Future of county cricket June 20, 2008

Counties consider proposals for change

Cricinfo staff


County players are likely to see the game change significantly from 2010 onwards © Getty Images
 
County cricket is set for a major overhaul from 2010 onwards and a report in The Daily Telegraph has outlined some of main ideas that will be discussed. Giles Clarke, the ECB chairman, is in favour of a conference-based Championship, a slight reduction in the number of four-day matches, and the creation of an English Premier League.

There is plenty for the 18 counties to consider ahead of the meeting next month, but early indications are that Clarke's proposals will draw decent support from the smaller counties, while the larger clubs could be more reticent.

"There is some good stuff in there, and some original stuff which is good to see," Mark Newton, the Worcestershire chief executive, told Cricinfo. "The County Championship must remain and I'm not too fussed whether it is 16 or 14 games, nor am I too fussed whether it's conferences or two divisions. But what I will say is that two divisions has worked very well.

"The major positive [with conferences] would be that every team starts even and has a chance of winning the Championship. It would also give you the chance to play more counties regularly, rather than missing out on facing some of the big teams."

Tom Richardson, the chief executive at Gloucestershire who have struggled to climb out of the second division, was even more fulsome in his support. "The great thing about the conference idea is, from a members point of view, that there will be the prospect of playing against a number of different teams each year," he said.

"The jury is still out on two division cricket. They say it has improved the England team, but there are many factors to put into that. The fact that counties have academies, the use of A-team tours, and counties sending players overseas in the winter. So it's difficult to say that the evidence is there to fully support two divisions."

But David Harker, Durham's chief executive, said that the two-divisional structure has done what it was meant to and made the Championship more competitive. "It is a though now as it's ever been and that was the aim when two divisions were created, so any changes have to be thought through very carefully. It is about sustaining the long-term interest and that comes from the quality."

However, where there was a general consensus was over the need for some major restructuring to the one-day formats. "My feeling, and I've said it for a while, is that it's the one-day game that needs changing," said Newton. "I feel 50-over cricket has had its day, I'm a huge fan of the idea of two-innings one-day cricket and I think 40 overs should be the standard international format."

"One key thing I feel is that one-day cricket needs to be played during June, July and August. It's much easier to attract crowds then, unlike April or May," added Richardson. "The Twenty20 also needs to be spread about a little more, it's asking a lot of the supporters to watch five home games in a short space of time.

"From our point of view, with the one-day international [against New Zealand] tomorrow, we haven't been able to play a match at Bristol for a week and next week have three in four days. It's partly self-inflicted, but it would be helped if it was spaced out a little."

One of the more radical ideas that Clarke might put forward to the counties is a draft-style system for the EPL, where players are loaned out from a central pool to even up the standard of the teams. "I like the idea of an EPL and possibly even a draft system for the players," said Richardson. "I think having the top England players and international stars available would be brilliant for the game."