England news May 19, 2015

ECB plans to cut Championship games

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The focus on revamping England's T20 competition is likely to result in a reduction of Championship games © Getty Images

The County Championship looks set to be curtailed so that more emphasis can be placed on the limited-overs game with the ECB having agreed in principle to cut the number of games played by each team a season.

Emphasis will be placed instead on the financial potential of Twenty20 cricket and the desire to promote the 50-over game ahead of England's staging of the 2019 World Cup.

In a bid to ease fixture congestion and improve the value of the domestic T20 tournament, in particular, the ECB is attempting to devise a schedule where counties play just 12 Championship matches per season. At present they play 16.

The last time such a move was proposed - as part of David Morgan's report in 2011-12 - a backlash from county members prompted a last-minute rethink. But this time there appears to be something close to a consensus within the counties and no intention of further consultation with county members or other spectators.

Key to the changes is an attempt to maximise revenues from T20 cricket. While the 2015 season is likely to see record attendances for the NatWest Blast competition - for the first time, over one million tickets could be sold - the ECB still believes further progress is possible and necessary.

The exact shape of a future T20 competition remains unclear, with discussions ongoing, but it currently appears likely that attempts to introduce franchise cricket will be resisted and that the tournament will be played in two leagues, with a system of promotion and relegation as yet open to debate.

Such a solution would see the top league gain nearly all the TV coverage and the salary cap might be relaxed for the competition to allow the recruitment of more big-name overseas players. It is also likely to be played in an eight to 10 week window in the school holidays.

The availability of England players for at least a sizeable portion of the tournament remains under debate.

The ECB also hopes to change the schedule for 50-over cricket. With a view to the next Champions Trophy and World Cup - both scheduled to be played in England in relatively early season, in 2017 and 2019 respectively - the aim is to play more 50-over cricket in the first couple of months of the season (the competition currently starts on July 25) and make room for a showpiece Lord's final in July or August.

But it is the changes to the County Championship that will prove most controversial. While the Professional Cricketers' Association favours a conference system to arrive at a 12-game season, others favour one division of 10 (with teams not necessarily playing each other twice) and another of eight.

There are also suggestions of adding three teams to create a 21-team, three-division tournament. An additional three teams could be drawn either from the Associate nations or the leading minor counties, with the chairman, Colin Graves, eager at least to explore the end of the 18-team closed shop. It is understood, however, that Cricket Scotland have yet to be approached about such a possibility and may be reluctant to compromise their international status and the prospect of playing Test cricket.

While many of these alterations have been mooted for years, this time the ECB is determined to drive them through. Change appears inevitable and the County Championship looks certain to bear the brunt.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Peter on May 26, 2015, 23:06 GMT

    3 leagues of 6 teams for 10 games a season, although I would make it so the cream rises to the top and not have good players playing for division 3 teams.

    Maybe more money for division 1 players and England coming out and saying future England players will only be considered from division 1 teams to make moving county more appealing. The best players should be playing against each other.

  • Dummy4 on May 23, 2015, 20:07 GMT

    3 divisions of 6 for County Championship would mean 5 home & 5 away games thus 40 days of championship cricket instead of the current 64 days. This would mean a later start to the season meaning players would be available for the IPL with no impact.

  • Dummy4 on May 21, 2015, 15:46 GMT

    i would go with 3 divisions of 6 for 4 day cricket i.e. 10 games - possibly a final for each division at the end of the year. Plus 3 divisions of 6 for 50 over cricket with finals for each division. t20 to be 2 divisions in league format - 2 up 2 down with 2 finals day on sat and sun. pre season could be replaced with a first class tournament with 3 day cricket

  • Dean on May 21, 2015, 7:43 GMT

    @Andrew Moreton, It's probably worth remembering that when 22 CC games were played they were 3 day matches and not 4. In terms of 1 day games we have effectively replaced 40 over cricket with T20. Teams also play 8 - 10 games in RL50 which is also roughly what they would have played in Gillette Cup/Natwest Trophy & B&H cup. So the amount of days cricket actually differs very little from that played in the 70/80s it's just that the limited overs matches are shorter.

  • Dominic on May 21, 2015, 0:33 GMT

    professional game when it first came in during the 1960's. However I also love immersing myself in the sheer pleasure of watching an extended contest between the artful spinner and the master batsman, the absorbing spectacle of a long innings being built, and the growing anticipation over several days of a dramatic climax that at the same time defies the laws of gravity and truly celebrates the glorious uncertainty of this greatest of all sporting contests.

    Please, therefore, let us have a proper sense of balance and proportion when deciding policy for the future development of cricket. Let us recognise the financial realities within which the game must exist, but let us also respect its rich cultural heritage that has contributed - and, if we allow it to, will continue to contribute - so much to shaping our uniquely British character.

  • Dominic on May 21, 2015, 0:32 GMT

    Get real, ECB!

    The County Championship is the bedrock of our national summer game, and should not be downgraded purely for the purpose of making yet more money.

    Funnily enough, despite the fact that we live in an allegedly "time-poor" age, many of us value the opportunity to take time out to appreciate cricket in its purest and most artistic form - and I'm not just talking about us Guinness-sipping, mobility scooter-driving either!! Increasing numbers of our young people are coming to appreciate the virtues of all forms of cricket, including the long game, and we owe it to them to preserve the best of each type for the future.

  • Dummy4 on May 20, 2015, 21:32 GMT

    Well if they have twelve games then it won't be through expansion of teams but contraction. Counties are struggling drastically at the moment anyway, take away revenue and they will not be able to survive.

  • marcus on May 20, 2015, 20:00 GMT

    The England Season starts in April and goes on until September. I make that 26 weeks. So there is plenty of time to play 16 CC matches Monday to Thursday plus a match against a tourist and two against MCCU teams. Then you can have Friday for 20/20 and Saturday and Sunday for one day matches.

    You should even be able to fit in a four week window for a franchise based 20/20 in August.

    That would be gruelling for a player if he or she played every match, but I would assume most counties would develop largely separate four day and one day squads or rotate players from a squad.

    Assuming that you get a decent crowd for the weekend matches - you do not need that large a crowd to play the marginal cost.

    The main difficulty in increasing the amount of cricket payed is not the players, or the money - it is preparing enough decent wickets. It would probably mean counties using more out grounds.

    Camquin

  • Barry on May 20, 2015, 16:57 GMT

    It's the COUNTY championship so other than a minor county doing a Durham and going from 'non-league' to the football league and then premier league no one else such as 'Uassociate nations should be let in. Let latter improve the hard way like little Sri Lanka brilliantly did, or get the ICC to fund development separately !! 9 in top division IS too many now as we march on in to this cyber-fast attention-low century. Top 6 playing home and away, the rest in north and south conferences with winners playing off for one promotion spot saving on their tight budgets DONE

  • Dummy4 on May 20, 2015, 15:47 GMT

    Well, it wasn't that long ago that they played 22 f-c games in the county championship. Plus the Gilette Cup (60 overs for those too young to remember), the B&H Cup (55 overs) and the Sunday League (40 overs).

    Many years ago me and Roger determined that the best way forward was three divisions of 6 so that each county played 10 games a season with a reserve day. Each game would have counted. In order to help the cream rise to the top [clubs] we thought that only one county should be relegated/promoted between Divs 1 & 2 but two up / two down between Divisions 2 and 3.

    This was in the days before central contracts as it would also have enabled cricketers to play for both their counties and England. I know those days have gone but the three tier hierarchical structure still has much merit I think, leaves plenty of room for one dayers and T20.

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