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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • John on September 27, 2009, 11:32 GMT

    "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." If you're good enough you will get games in the first division; Johnny Bairstow, Liam Dawson, Chris Woakes, Ollie Rayner and Steven Davies have all been regulars this season. It's much better for these guys development that they play in a top quality competition rather than a competition (a single division) where the level of cricket would be significantly lower.

  • John on September 23, 2009, 16:04 GMT

    There's way too much county cricket. One competition in each form of the game is sufficient. I think it would be useful to have a structure to the scheduling of matches. County championship matches should be Friday-Monday with a midsummer break for the 20/20. One-day matches could be played on evenings during the week. I also think gate prices could be reduced. I'm a Lancashire supporter but I lived within walking distance of Lord's for a while and would have attended County Championship matches more often if not for the 10 quid they charged for admission.

    I also agree that an intermediate regional competition would be a helpful step between the county game and international cricket. I haven't seen any proposals for that unfortunately.

  • Patrick on September 22, 2009, 22:33 GMT

    Going back to one division is turning back the clock. It must make sense to concentrate the best players in the first division so that the best talents regularly compete against each other, instead of it being diluted amongst more and weaker teams. Having just witnessed the last two days of the dramatic Sussex v Yorkshire relegation tussle at Hove, including Matthew Hoggard's hat-trick, I can vouch for how much the outcome of this match and its consequences meant to those who were playing and those who were watching. Its got to be miles better than bloodless contests in a single division with only money and averages at stake. Lets end this backward talk of returning to one division here and now - its the road to dreary mediocrity.

  • Bruce on September 22, 2009, 21:50 GMT

    I live for the day that Lancashire finally win the County Championship. I've been going to watch them for nearly 30 years, and avidly follow their daily progress on-line. If I had one sporting wish it would be for them to win the crown of county trophies.

  • Richard on September 22, 2009, 19:05 GMT

    I think the speach hits a few nails on the head. Its true that its not good if the county championship withers away because if it does the England test team will wither away. I agree that the County Championship should return to a 1 division format, the 2 divison format promotes short term thinking too much. I think there should be a tier above the County Championship. I would propose somehing like the Indian Zone competition, with the country divided into 4 regions and invite Ireland.It would only be open to national team eligible players and they could play each other once each over 4 days, 50 overs and 20 overs. They would play each other home one year and away the next, like the 6 nations rugby comp, and there would be 1 round per month May to Aug and finals in September. The games could go 1st class Mon-Thurs, 50 overs on Sat and T20 on Sun. I think that would keep the County Championship as the talent producing base and an intermediate tier to replicate international matches.

  • Martin on September 22, 2009, 14:31 GMT

    I care, but i fear too few share my enthusiasm. Essex have been poor, but i listen to every game i can on local radio. I much prefer this proper cricket to the limited overs rubbish, but the fielding is often poor which does lower the standard

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