County cricket

An uneven playing field

The ECB have agreed to end the English season early to open a window for the Champions League but is it right given they have no stake in the event?

George Dobell

July 20, 2011

Comments: 10 | Text size: A | A

Arul Suppiah falls for a duck to CJ de Villiers, Eagles v Somerset, Champions League Twenty20, League A, Hyderabad, October 16, 2009
Somerset took part in the 2009 Champions League © Global Cricket Ventures-BCCI
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Players/Officials: Stuart Broad
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Imagine the ECB asked the BCCI to alter the dates of the IPL in order to fit in with the qualifying rounds of the CB40 competition. Or imagine the ECB asked Indian players to miss the IPL in order to take part in the County Championship. Wouldn't happen, would it?

But it seems the English are an obliging lot. When another nation's governing body comes along to raid the English (and Welsh) game, we don't just make no attempt to stop them. We help them load up and prepare them a packed-lunch for their journey.

English counties should not be participating in the Champions League. It may well be a worthy competition. And participation in it may well broaden the skill levels of English cricketers. But the cost is simply too great.

We are compromising the entire English domestic season - squeezing match after match into an unnecessarily abbreviated schedule - just to take part. And, though the rewards are huge for the winners of the Champions League, the odds are stacked against the English entrants.

Sound over the top? Well, consider this. The Champions League begins in Hyderabad on September 19. That's one day - yes, one day - after the reserve day for the CB40 final at Lord's. Even if it's possible for a county to make it from London to Hyderabad in that time - and Somerset would have faced that prospect had this schedule been in place last year - then they are hardly given ideal preparation time.

What is more, the scheduling of the Champions League has meant the 2011 English season must finish almost two weeks earlier than it did in 2009. If the Champions League did not start until October, the English season would have two more weeks of breathing space. That would, with a few other alterations here and there, go a long way towards easing the fixture congestion and scheduling issues that currently dog English cricket.

English teams will also go into the Champions League at a significant disadvantage. For a start, the two English teams - the FLt20 finalists - will have to pre-qualify. That means that, unlike three IPL teams, two Big Bash teams and two South African teams, the two counties will have to play in the pre-qualifying event.

So, what's the attraction? Inevitably, it's the money. The ECB will receive $500,000 for each team that participates (up to a maximum of two teams) and the lure of prize money for the counties is overwhelming. The winners will gain $2.5m; the runner-ups $1.3m and the losing semi-finalists $500,000.

But here's the rub. Any team knocked-out in pre-qualifying will not receive any prize-money at all. They could even end up heavily out of pocket as a result of flying their players to India. While the ECB are expected to help finance the trips, that has yet to be confirmed.

The ECB should not allow players to participate in the IPL, either. Again, it's a fine competition. And again, players may well learn new skills as a result of their involvement.

 
 
It is perverse to allow the England game to be weakened for the benefit of the Indian game
 

But their absence weakens the English domestic game. And that should be the ECB's priority. If the likes of Paul Collingwood and Eoin Morgan were mixing with English players, demonstrating their tricks and experience, they would be helping raise the standard of county cricket. And that, in time, will improve the England limited-overs teams. It is perverse to allow the England game to be weakened for the benefit of the Indian game.

The seeds of this problem were sown years ago. Concerned about the growing Indian influence, the ECB declined the role of minority shareholder in the Champions League and instead sought alternatives. History will probably judge the resultant relationship with Allen Stanford harshly, but history has the benefit of hindsight. It's also worth noting that, while he awaits trial, Stanford remains an innocent man.

But the ECB need to learn from that episode. They need to learn that the short-term desire to make a quick buck - understandable though it may be - cannot be allowed to compromise the whole English game. They have to learn that they cannot take money for participating in the Champions League if it endangers the quality of the English domestic programme.

This is not meant to be an attack on the BCCI. Quite the opposite, actually. The way in which they protect their own interests is admirable. They put themselves first and do everything they can to strengthen Indian cricket. Quite right, too.

After all, when was the last time the BCCI allowed one of their players to miss an Indian event to participate in another country's domestic tournament? They even declined the imploring from the organisers of the Sri Lanka Premier League.

Only by declining the offer to participate in the Champions League will the ECB persuade the organisers (and the competition is not just run by the BCCI; Cricket Australia and Cricket South Africa also have a stake) to show them a little more consideration next time.

The ECB could learn much from the BCCI. The Indian authorities are not to be chastised for creating successful events and jealously guarding their own interests. They are to be admired and copied. The BCCI understand that charity starts at home. The ECB should take heed.

Fallen star


Ian Bell leads the Warwickshire celebrations after his match-winning 107 sealed the Clydesdale Bank 40 title, Somerset v Warwickshire, CB40 final, Lord's, September 18, 2010
For all the joy of winning it, the CB40 feels like the poor relation of county cricket © Getty Images
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Like an elderly patient resuscitated against their wishes, the CB40 spluttered back into life this week after an eight-week coma.

It's a shame the competition is so degraded. It was once the jewel in the crown of the ECB's domestic programme and, I suspect, many of us owe our first awakening to the joys of cricket to those afternoons watching the BBC's coverage - their free-to-air coverage - of the Sunday League. In an era when county cricket was bursting with wonderful overseas players, it's surely not just sentiment that suggests they were golden days.

But sometimes progress is a blunt instrument. Amid all the improvements to world cricket over the last 20 years, some things have been left behind. The years have not been kind to 40-over cricket. It's the actor reduced to trawling through the bins outside the theatre where it used to star.

There's nothing essentially wrong with 40-over cricket. Given a fair chance, it might yet thrive. But, like a rose planted on the M25, everything is stacked against it.

Firstly, it starts too early in the season. Not only is there good evidence to suggest that casual spectators (ie not the county diehards) are less likely to attend before the end of the rugby and football seasons, but the early season pitches are often unsuited to limited-overs cricket.

The format is poor, too. With no quarter-final stages, the competition can quickly become bogged down with 'dead' games. So, by the time the competition re-starts after an eight-week hiatus for the T20 qualifying stages, clubs have other priorities and any momentum that had been built up among spectators has dissipated.

The end result is a competition struggling to justify its relevance. It doesn't prepare cricketers for ODI cricket - not adequately, anyway - and it doesn't bring in the crowds it once did by way of compensation. It really doesn't serve much purpose. It could be revived. Were it given a decent schedule - with spectators able to predict when games are played - and were clubs penalised for preparing slow, lifeless pitches which only fuel mediocrity and, were it given a quarter-final stage, it might yet rediscover some of its former glory. At present, however, it's barely relevant.

Broad side

The ECB deserves credit for the recent 'crack-down' on poor on-field behaviour in domestic cricket. While it would be an exaggeration to suggest that standards of behaviour have dipped to an all-time low, the increase in low-level dissent - bowlers lingering too long after declined appeals; batsmen gesturing to the edges of their bats after umpires have adjudged them leg before wicket - has been apparent for a couple of seasons. The ECB are quite right to rectify any slipping standards.

It is, however, an odd world where a fellow as admirable as Marcus Trescothick is suspended - even if that suspension itself it suspended - while Stuart Broad is an England captain.

Broad is a fine cricketer. He could even become a great one. Yes, he's a little short of his best form at the moment but, in the grand scheme of things, that should be just a blip. Class will out. By all accounts, he's one of the good guys off the pitch, too. His dedication to his charity work has certainly been admirable.

Yet, for all his cricketing excellence, Broad's legacy could be negative. For if he continues to behave like an angry toddler in need of an early night, there's nothing that he can achieve on the pitch that can compensate for the damage he's doing the game. Nothing. You may even argue that the more he achieves as a player, the worse his legacy will be. He'll simply attract more attention and normalise such behaviour.


Stuart Broad claimed his first wicket to end Sri Lanka's innings, England v Sri Lanka, 3rd Test, Rose Bowl, June 18, 2011
Stuart Broad must remember that he is a role model © Getty Images
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Why? Because Broad is a role-model. Whether he likes it or not. He's a good-looking, talented, international cricketer. And he's an England captain. All that comes with responsibility. And if Broad can't take the burden, he needs to re-evaluate his future.

It's not so much the big issues. Everyone - even Broad - concedes he was out of line to swear at Billy Bowden or throw the ball at Zulqarnain Haider. No doubt Broad sincerely regrets those incidents. We all make mistakes. And we all move on.

But with Broad dissent is the norm. He probably doesn't even know he's doing it. But, every time he stands with his hand on his hips and a look on the face that suggests the umpire is an incompetent halfwit, Broad gradually erodes the standards of our beautiful game. And every time he snarls or swears as a decision goes against him, he makes that beautiful game a little more ugly.

And that matters. It matters a lot.

Because Broad's behaviour will be copied in playgrounds, clubs and parks around the country. Maybe around the world. And unless we alter the course the game seems to be taking, cricket will become like football. Where respect and sportsmanship are seen as arcane values of a bygone age.

So while the ECB are quite right to act against dissent in county cricket, they also need to have a stern word with Broad. One negative episode from him undermines any number of media releases, any number of personal appearances from former players at clubs or schools and all the great things that Broad - and all the other players - achieve. Some things are more important than winning or losing.

Another review

All these issues - the schedule, the Indian influence, even discipline issues - should be on the agenda as David Morgan reviews the business of domestic cricket. Morgan, we are told by the ECB, is conducting "an extensive review" and will "consult widely with all our key stakeholders across the game."

Good. It's an opportunity to make the improvements we all know are required. But who is a stakeholder?

Generally, the term tends to refer it tends to broadcasters, sponsors and the players. Fair enough: they are all vital. But the views of the spectators - the huge body that indirectly pays the salaries of every player, administrator and journalist - seem, all too often, to be an after-thought.

That's not necessarily the ECB's fault. After all, it's not easy to canvass the opinions of group as diverse as spectators. But isn't it about time there was a supporters' association? A body that gives supporters a voice? That argues for their rights and attempts to represent them? It really is.

So that's what we (by we, I mean the team at SPIN Cricket magazine) would like to set-up. So, if you have any views on 'the business of domestic cricket' you'd like to make known to the ECB, perhaps you'd like to email us at: gd0405@gmail.com (but please don't use that email for anything else; it's been set-up only for this).

We'll do our best to represent your views. If, in a few weeks or months, the idea takes off, we can look at more formal organisation, but hopefully this will be a step in the right direction.

George Dobell is chief writer at Spin Magazine

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by   on (July 23, 2011, 14:54 GMT)

What on earth does PRE-qualify mean?

Posted by Harvey on (July 23, 2011, 5:45 GMT)

For the CB40, how about 4 groups of 5 teams, with the top 2 from each group going into a knock-out quarter final? This would cut out a lot of meaningless games, and keep more fans dreaming of glory for longer. The reduction in T20 is a welcome move, which ought to revive that format, although I would also spread the competition out over the season instead of having it interrupt the County Championship and CB40. Such a move would make the competition less attractive to highly paid superstars, but frankly given that the counties are supposed to be skint, what are they doing diverting such a large percentage of their income into the pockets of highly paid superstars in any case? Wasn't the purpose of T20 to raise extra funds for the counties? My feeling is that spreading the fixtures out would increase attendances, since grouping them all together forces many families to pick and choose which ones they can afford to attend.

Posted by Evilpengwinz on (July 23, 2011, 0:49 GMT)

Totally agree with the CB40. I forgot it even existed in the couple of months that it was gone. Turned on the telly the other day to find Steve Harmison in the commentary box chatting to the commentary team during a rain break - I forgot about the CB40 until then. The group stage has so many dead games it's unreal. I wouldn't mind having maybe 32 teams (18 counties, Scotland, Netherlands, fill the other spaces up with the best club sides, or smaller counties, and Ireland if they want to take part), then basically have an FA cup of cricket.

Posted by   on (July 22, 2011, 20:17 GMT)

Another excellent read George.

Posted by george204 on (July 22, 2011, 12:22 GMT)

Excellent article & good luck with the supporters association. Regarding Stuart Broad, I sometimes feel that he is unfairly maligned. Yes, his facial expressions & body language sometimes seem a bit petulant. Yes, the incident with Haider was unacceptable (& correctly punished). But I often feel that Stuart is being made to pay for the sins of his father: for those with short memories, before Chris Broad was a match referree, he was a player with an absolutely dreadful disciplinary record. I get the impression that many in the media are itching to be able to say that the son inherited the father's temper. For all his faults, Stuart has never smashed down the stumps or refused to leave the crease when given out.

Posted by   on (July 22, 2011, 10:50 GMT)

The CB40 has the 40-over format of the Sunday League, a group structure like the B&H and the September Lord's final of the Gillette Cup. No wonder it has an identity crisis.

Posted by demigoat on (July 22, 2011, 10:15 GMT)

Another excellent article George. Good points well made.

Posted by allblue on (July 22, 2011, 8:45 GMT)

Isn't it funny that the ICC has spent several years twisting and contorting with worry about how to deal with the 'boring middle overs' in ODIs without ever considering the most obvious solution - get rid of them! I think that the one-day format works better with 40 overs than it does with 50 for the reason alluded to above so why not alter the ODI format to suit?

Posted by Nutcutlet on (July 22, 2011, 4:52 GMT)

A supporters' association is an excellent and overdue idea! I wish it well and will sign up!

Posted by Guernica on (July 21, 2011, 18:17 GMT)

Couldn't agree more on the CB40 - it's a mess of a competition. A random format that is not played internationally (no wonder England struggles to pace an innings over 50 overs).... games on random days.... an artificial team like 'Unicorns' with no existing fan base (presumably just to make up the numbers)....allowing the Dutch to play but without their star players. We need to get back to competitive 50 over cricket- even if that means fewer games.

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