County news November 22, 2011

County review set to propose return to 50 overs

George Dobell

A return to 50-over cricket is likely to be among the recommendations made by David Morgan when he unveils his report to the ECB board at Lord's on Wednesday.

Morgan, a former chairman of the ECB and ICC, has canvassed widely over the last few months after the ECB appointed him to conduct an extensive review into the business of domestic cricket.

With the last World Cup reviving the reputation of 50-over cricket, which was abandoned in England after the 2009 season, it is thought likely that Morgan will recommend that the domestic game mirrors the international game. England have a poor record in the last five World Cups and some feel that playing 40-over cricket at domestic level has not helped them. The prospect of ODI cricket being contested over 40 overs has receded substantially.

It is not a decision that will please everyone, however. "I've yet to hear a convincing argument for a return to 50-over cricket," Mark Robinson, director of cricket at Sussex said. "Generally, England do very well in ODI cricket in England and not very well overseas. That suggests that the problem is not so much the format but the different conditions and pitches."

Chris Adams, Surrey's director of cricket, has expressed similar views and it's also thought that broadcasters prefer the 40-over version.

It is not the only contentious issue facing Morgan. Opinion is also divided over the schedule of Twenty20 cricket and the County Championship. Some favour the retention of a mid-summer break for the T20 tournament, while others favour a Friday night league played across the season. Again, the desire of the broadcasters is likely to have a strong influence.

Morgan has made no secret of his belief that too much cricket is currently played so the option of splitting the Championship into three conferences - an option that was rejected barely 18-months ago - has been proposed again by some counties. That would allow the competition to be contested over 12 or 14 games, but is likely to remain deeply unpopular with supporters. The possibility of reducing the number of first-class counties, a scenario suggested by Yorkshire chairman Colin Graves, is contrary to the ECB constitution and is unlikely to find meaningful support.

Morgan has been keen to reveal very little while compiling his report - it will not be publicly available - but he has made it clear that creating a more predictable fixture list was a key aim. In 2011 there were 18 different start times in the Friends Life t20 alone. Morgan hopes that attendances will increase if spectators are more easily able to predict the start time of games. Yet again, however, the desire of the broadcasters to televise cricket almost every night of the week, makes such an aspiration painfully hard to deliver.

The current broadcast deal does not end until the end of 2013, so Morgan's recommendations are unlikely to come into force before the 2014 season.

Another test

Meanwhile, the ECB have insisted that next summer's England-South Africa Test series will consist of just three games for "good cricketing reasons."

England's continued struggles in ODI cricket - particularly in World Cups - have convinced the team management that they need to concentrate on the format a little more. They have, therefore, arranged for a five-match ODI series against Australia next summer. More importantly, by hosting that series, they have also reached a reciprocal agreement with Cricket Australia whereby England will play an ODI series in Australia right ahead of the 2015 World Cup.

This, the ECB argue, will enable them to acclimatise to the conditions far better than has been the case in recent events. They also point out that England will play 15 Tests in 2012.

"We're hugely committed to Test cricket," a spokesman said. "But we're also keen to do better in ODI cricket. Sometimes it feels as we're 'damned if we do and damned if we don't.'"

Taylor made

Leicestershire have rejected an offer of £40,000 in compensation from Nottinghamshire for James Taylor, the 21-year-old batsman, but it still seems inevitable that he will be moving to Trent Bridge imminently.

Taylor is contracted to Leicestershire until the end of 2012 but the club gave him permission to talk to other counties and it is understood that he has agreed personal terms with Nottinghamshire. He will join former Leicestershire colleagues Stuart Broad and Harry Gurney at Trent Bridge.

"We did reject their first offer," Leicestershire chief executive, Mike Siddall, said. "But James is certain he wants to go to Notts and we're in on-going negotiations with them."

Leicestershire have also been hit by the retirement of Martin van Jaarsveld, who signed for the club from Kent only weeks ago. They are, therefore, scouring the market for an overseas batsman. Mohammad Yousuf is thought to be one option.

The club are expected to declare a profit of around £300,000 for the last year - a huge improvement on the loss of £400,000 the previous year - and have recently agreed the wording of a deed of variation document with the City Council relating to the covenant on their Grace Road ground.

The club bought the ground in 1964 but, under the terms of the covenant, could receive only £24,000 should they sell it. The council would receive the rest. That left the club struggling to borrow money and, as Siddall puts it: "our cash flow suggests we need an overdraft facility."

The new agreement - an agreement that was reached in April only to fall apart as officials at the council had a last-minute change of heart - will see the figure raised to £500,000. In the longer-term, the club would like the council to abandon the covenant completely and allow Leicestershire to borrow against the value of their ground. Grace Road is thought to be worth almost £3million.

BBC cuts threaten coverage

A campaign to persuade the BBC to retain their ball-by-ball coverage of county cricket has urged supporters to make their views known to the cooperation.

If the proposed cuts to BBC local radio take place, it appears likely that there will be little or no ball-by-ball coverage of domestic cricket after the end of the 2012 season.

The BBC currently offers ball-by-ball on-line coverage for every game played by 11 of the first-class counties and the limited-overs games of the other seven counties. The BBC Trust are currently consulting on the proposed cuts. Campaigners urge supporters to learn more and express their support here: http://savelocalradio.co.uk/