Yorkshire warn against north-south split
Yorkshire's new chief executive, Mark Arthur, less than a month into the job, has dared to voice the fears of cricket in the north of England by warning the ECB that they must resist all temptation to maximise revenue by concentrating all their most prestigious international cricket in the south-east for short-term economic gain.
Arthur also dared to suggest that the growing number of international grounds had reached "unsustainable" levels. There are 10 international grounds in England and Wales while Somerset have been granted approval to achieve the specifications necessary to become an eleventh.
It can safely be assumed that the opinions of his chairman, Colin Graves, recently elected as vice chairman of the ECB, are in sync. It might also be that any Somerset application would come under fierce examination from northern counties down the line.
"Eleven international grounds is unsustainable in my opinion," Arthur said. "There is a finite amount of international cricket and to spread it amongst 11 international grounds and expect all those 11 grounds to be at the same level as top international grounds around the world - it doesn't work does it?
"What are we all after? A sustainable game of cricket at club, county and international level. We all have to work together for that balance."
Arthur, a former chief executive at Nottinghamshire and at Nottingham Forest, insisted that a geographical balance should also be part of the ECB's assessment of how to allocate matches, so ensuring that cricket remained a truly national game to the long-term benefit of the game as a whole and the England team.
"One of the best things that happened to football was the reconstruction of Wembley because England took their games around the country," he said. "For a period of time, people were able to watch England from various parts of the country.
"One of the unique factors of cricket in England is that it does get taken around the country. It is important to understand that not everybody has the spending power of people in the south-east. I think that has to be factored in by the [ECB] when they are allocating matches. There is a finite amount of money that you can charge in the provinces."
The north of England has endured two years of discouraging weather as well as suffering the brunt of the UK's economic downturn. There are fears of gulf streams moving south and revenue streams moving with them. The difficulty of fostering a commitment to cricket in this period should not be under-estimated. At times, it has been hellish.
Yorkshire went wild for their two homegrown Headingley debutants, Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow on Friday, but sadly it was only the Yorkshire weather. The morning drive to Headingley was a story of overturned lorries and fallen trees as heavy rain was joined by howling winds. Shortly before 4pm, the umpires abandoned play.
Better weather is forecast over the Bank Holiday weekend, and Root and Bairstow can still hope to be acclaimed in glorious sunshine, but after the washout of the one-day international against West Indies last summer, these are nervous times for international cricket in the north of England.
Durham, the only international ground more northerly than Headingley, have relinquished two matches because they feared they had over-bid and the risk of heavy losses was too great.
The ECB's latest strategic plan, announced last week, guarantees there will be no regional shift to the south, but that guarantee largely, if not entirely, covers matches already awarded.
"The policy of the Board is to promote the game by staging international cricket on a broad geographical base," it states. "The game appreciates that a number of venues have found it difficult to remain competitive in staging Test cricket. The Board will seek to ensure sustainability at venues by reviewing and communicating policy regarding Major Matches through 2019, increasing the differentiation between Test and ODI status."
Arthur is convinced that the one-nation approach must remain part of English cricket's DNA. "There could be a discord if you played all your top matches in the south. That would damage interest in the England team.
"As more and more money comes from TV, the reliance on income through the turnstiles becomes less and less important, so, de facto, the responsibility becomes to provide the wallpaper so it looks good for those people paying most of the money."
Arthur recognises that Yorkshire, who with Lancashire are responsible for almost 25% of recreational cricket in the country, have to improve their performance.
"Trent Bridge has proved that people always want tickets for an event they can't get a ticket for," he said. "We need to start selling out. We have to grow our base of cricket supporters who want to come to Headingley. We have to improve the capacity of the ground. We have to improve the environment of the ground. The spectator experience when they first arrive at the gate is absolutely vital."
There is also a belated recognition within Yorkshire cricket that there is a disconnect between the county and many of those who profess to love it yet have also gradually become distanced from it.
This winter, Arthur will embark upon the biggest commitment to reconnect with the grassroots ever seen in Yorkshire cricket, making himself available to clubs and leagues four days a week throughout the off-season. Yorkshire's hierarchy will also visit Trent Bridge shortly to see how Nottinghamshire connect with communities.
If English cricket is still debating where Test cricket should be played, the results of a major survey suggests that the effort is worthwhile.
English cricket has received a vote of confidence in its policy of promoting Test cricket as the pinnacle of the game with the results of a fan survey which suggests that a majority of young supporters still share their view.
More than 90,000 members of Twelfth Man, the ECB-approved fan community, were invited to state their preferred form of the game. Strikingly, although barely 3% bothered to respond, 61% of the under-25 age group favoured Test cricket with only 25% opting for Twenty20, so challenging assumptions that the shortest form of the game was connecting most successfully with young fans.
The survey contrasts markedly with attitudes elsewhere in the world, notably India, where Test matches are increasingly submerged below an emphasis on one-day games, and will persuade the ECB that their commitment to Test cricket remains valid.
Certainly, the conclusion has to be that Test cricket is still the preferred option for younger fans in England - or that any younger fans who can be bothered to complete an ECB survey are bound to have the patience to prefer the longer form of the game.
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo