Cricket Writers' Club 2009 September 22, 2009

Who cares who wins?

Pat Gibson
The chairman of the Cricket Writers' Club, Pat Gibson, warns of the dangers of belittling the County Championship

At the annual Cricket Writers' Club Dinner in London on Monday night, the club chairman, Pat Gibson, delivered a stark warning about the coverage of county cricket in England. Here is the full speech.

Who would have thought that Jimmy Anderson and Monty Panesar would win the Ashes with their batting?

Who would have thought that Andrew Flintoff would turn down an England contract because he wants to be the best bungee-jumper in the world?

Who would have thought that the counties of Compton and Edrich, of Hobbs and Bedser, would finish up scrapping over the County Championship's wooden spoon?

And who would have thought that the newspapers of Cardus and Swanton, and even Woodcock and Marlar would take so little notice?

When it comes to the County Championship, they seem to have adopted the motto of the Italian SAS: "Who cares who wins!"

I said at our annual meeting in April that these were the best of times and the worst of times for cricket writers ... but I hadn't anticipated how stark that difference was going to be this summer.

They certainly are the best of times at international level, even though one or two of our members complain about their workload with all those blogs and tweets and podcasts - whatever they may be!

There has been no shortage of stories - Stanford in irons, Pietersen on crutches, the World Twenty20 and, glory be, England winning the Ashes and, at the last, even a one-day international match. And the coverage has never been so comprehensive.

It is not quite the same at county level, where so many of our members work - or, in too many cases, used to work.

The ECB has emphasised the supremacy of the County Championship by raising the winner's prize to a staggering half a million pounds. But as they should know by now, money is not the answer to everything.

There is something wrong with the format when the gap between the two divisions is getting wider every season.

There is something wrong when counties are more concerned about the immediate priorities of winning promotion and, more pertinently, avoiding relegation than giving themselves time to develop young players.

And there is something wrong when the ECB uses the second division to experiment with a different ball and the selectors infer that runs and wickets do not mean as much in the second division as they do in the first.

It gives the impression that the second division means second-class, which is very dangerous because it provides ammunition for those people who think the championship should be reduced.

Derbyshire, Glamorgan, Leicestershire and Northamptonshire are among those counties sometimes mentioned for the cut yet these very counties are responsible for producing some of the best young cricketers in the country.

Some of you will not have heard of Dan Redfern, James Harris, Tom Maynard, Nathan Buck, James Taylor, Alex Wakely and David Willey, but you will.

Personally, I would like to see a return to an 18-county County Championship with graduated prize-money which would make every match competitive.

And I would also like to see the ECB putting as much effort into promoting the best domestic competition in the world as they do into promoting Twenty20.

As for newspapers, I wish they would all recognize that the County Championship is the cornerstone of the game.

It is where the players come from. And whether the coach is Andy Flower or even Fabio Capello, it is players who win matches.

Pat Gibson is chairman of the Cricket Writers' Club, and writes on cricket for The Times

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