantee decent coaching at a young age, squeezing the talent pool. If they're lucky, a few state schools will be playing good cricket with a good coach and some will be near to clubs with decent coaches. The ECB has qualified thousands of coaches over the last 10 years but many of them don't know how to bowl a hoop down a hill, let alone know how to coach the next Stuart Broad (or better).

Mismanagement by the ECB is what has led to this demise, from top level playing strategy to distribution of Sky's revenue all the way down to "grass roots". There's no quick fix and it's certainly not to reduce the opportunities available to youngsters by merging counties.

Posted by Jonah58 on (January 13, 2014, 15:17 GMT)

got to agree with Ropsh and others, good players go in to the England set up and then the myriad of 'coaches' there coach everything that got them in to the set up out of them. I thing Chapelli had it right the other day, Touring teams need more reserve players in tour parties and far less of the multitude of back room staff that do nothing but introduce self doubt into quality players by tinkering with their actions or techniques

Posted by salazar555 on (January 13, 2014, 15:09 GMT)

One fault I have, not really with the counties, more with the selectors is being in division 1 or division 2 doesn't seem to mean much. Players should be forced to move to div 1 teams if they have aspirations of playing for England. Potential Players should only be picked from division 1. That would force the best to move there and create a system where the best are all in one division. That division should have tight limits on overseas players to make sure the players in it are capable of being selected for England.

Posted by Pierre_Oxford on (January 13, 2014, 15:05 GMT)

For an article which talks about the problems in county cricket, I am astounded that it doesn't mention that half the English counties don't have professional teams, which leaves vast resources of fans and also players untapped. As an ardent cricket fan living in Oxford, I am quite unsure about quite who I am meant to be supporting (except perhaps Jack Brooks!). I also believe that happening to be born in a minor county makes it harder to make it in the game, although the major counties do tend to snap up the best players (with the result that the minor counties are weakened). Surely it would be a better approach to have ten or so regions which covered all of England and Wales!

The problem is of course that this would alienate a fair amount of fans, who are passionately attached to their counties. But on the other hand, it might attract more fans from the minor counties - especially if matches start taking place in outgrounds in them.

Posted by Kentheavenonearth on (January 13, 2014, 15:02 GMT)

PS Not only are we FINALLY etching Fridays into the summer psyche of dads and their sons (ie. securing the future in combat with cursed video games), but bringing back old school season long overseas stars available across all forms, who can continue their endless summers after Big Bash and IPL which incidentally is a brilliant free to air warm-up act. FANtastic.

Posted by salazar555 on (January 13, 2014, 14:57 GMT)

Selectors deserve ashes blame. Carberry - Picked on 20/20 form. Finn and Tremlett - out of form, picked on what they had done a few years ago, not on how they were playing at the the moment. Panesar, taking wickets at 40 in division 2, shouldn't have been there. Prior, cook and Trott all out of form.

Basically a sham. Picking players who were not good enough to be there, or players completely out of form, sometimes a combination of both.

I think the reserve players were selected thinking they weren't going to play so it didn't really matter. What happened was they all played apart from Finn and were found wanting.

Onions - leading wicket taker in county cricket wasn't even in the squad, the whole selection was a shambles

Posted by eddie34 on (January 13, 2014, 14:44 GMT)

Absolutely true. It was not so long ago that the strength of the county game was heralded as a major reason for the success of the England side. This was in contrast to the failings of Sheffield Shield cricket which was cited as a major reason for the poor showing of the Australian team. Suggest Lord McLaurin would be better of devoting his time to helping Tesco

Posted by Ropsh on (January 13, 2014, 14:43 GMT)

The answer is "no". The counties are not to blame. The ECB and its coaching set-up are the sole reason for England's failure.

Posted by Kentheavenonearth on (January 13, 2014, 14:42 GMT)

Maclaurin, MacDonalds ! Ever since promotion/relegation the Championship has been the finest in the world, look at the last decade. Problem is they should compel England players to play in it, not just on a whim. They must simply be contractually made available for at least x3 matches. Oh, and x3 T20s and x3 50s' too. Done. Onions and Compton were treated DISGRACEFULLY.

Posted by PanGlupek on (January 13, 2014, 14:38 GMT)

Very sensible take, Mr Hopps: If I remember rightly, the county system was being applauded fairly recently while England were (very) briefly number 1 in the test rankings?

Don't think it's county cricket's fault that England picked someone like Tremlett simply because he's tall & did well last time he was there 3 years ago (which was about the last time he wasn't injured), while overlooking Onions. Or that Bairstow has been messed around. Or that England's schedule is knackering enough to cause players burnout.

Also, when was the last time any of England's players actually played for their county?!

Posted by   on (January 13, 2014, 14:28 GMT)

Spot on! You've managed to put three years of my raised blood pressure into a succinct piece that hints toward the truth about English cricket.

Posted by py0alb on (January 13, 2014, 14:27 GMT)

Agree 100% with you Yevghenny - the new Friday night structure is a huge improvement for fans.

I think another issue overlooked by the article is that less than 50% of the population live in a 1st class county. Both access to watch top quality cricket and a transparent route to a professional contract are severely limited for over half the population. More needs to be done to enfranchise the minor counties and their populations.

Posted by Barking_Mad on (January 13, 2014, 14:22 GMT)

You need 11 good players. Forget everything else, class players playing well is what wins games consistently against the best teams.

England had too many players out of form and this cost them/ THere's far too much made of why they failed and no doubt the media navel gazing will go on for some time.

Posted by Wafer on (January 13, 2014, 14:13 GMT)

I was a little worried where this article was going to go, but in general I agree with the points made. Bairstow was the wrong backup keeper not because he's not generally good enough, but because he hasn't played enough cricket.

As much as Sky have obviously helped fund various elements of the game, with lack of cricket in state schools being one detrimental factor in the pool of talent I wonder if lack of free-to-air cricket is another problem.

It also seems that County cricket is capable of producing some pretty good quick bowlers, but when they join the England setup they go backwards, Finn being a prime example.

Posted by mrpfister on (January 13, 2014, 14:05 GMT)

In short, no. The England set up is responsible for the England team's failures, from selectors to coaches to players. On a side note, I see you're still banging the drum for the 'asian' youth of Leicester. What about the non 'asian' youth of urban Leicester?

Posted by Yevghenny on (January 13, 2014, 14:03 GMT)

Poor selection and too many senior players out of form is what did England. As for t20 crowds, they are completely dependent on weather, and you significantly reduce the chance of losing out on 4 or 5 games in quick succession if England happens to endure a miserable spell of weather, which is quite likely. Casual cricket fans don't care so much about the big names, just want to see a decent evening's cricket, and if we know it's every friday then that is much more likely to attract your casual fan. No-one in their right mind is going to go to 4 matches in a week

Posted by bobletham on (January 13, 2014, 14:02 GMT)

Well said. The irony is that the bulk of those who participated in the Ashes tour have hardly played county cricket for years.

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David HoppsClose
David Hopps David Hopps joined ESPNcricinfo as UK editor early in 2012. For the previous 20 years he was a senior cricket writer for the Guardian and covered England extensively during that time in all Test-playing nations. He also covered four Olympic Games and has written several cricket books, including collections of cricket quotations. He has been an avid amateur cricketer since he was 12, and so knows the pain of repeated failure only too well. The pile of untouched novels he plans to read, but rarely gets around to, is now almost touching the ceiling. He divides his time between the ESPNcricinfo office in Hammersmith and his beloved Yorkshire.
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