July 16, 2008

The rich get richer

Why the new proposal for an English Premier League will benefit the big counties and grounds and leave the rest vulnerable

Keith Bradshaw can't really be accused of betrayal but the fact is, his plan won't do half the counties good © MCC

The batsman's paradise at Lord's and Andrew Flintoff's imminent return for England at Headingley left plenty of room for debate about the way forward for the county game that has eased Flintoff back into the national side. It was grossly unfair to accuse Keith Bradshaw of the MCC and David Stewart of Surrey of "betrayal" for producing their avant-garde formula for an English Premier League from 2010, but however genuine their protestations, the would-be entrepreneurs of New Twenty20 Ltd are deceiving themselves if they really believe that the acceptance of their masterplan would not further push the humbler first-class counties towards permanent second-grade status.

Like Paul Sheldon, Surrey's chief executive and the man with the business contacts in India that gave the two ECB directors belief that they could replicate the IPL on British grounds in midsummer, they have a right to try to push the counties into maximising the commercial potential of Twenty20. If, however, the consequence is that counties with histories as rich as, for example, those of Kent, Sussex, Somerset and Derbyshire become, in effect, Minor Counties, they will be doing the wider game in England no favours in the long run.

The middle of a Test match at Lord's was a bad time for someone to leak the blueprint for a revolution, but whether the details were in the public domain or confined to the MCC committee room made little difference. The plan could not have been expected to be given a green light by those county clubs whose grounds were deemed too small for so ambitious a project. Hampshire and Lancashire are the other participants in what should properly be called the Spring Revolution because Sheldon, Bradshaw, Rod Bransgrove and Jim Cumbes have been talking about this in general terms since the start of the season.

Cumbes has always talked sound cricket sense but he is no less prone to parochialism than all his counterparts, and the trouble with any of the plans for the domestic structure from 2010 onwards is that each county club (or business) sees the future from a subtly different standpoint. Trying to manage the faded splendour of Old Trafford has given Cumbes a sense of realism but he has been obliged to resign his chairmanship of the alliance of first-class county executives, having been accused of keeping most of the rest of them in the dark.

Bransgrove, who moves in the same sophisticated business circles as the grandees of Lord's and The Oval, considers his cricketing role to be that of chief shareholder of the Rose Bowl first, chairman of Hampshire second. He knows perfectly well that the size and modernity of your ground is the new way to cricketing wealth just as the size of your bicep determines who wins the macho tennis matches at Wimbledon. It is Lord's and The Oval that are the real equivalents of Nadal and Federer. London is where the money is. Like Mumbai, it is a city where the cosmopolitan elite smell profit out of cricket even in a recession.

The two London grounds are laws unto themselves even when it comes to Test matches. They charge more for tickets and they make more profit than anywhere else. Perhaps, since Tests that last five days bring more spectators than those that finish earlier, it is no coincidence that of the last six Tests at Lord's and the last six at The Oval, only two have not resulted in draws.

The more dependent on money from "grander" sources some counties become, the less self-sufficient they will be, and more reliant on gimmicks or overseas players, and ultimately lazier about feeding their professional teams with locally unearthed and nurtured cricketers

New Twenty20 (the other one is hardly old) would make a lot of money for a few people, no doubt. It might even do so for the junior partners of the proposed new partnerships - Essex, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and the rest. But the more big events you have, the more marginalised smaller clubs become. It becomes harder and harder for them to draw crowds, members, sponsors and television coverage. Theirs are not the grounds attracting the cameras, or even the reporters and the newspaper editors who are led to believe that domestic competitions with a shortage of big money prizes or "star" players are not worth following.

It comes down simply to this: the players who are already wealthy, and the rich cricket grounds, would be the prime beneficiaries of New Twenty20. Whatever their bank balances might say from 2010, if they do indeed buy into the scheme and become partners in one of nine new businesses, the nine first-class counties whose grounds do not measure up to the ECB's "Category A" status are going to be poorer and more vulnerable.

The increase in international cricket in recent years has set the trend. We live in the age of the Big Event and, because of television, all professional sport over-indulges. The more high-profile, highly hyped cricket there is played in England and Wales, the harder it is for domestic clubs left out of the mainstream to survive as viable businesses in their own right. They become increasingly dependent on money from "grander" sources, a situation that is bound to make them less self-sufficient, more reliant on gimmicks or overseas players, and ultimately lazier about feeding their professional teams with locally unearthed and nurtured cricketers.

It follows inevitably that their main raison d'etre, to generate young cricketers capable of playing for England, becomes increasingly less defensible. That may not be the reason for proposing New Twenty20, but it would be its effect.

Christopher Martin-Jenkins has been a leading cricket broadcaster, journalist and author for almost four decades, during which time he has served as a cricket correspondent for the BBC, the Daily Telegraph and the Times

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Chinmay on July 18, 2008, 20:34 GMT

    I wonder how many people outside the UK will actually be interested in watching the EPL. One of the reasons for the success of IPL outside India was the distribution of stars, particularly the foreign contingent. There is no way ECB are going to find 60 foreign stars to play in EPL. There aren't that many "stars" in World Cricket in the first place.

  • Saptarshi on July 18, 2008, 10:09 GMT

    As an Indian I feel very good that other fellow Indians are wishing well to the ECB for being successful with their new venture. I wonder how many from the west had such intentions when the IPL was about to start.

  • Pierre on July 17, 2008, 13:12 GMT

    Who are you trying to kid CMJ? You got it consistently wrong on ODIs, you're way behind on T20. You fall into the Olde Englishmen's trap of thinking that change is bad. What is wrong with the mini-counties falling by the wayside? Why do you think that a smaller number of larger clubs would struggle to locate talent for England? They get far more talent out of Australia with just six teams. The money's in TV, let's go for it with a quality competition. Then there'd be more cash for grassroots. The real issue is why I as an England fan should endure endless TV ads and pay exorbitant prices to sustain hundreds of mediocrities and to force some of the world's greatest sportsmen into the ignonominy of playing in front of a couple of fogeys and their dogs six days a week. County cricket is modern-day slavery, no wonder upper-class folk like it. If English cricket doesn't come up with something to rival IPL, you'll find your counties end up becoming a conveyer belt for India, not England.

  • Lionel on July 16, 2008, 19:43 GMT

    Dear, dear, dear, sad to see CMJ stuck in a 'timewarp'. How can one justify any longer the existance of bankrupt Counties (removing ECB subsidies) offering mediocrity played Journeymen (Robin ?) going nowhere. By concentrating what little talent exists in 18 Counties into 9, with a limited number of overseas players, and the Indian format of 4 u.21's per team will create an exciting and viable format. It will attract much needed funds to a) pay our top stars 'real' money and b) share the proceeds among ALL Counties pro rata to the contribution (in terms of players) they make to the competition. Hopefully this would be an incentive for each County to increase the standard of their players, in turn getting more players selected for each competition. The 20 team format just announced by the ECB simply perpetuates the the dross dished out by the Counties week in week out. Frumps

  • Phil on July 16, 2008, 18:17 GMT

    Speaking as a Worcestershire and England supporter, I really hope that this is the start of a process in which five or six of the wealthier counties pull away from the others and form their own league. There are simply too many teams operating at the top level in English cricket. This means that the standard of cricket is poor, and players produced by the system are not able to compete with those of Australia. What we need is for there to be a level in between county cricket and test cricket, and the only way for this to happen is for the wealthier teams to pull away.

  • nicholas on July 16, 2008, 17:48 GMT

    Yet another person living in the past. When CMJ bleats on about history he conviniently forgets that many people (and businesses) are denied watching first class cricket by history. The Thames Valley area of the UK is one of the most heaviest populated and richest parts of the UK and yet doesn't have a first class county but by luck of history the likes of Gloucester do! I'm sure other places in england are more deserving that some of the current 18 lottery ticket holders. A re-drawing of the map, in any shape or form might of increased crickets popularity and sponsorship.

    Maybe CMJ would like to lecture someone at any of the Slough/Reading cricket clubs about why they shouldn't have first class cricket....

  • Rustom on July 16, 2008, 13:22 GMT

    Good job, CMJ - but I have an intresting solution to this premier league chaos. First of all, all the 18 counties must be retained. Then of course, one most realise that cricket is changing - a cricketer's pay packet, even after the IPL, is mere peanuts compared to Woods, Beckham and Bryant. So I don't think there is any harm in allowing cricketers to play for a sum more than what they normally get paid. The EPL must be structured on IPL lines, with all big stars, icon players and should be staged at a wholly different time slot so as to not clash with any of the T20 leagues including the IPL. This will enable a cricketer to play in the EPL, IPL and his national league without any commotion. I personally feel that more T20 leagues will be more beneficial to the modern-day cricketer, as well as some unnoticed talents from associate nations. tests should be preserved, but T20 should be made the staple form instead of ODI'S. Then only will cricket be made into a global sport.

  • Daniel Tunna on July 16, 2008, 9:48 GMT

    CMJ I fear we are following a well trodden path here. You only have to look at the state of English football to see the financial chasm that has opened between the elite Premier League teams and those in the lower leagues. The disproportionate sharing of revenues has led to many clubs struggling to stay afloat and plenty falling into receivership alongside the failure to invest sufficiently at grass roots level. I fear that English cricket could head the same way if theses proposals come to fruition. Once the franchises are formulated and the tournament begins it will be an undoubted success and leave players, owners and sponsors wondering if there is still a need for county cricket at all in its current format.

  • Ashwin on July 16, 2008, 9:38 GMT

    i dont understand the point of overseas players? it completely reduces the need for local and homegrown talent. cricket truly is evolving. EPL must be formed however, it is one of the few ways to make cricket truly global.

  • Vipul on July 16, 2008, 9:16 GMT

    To resist change, any kind of change, is human. I am not as well versed with the English county system as I am with Indian Cricket. There were many so called lesser cricketing centers in India which went unrepresented in the IPL such as UP, MP, Bihar, Goa , Baroda Jammu etc. But on the other hand we had players who have been playing for these teams for many years but never got the recognition which they deserved, the best example being Asnodkar and Y Pathan from the victorious Royals. At least in theory the BCCI is supposed to distribute its profits with all its members. I do not think that this would be such a bad move at all.

  • No featured comments at the moment.