March 31, 2010

Reconstitutional crisis

There is merit in converting the County Championship into conferences, like in the NBA; the ECB must consider it along with a compromise with the Champions League over scheduling
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Last week a friend and vastly superior journalist, like me a cricket tragic since boyhood, made a depressing confession. County cricket had never interested him less, had never held such a tenuous grip on his heartstrings. I found it sobering and sad, and horribly hard to dispute.

The conversation came back to me on Monday, the day the English county season began, unthinkably, in March. True, it was a surreal overture: the stage was Abu Dhabi rather than Abergavenny, the ball less a new cherry than a slab of bubblegum, the floodlights a gleaming symbol of the future. But still. Normal(ish) service had resumed. Yes, the sense of distance, of dislocation, felt considerably more than the 3400 miles separating Lord's from the Sheikh Zayed Stadium. Yet somehow, in bringing a symbolic end to a winter of deep national discontent and far too much snow, in filling the mind's eye with green-tinted images of men seeking runs and wickets and everyday glory, of moist mornings at Worcester, cider-tinted afternoons at Taunton, fish-and-chippy evenings at Scarborough and sea-misted nights at Hove, it was hard not to convince oneself that here, at last, was a small reason to be cheerful.

The heart, though, does not leap as once it did. For all the rich promise of youth, most readily apparent in Middlesex's cloud-bumping Steven Finn and Leicestershire's diminutive Jimmy Taylor, the future is cloudy at best. Several clubs are deep in the red, yet they are far from alone in dreading the prospect of losing a projected £135m should Ashes Tests return to terrestrial transmission - to whatever extent that loss might be absorbed by returning the well-meaning but bloated ranks employed by the England and Wales Cricket Board to the confines of appropriateness.

For newspaper readers whose first port of call each morning is the county reports, our fix has been doubly blighted, by declining editorial budgets and the tyranny of football, especially in a World Cup year. With editors paring coverage of non-international matches back to minimalist proportions, the slack is being picked up by websites, but only to a small, tantalising and ultimately unsatisfactory extent. English summers, whose pulse once beat to the gently seductive rhythm of those episodic match bulletins, will never be quite the same again.

Continuity, moreover, is a distant memory, sacrificed on the altar of progress. Every year brings change, much of it innovative and sound, too much a waste of time, money and/or thought. To go with bonuses for supplying players to the national team, there are now incentives for counties to field younger homegrown players, the clear intention to dilute the influence of South Africa's economic migrants but a decision with which the Professional Cricketers Association took vehement issue because of its inherent ageism. Appreciably more welcome is the two-innings, 40-overs-per-side experiment to be conducted among county 2nd XIs. Here lies the link between Twenty20 and Tests; here lies the future.

More troubling is the latest blue-sky thinking by the ECB. Moves are afoot to reconstitute the County Championship, to dismantle the two-tier format introduced in 2000 and introduce conferences a la Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NFL. This was first proposed, to widespread ridicule, by Lord MacLaurin's radical 1997 blueprint, "Raising the Standard" - the same document that recommended a 20-over competition to similar derision.

In theory this is to be applauded, especially if, supplemented by playoffs, this results in every side once again having the chance to win the Championship. However, the apparent means by which this is to be organised inspires scant faith that those responsible have their sights trained far beyond their own heavy-breathing nostrils. The proposal reportedly on the table is that the three six-county zones be rearranged every season, by random draw, tossed into the air like so much confetti. One could mount a more robust defence on behalf of Nike sweatshops.

But perhaps sympathy is in order, or at least compassion. Finances are straitened, prospects uncertain. Is the recession history or is it simply having forty winks before turning into a full-blown depression? Above all, what of the shadow cast by the breakneck pace of change in India? This is no time for the lily-livered, but nor is it a time for hotheads.

If players are fresher, benefits accrue to spectacle and spectators. Would a slimmer county itinerary enhance its scarcity value and box-office appeal? Quite possibly. Would a slimmer county itinerary contribute to a smaller carbon footprint and a greener and more realistic global programme? It couldn't hurt

TO THOSE RUNNING COUNTY CRICKET, Lalit Modi's latest gauntlet, the schedule for the 2010 Champions League, is the biggest, prickliest, most provocative this prolific flinger has yet flung down. By setting up a clash with the last fortnight of the county season, and the entire ODI series against Pakistan, he gave Giles Clarke and his flexible and pragmatic but increasingly irritated team two choices: make the necessary changes or confront the sobering reality that, quite frankly my dear, I don't give a damn about your players (and don't get me started on those pesky Pakistanis).

For Modi to chuck an as-yet unscheduled ODI series against Australia in early October into the mix, as justification for the September 10 kick-off, was either a slip of the tongue or - having wisely worked out that nobody can keep up with the Future Tours Program - the height of ingenuousness. Of course, it could all simply be another case of smirking brinkmanship, another chance to rub Pommy noses in the new world order. Clarke and company may not like the smell but deep down, in the heart of their wallets, they know this is a bullet that must be bitten.

Having already brought forward the start of the season, the ECB has thus far refused point-blank to make the additional "minor adjustments" Modi coyly called for. Michael Vaughan upbraided his former employers for being "arrogant and stubborn" towards Indian cricket in general, and Modi and the BCCI in particular. He is quite right, too, but this was not a case in point.

Where the ECB goes from here is anyone's guess. Stick to their guns, to refuse to be dictated to by outsiders who are at once rivals and colleagues (in strictly theoretical ICC terms that is)? That would be brave, divisive, and given those gusts of change, somewhat foolhardy. To deprive the counties of a chance to earn a share of that Champions League booty would verge on, if not plunge headlong into, the unconstitutional. This is not a straightforward dilemma by any means.

Yet for all Modi's insistence that second-string teams are unacceptable, the make-up of a Twenty20 XI often bears scant relation to a Championship XI, littered as the former tends to be with the young and the lithe. In any event, should either or both county qualifiers reach the last two Championship fixtures with nothing to play for, you can bet your life they'd field a batch of reserves and dispatch their limited-overs experts to the Champions League. Even if they are in the running for the Championship or promotion, the lure of the more lucrative event is unlikely to be resisted.

It is the broader canvas, though, that needs addressing. The ever-rising number of Twenty20 games has left the county fixture list dangerously overweight. Yet again. Simon Wilde calculated in the Sunday Times that this season's nipped-and-tucked schedule - now lacking the Friends Provident Trophy, the lone 50-over competition, and featuring a new 40-over league - amounts to a maximum of 96 days' play, just two fewer than in 1998, when the Benson & Hedges Cup was ditched to ease the workload. Given that the players now have to flit between three as opposed to merely two distinct formats, it does not seem unreasonable to suggest that their burden has never been heavier.

THERE WILL BE BLOOD. No less inevitably, the next target for cuts will be the four-day Championship, the least popular format and the only one that stands between county cricket and limited-overs hell. Cutting the number of counties, or merging them on a regional basis, remains both the most sensible and the most highly charged option, rendering it a non-starter (though for how long is anyone's guess). Tradition runs deep in these parts. County cricket draws bigger crowds, attracts hardier loyalties, than domestic competitions elsewhere. There is, moreover, an attractive compromise.

Converting the Championship into conferences is a bright idea whose time has come, but it should be regional, to save on motorway miles and stress. Deciding which club belongs where is not without its problems, which may explain why a constantly revolving distribution is attracting favour. The trick is not to be too specific.

A North and Midlands Division could comprise Derbyshire, Durham, Lancashire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Yorkshire; a Mid-Western Division might logically consist of Glamorgan, Gloucestershire, Nottinghamshire, Somerset, Warwickshire and Worcestershire, leaving Essex, Hampshire, Kent, Middlesex, Surrey and Sussex to form the London and South Division. Home-and-away fixtures against each conference rival, with semi-finals and final to follow, would trim the number of days' play from 64 to a maximum of 48 - leaner, fitter and less likely to sap energies and appetites. No domestic team elsewhere, no island, state, province or provincial franchise, plays more than 44. Besides, it's not as if having 50% more matches than the opposition has ever been a guarantee of Test prosperity.

Would this reformation help us greet future seasons with a greater sense of anticipation? Why not? If players are fresher, benefits accrue to spectacle and spectators. Would a slimmer county itinerary enhance its scarcity value and box-office appeal? Quite possibly. Would a slimmer county itinerary contribute to a smaller carbon footprint and a greener and more realistic global programme? It couldn't hurt.

There are some bitter pills out there. This is one that must be swallowed.

Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • POSTED BY tomjs100 on | April 2, 2010, 22:13 GMT

    Steen must be mad. The introduction of the two merit based division championship cricket has been the sole reason for England's improved performance over the last few years.

  • POSTED BY pprozac on | April 2, 2010, 14:46 GMT

    Ah- the English county season is starting so we have the usual 'how to improve it' article.

    Why not just leave it the way it is? Usually any improvement muted by the authorities translates to 'how to make it more profitable'. I love county cricket- it does not get big crowds-so what?

    It's nice that there is a genuine sporting event with great tradition that is not dictated to by money

  • POSTED BY Oldmanmartin on | April 2, 2010, 10:10 GMT

    AkkithehardcoreRCBfan, England invented top-class one-day cricket with the Gillette Cup in 1963 and the Twenty20 Cup in 2003. Remind me, what form of cricket originated in India? What India has done brilliantly is to market the T20 game.

    A three-conference Championship (sic) is a rotten idea - even fewer people would watch it. We have to increase the attraction and competitiveness either by reducing the number of competitions or the number of teams - either would reduce the number of matches - and rationalise when they are played, in blocks with more intervening preparation time instead of mixing up the various formats so no-one has time to draw breath. To me (and I'm a traditionalist) the logical solution is to cut the number of teams to, say, 12, by amalgamation or from-scratch franchise formation. But vested interests on the ECB will prevent this until counties start going to the wall.

  • POSTED BY py0alb on | April 2, 2010, 9:37 GMT

    So 1) we want the CC to prepare players for 5 day cricket. 2) We know that the spectators enjoy and understand 5 day cricket more than any other format (except T20 possibly). So... you want to make the championship 3 day cricket but with extra complications?

  • POSTED BY ampshare on | April 2, 2010, 9:36 GMT

    By all means cut down on the number of four day county games, whether its by a conference or three divisions ( I think amalgamating counties would destroy any remaining interest in the 4 day format, though it could well work in 20/20 as it would bring in a new audience) BUT Can we have our England test players actually playing in the County Championship? It's crazy that only by attending a test match could youngsters be certain of seeing, for instance, Kevin Pietersen over the last few seasons. Also I'd hope for fewer games in windy cold April or late September - and can't we have some games that START at the weekend, rather than make do with the "fag end" of a match on Saturday.

  • POSTED BY billatbasing on | April 2, 2010, 8:54 GMT

    Why not return to three day cricket with a limit of eighty overs for the first innings? Make the points allocated encourage teams to go for a result rather than bonus points and remove penalties for so-called poor pitches. Only dangerous pitches would be penalised. Also extend the playing day to 120 overs in three sessions of forty.

  • POSTED BY Floiing on | April 1, 2010, 16:23 GMT

    As much as I hate to say it, something - almost anything - needs to be done to spice up English domestic cricket. I know that if something radical is done a) I will be amazed and b) I won't like it - but it will probably be for the best.

  • POSTED BY Sanjeevakki on | April 1, 2010, 13:42 GMT

    @ lodger67, @Rob and all others... Whatever may be the facts... The real thing is that ICC is just a Dummy and so as other Boards in front of INDIA! I'm not trying to show the power of BCCI.... It's Just that Other Boards are just incapable of creating Innovative things!!!! Poor People they don't have same MARKET which BCCI has got in INDIA. You guys must be thinking BCCI means Board for Cricket Control in India. Apart from this you just reverse (BCCI) it will be ICCB... that means INTERNATIONAL CRICKET COUNCIL operated out of BOMBAY (MUMBAI)

  • POSTED BY py0alb on | April 1, 2010, 10:59 GMT

    yorvik - just because this particular suggestion is about as useful as a chocolate teapot, doesn't mean that there aren't sensible improvements that could be made to make CC games better attended, higher intensity and higher quality (the three things go hand in hand). Look at the Test match crowds and you see that there is clearly an appetite for watching 1st class cricket in this country, it's just that the CC as it stands is so arcane, poorly run, and poorly promoted that it holds little interest even for the serious cricket fan. Clearly the CC games need to be held Thursday -Monday, every 2nd weekend so people can actually attend them, with 50 over matches on the weekends between, and the T20 games on weekday evenings.

  • POSTED BY yorvik on | April 1, 2010, 0:50 GMT

    Might sound draconian to those who do not attend but, why not leave the amount of games and format as it is? Would those who do not attend be more likely to do so if we had three league's of six? What is needed is a day of the week when a first class match starts. There is no way to capture the potential occassional watcher if even the avid supporters are unsure as to when a game begins. 24 weeks to have a fixed game each week with a one day league running along side and a mid-summer break to play a tweny/20 league wouldn't be too much to ask. Put in a FA Cup style one day competition along the way as a high point season ending would be a grand finale.

  • POSTED BY tomjs100 on | April 2, 2010, 22:13 GMT

    Steen must be mad. The introduction of the two merit based division championship cricket has been the sole reason for England's improved performance over the last few years.

  • POSTED BY pprozac on | April 2, 2010, 14:46 GMT

    Ah- the English county season is starting so we have the usual 'how to improve it' article.

    Why not just leave it the way it is? Usually any improvement muted by the authorities translates to 'how to make it more profitable'. I love county cricket- it does not get big crowds-so what?

    It's nice that there is a genuine sporting event with great tradition that is not dictated to by money

  • POSTED BY Oldmanmartin on | April 2, 2010, 10:10 GMT

    AkkithehardcoreRCBfan, England invented top-class one-day cricket with the Gillette Cup in 1963 and the Twenty20 Cup in 2003. Remind me, what form of cricket originated in India? What India has done brilliantly is to market the T20 game.

    A three-conference Championship (sic) is a rotten idea - even fewer people would watch it. We have to increase the attraction and competitiveness either by reducing the number of competitions or the number of teams - either would reduce the number of matches - and rationalise when they are played, in blocks with more intervening preparation time instead of mixing up the various formats so no-one has time to draw breath. To me (and I'm a traditionalist) the logical solution is to cut the number of teams to, say, 12, by amalgamation or from-scratch franchise formation. But vested interests on the ECB will prevent this until counties start going to the wall.

  • POSTED BY py0alb on | April 2, 2010, 9:37 GMT

    So 1) we want the CC to prepare players for 5 day cricket. 2) We know that the spectators enjoy and understand 5 day cricket more than any other format (except T20 possibly). So... you want to make the championship 3 day cricket but with extra complications?

  • POSTED BY ampshare on | April 2, 2010, 9:36 GMT

    By all means cut down on the number of four day county games, whether its by a conference or three divisions ( I think amalgamating counties would destroy any remaining interest in the 4 day format, though it could well work in 20/20 as it would bring in a new audience) BUT Can we have our England test players actually playing in the County Championship? It's crazy that only by attending a test match could youngsters be certain of seeing, for instance, Kevin Pietersen over the last few seasons. Also I'd hope for fewer games in windy cold April or late September - and can't we have some games that START at the weekend, rather than make do with the "fag end" of a match on Saturday.

  • POSTED BY billatbasing on | April 2, 2010, 8:54 GMT

    Why not return to three day cricket with a limit of eighty overs for the first innings? Make the points allocated encourage teams to go for a result rather than bonus points and remove penalties for so-called poor pitches. Only dangerous pitches would be penalised. Also extend the playing day to 120 overs in three sessions of forty.

  • POSTED BY Floiing on | April 1, 2010, 16:23 GMT

    As much as I hate to say it, something - almost anything - needs to be done to spice up English domestic cricket. I know that if something radical is done a) I will be amazed and b) I won't like it - but it will probably be for the best.

  • POSTED BY Sanjeevakki on | April 1, 2010, 13:42 GMT

    @ lodger67, @Rob and all others... Whatever may be the facts... The real thing is that ICC is just a Dummy and so as other Boards in front of INDIA! I'm not trying to show the power of BCCI.... It's Just that Other Boards are just incapable of creating Innovative things!!!! Poor People they don't have same MARKET which BCCI has got in INDIA. You guys must be thinking BCCI means Board for Cricket Control in India. Apart from this you just reverse (BCCI) it will be ICCB... that means INTERNATIONAL CRICKET COUNCIL operated out of BOMBAY (MUMBAI)

  • POSTED BY py0alb on | April 1, 2010, 10:59 GMT

    yorvik - just because this particular suggestion is about as useful as a chocolate teapot, doesn't mean that there aren't sensible improvements that could be made to make CC games better attended, higher intensity and higher quality (the three things go hand in hand). Look at the Test match crowds and you see that there is clearly an appetite for watching 1st class cricket in this country, it's just that the CC as it stands is so arcane, poorly run, and poorly promoted that it holds little interest even for the serious cricket fan. Clearly the CC games need to be held Thursday -Monday, every 2nd weekend so people can actually attend them, with 50 over matches on the weekends between, and the T20 games on weekday evenings.

  • POSTED BY yorvik on | April 1, 2010, 0:50 GMT

    Might sound draconian to those who do not attend but, why not leave the amount of games and format as it is? Would those who do not attend be more likely to do so if we had three league's of six? What is needed is a day of the week when a first class match starts. There is no way to capture the potential occassional watcher if even the avid supporters are unsure as to when a game begins. 24 weeks to have a fixed game each week with a one day league running along side and a mid-summer break to play a tweny/20 league wouldn't be too much to ask. Put in a FA Cup style one day competition along the way as a high point season ending would be a grand finale.

  • POSTED BY Pteris on | April 1, 2010, 0:48 GMT

    The conference thing WITH playoffs makes a lot of sense for four day county cricket in the UK for now. But only for the sake of improving cricket in England and Wales not because of T20 challenge from India. N.B. I have tickets for the World T20 in Barbados.

  • POSTED BY ygkd on | March 31, 2010, 23:41 GMT

    Most Australians with a serious opinion on the County scene think there is too much of it - with the probable exception of those who are expecting to play there. Aus has currently a maximum of 45 days only (not the 44 mentioned, as the final is a 5 day affair), but its not so much the quantity as the quality which is the issue. The County scene is not hard enough. Take eight from England, keep Wales separate, and see if Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands would join in a European championship. This would help the associates (I know that goes against English grain) but it would also produce a more hardened professional ready to step into the national team without having to come via the Cape to do so.

  • POSTED BY py0alb on | March 31, 2010, 23:12 GMT

    Go to an arbitrarily arranged conference system and we might as well just chuck the towel in. Stupidist idea I have heard in a long time.

    However clearly SOMETHING needs to be done to 1) spice up the competition, 2) simplify the championship, 3) reduce the playing days, and 4) attract more casual fans to the grounds.

    The BEST solution is to reduce the number of teams via regional mergers down to 8, 10 or 12 teams, thereby increasing the quality and reducing the number of fixtures.

    A sensible compromise would be to keep the same county sides in the same divisions, but half the number of fixtures, play them over 5 days to reduce the number of draws, simplify the points system, promote them better to the public, and offer the highlights free to any domestic broadcaster who wish to set up a camera at each end.

    Get rid of the stupid numbers too. the closer the CC looks to test cricket, the better.

  • POSTED BY Clean_hitter on | March 31, 2010, 19:09 GMT

    The ECB needs to look at what South Africa has done and introduce a franchise system where the franchises are regional. Fact is, there are far too many teams for a country the size of England. The county system as such could remain, but there needs to be a more concentrated system at the top level of English domestic cricket.

  • POSTED BY dragqueen1 on | March 31, 2010, 17:05 GMT

    personally thought this was the best idea at the time the league was split in 2 not that it would be implemented this season when the clash with the champions league occurs as the fixture list has been out for a while however it's obvious the county season is being squeezed at both ends by the BCCI's big money competetions and that will continue to happen especially with 2 new teams being added to the IPL next season(increasing the number of games to 93 from 59) which i'm sure won't be the last meaning a contraction in the county season is inevitable,if English cricket wants to be part of the brave new cricketing world.

  • POSTED BY milo80 on | March 31, 2010, 16:56 GMT

    If you're going to have conferences and limit teams to 10 or so regular season games, then why not have 6 divisions of 3 teams each (eg Lancs, Yorkshire and Durham) and then have 2 conferences (North and South) made up of 3 divisions each. You play your divisional rivals home and away and then 6 other games drawn from the rest of the teams. Division winners progress to the playoffs plus the next best performing team from each conference. This is broadly the NFL format, and the most logical US example to follow, as in American Football (unlike basketball and baseball) teams play only 16 regular season games. In this way teams in different divisions would still meet without the confusion of redrawing conferences every year. Local rivalries would be preserved and a North/South festival match could be held comprised of the best players from each conference. Also start all games on the same day, simplify the points system and guarantee weekend cricket.

  • POSTED BY on | March 31, 2010, 16:50 GMT

    Or do what South Africa did. They halved the number of first-class sides few seasons ago by merging two into one. If England (& Wales) comes down to 9 sides instead of 18, level of competition will surely allow them to get much closer to Australia that is best despite (or due to?) only 6 domestic teams. It might also have positive side effect of more 'quality' home grown players playing the game.

  • POSTED BY ChinmayD on | March 31, 2010, 15:51 GMT

    ECB should scrap county cricket and adopt the South Africa model -- create franchises jointly owned by 3 existing county teams each. That will mean 6 franchises, participating in a revamped "county championship". This will mean that the quality of sides will improve a lot.

    Replace the second XI competition by a competition involving current county sides (sort of like SA's provincial championship, which runs alongside it's Supersport series)

  • POSTED BY CliffM on | March 31, 2010, 15:46 GMT

    There are two problems with conferences. Firstly there will be more mis-matches - a hierarchical divisional structure helps to reduce this and therefore make matches more competitve for both the strong and the weak. I would prefer going to three divisions if it is necessary to reduce the number of games required, ideally including Scotland, Ireland and Holland to encourage growth in those developing cricketing countries in the way that South Africa have included Namibia in their domestic competition. Secondly, by defintion the play offs will occur at the end of the season. They are therefore more likely to be subject to interference from the weather. Far better to have champions decided by a season-long competition than some rain-soaked farce in late September.

  • POSTED BY Paul_JT on | March 31, 2010, 15:32 GMT

    My idea. Championship group stage: split North/South, counties play those in same group once, fixtures reverse annually (8 games). Hiatus for T20: 3 regional groups, include Scotland, Ireland and Netherlands, teams play those in same group twice, home and away (12 games), quarters and Finals Day. Championship Playoffs: 1st round - odd placed counties play even placed counties below them from other group e.g. North 1 v South 2. 2nd round - winners/losers in first round play winners/losers of parallel tie for final placing and prize money e.g. winners North 1 v South 2 play winners of South 1 v North 2, losers South 3 v North 4 play losers of North 3 v South 4. Both rounds are best of 3 games (replicates Test series). Bottom placed counties (North 9 and South 9) play standalone fixtures against 1) a Minor Counties representative and 2) a Combined MCC Uni's and YC, instead of a second round. Each county guaranteed minimum of 4, maximum of 6, playoff games. Plus a 40-over Sunday League.

  • POSTED BY MichaelHall on | March 31, 2010, 15:20 GMT

    Three divisions on merit with 12 games a season would be a reasonable amount for the 4 day game. Do not want regional cricket as very dull playing same teams all the time. Please can we mix up and play through year as I do not want all my county cricket in the poorer weather start and end of season periods. Two up and two down promotion and relegation with an increased level of prize money for winning title and each match through the season to create additional incentives. Finally two overseas players only with no prize money for anyone fielding a Kolpak player.

  • POSTED BY Rampsfan on | March 31, 2010, 15:17 GMT

    The County Championship isn't dying, traditional journalism and journalists are ! There's more reportage on this globohit website than all the old broadsheets put together ! Crowds that were never great are up, and exciting and talented South Africans have taken over the slot vacated by basketball-watching Windians since the then revolutionary move to two divisions at the start of the last dazzling decade. Result: matches going to the wire unlike all those dead/drawn rubbers of the preceding thirty years ! I''ll never forget Corkie down on one knee in Excalibur pose when Lancs were just 25 runs from first outright title in 70 years: last match, last day, last bell of season !! Of course I agree with weekend cricket and conferences and playoffs -division winners plus best runner-up to play-offs. 20 overs to bring kids and teens in and 40 overs replaces 50 overs in this cyberquick age. DONE.

  • POSTED BY Paul_JT on | March 31, 2010, 14:49 GMT

    A thought provoking article that touches on many of the issues churning around the game in England. No dispute that a reduction of four-day games and a better approach with India are required medicines. But what of other cricket in England? I think there is too much across the board. Early season one-day fixtures and any Second XI competitions are financially unjustifiable. The excessive level of international cricket - 7 match ODI series and early scheduled Tests - is wearing on both players and spectators. The new 40-over and T20 competitions seemed to have been thought up in isolation, now it is the Championship. Some leadership (at the ECB?) is required to put the whole programme on the table. A franchise based EPL is a no-goer, but a T20 competition if played in a short window, with England and overseas internationals under a separate TV deal could open a second income stream.

  • POSTED BY ianp1970 on | March 31, 2010, 14:29 GMT

    A lot has been written and said about the need for changes to the county championship, mainly in order to reduce playing days.

    Why not have 3 divisions of 6 teams playing each other home and away with the championship decided by a play-off at the league leaders ground and the home side only needing a draw. Promotion and relegation would be one up one down automatic, with one more decided by play-off (in the above manner) between higher league 5th and lower league 2nd.

    Matches would be played in 2 blocks of 5 matches at the start and end of the season. Matches to be played from Friday to Monday and scheduled not to clash with England tests.

    50 or 40 over league/cup could run midweek on Wednesdays if required to be played at this time. However my belief is that all one day competition could be played in the middle of the seaon:

    April - Early May = Championship Late May - June = Twenty 20 July = 50 over cricket August - September = Championship (inc play-offs)

  • POSTED BY Sanjeev_Akki on | March 31, 2010, 14:12 GMT

    @ lodger67 ,@Rob and all others... What ever may be the facts... The real thing is that ICC is just a Dummy and so as other Boards in front of INDIA! I'm not trying to show the power of BCCI.... Its Just that Other Boards are just incapable of creating Innovative things!!!! Poor People they dont have same MARKET which BCCI has got in INDIA.You guys must be thinking BCCI means Board for Cricket Control in India. Apart from this you just reserve(BCCI ) it will be ICCB... that means International Cricket Council operated by INDIA.

  • POSTED BY on | March 31, 2010, 14:11 GMT

    Rob, Myself and my ftiends would diagree with you because we tend to believe that any player that plays good is always going to gain the respect and love from the indians! that's what me and friends think anyway --> How can one not respect the fabulous straight drive, the cover drives, the yokerz etc. And india is known for its big heart (:

  • POSTED BY ianp1970 on | March 31, 2010, 13:54 GMT

    A lot has been written and said about the need for changes to the county championship, mainly in order to reduce playing days.

    Why not have 3 divisions of 6 teams playing each other home and away with the championship decided by a play-off at the league leaders ground and the home side only needing a draw. Promotion and relegation would be one up one down automatic, with one more decided by play-off (in the above manner) between higher league 5th and lower league 2nd.

    Matches would be played in 2 blocks of 5 matches at the start and end of the season. Matches to be played from Friday to Monday and scheduled not to clash with England tests.

    50 or 40 over league/cup could run midweek on Wednesdays if required to be played at this time. However my belief is that all one day competition could be played in the middle of the seaon:

    April - Early May = Championship Late May - June = Twenty 20 July = 50 over cricket August - September = Championship (inc play-offs)

  • POSTED BY Batsnumbereleven on | March 31, 2010, 13:48 GMT

    As long as cricket doesn't follow the NBA in allowing more than half its teams to qualify for the playoffs, the conference idea is no better nor worse than any other.

    Yet, how do we determine the winner of the semi-finals or final in a format that allows for draws? It's hardly going to fire the imagination when the County Champions are eventually decided by one team managing to have taken three wickets (to gain a decisive bonus point) on the first day of an otherwise washed-out "final"!

    However, one of the supposed benefits of having two hierarchical Divisions for the County Championship was that those in the top Division would be playing a higher standard of cricket because they are playing better opponents. Is this a fallacy? Are we throwing this out of the window?

    The reason for the continued increase in playing days is the introduction of the T20 competition/cash cow. Why do we want to reduce the amount of (ostensibly) First-class cricket to make way for it?

  • POSTED BY jackiethepen on | March 31, 2010, 13:29 GMT

    Your friend and vastly superior but jaded journalist is probably a Middlesex/Surrey/Essex fan. The Home Counties are not doing particularly well at the moment. I'm sorry for the lads. But up here in the North cricket is absolutely thriving. Durham has set County Cricket alight. I've seen some absolutely thrilling matches - but then we are in the first division and County Champions 2 years running. The years of supremacy by the Home Counties is over. Cricket is not for the faint hearted. The ECB are just terrible. They should just stop doing anything for about 2 years until we get a decent Board. The MCC are just as bad under Keith Bradshaw. Their ideas are out of date before they get started. Trying to jump on a bandwagon about to crash. Meanwhile County cricket keeps the game alive in dark times. Members need to be more pro-active like the football club members and fight to protect their clubs against the suits and money-obsessives.

  • POSTED BY 0NBH on | March 31, 2010, 12:55 GMT

    What a lot of rubbish. The article recognises that County Cricket is more followed than any other domestic competition. Ask around the crowd at any Championship match, and you'll find that most current fans hate all these half-baked ideas, so there's a good risk that their interest will be lessened. And why should any of these ideas attract any new fans who don't follow county cricket now; so you're more than likely looking at a net fan loss. And the effect on the national team? England have just won the Ashes, held South Africa to a draw at home, etc etc, so the current setup seems to be working fine there. People complain about South-African born players, but Trott, Pietersen et al weren't labelled future stars as soon as they arrived, they developed their games at counties. The comments of guys like Langer and Shakib show the esteem players hold for our system; the problem is clearly earlier in the setup. Maybe we should look more at how to get kids playing cricket regularly first.

  • POSTED BY davidmoz on | March 31, 2010, 11:07 GMT

    County Championship attendances have actually increased over the past couple of years. However, the ECB is shooting itself in the foot this year- many four day games are starting on a Tuesday, meaning if they last four days, people who work weekdays won't be able to get to the last day. My county, Lancashire, also have some stupid fixture programming- two back to back one day games followed the day after by a four day game, and two four day games with no day off! They should look at these kind of issues too...of course it's all been done to squeeze in more Twenty20, but I've noticed a drip in Twenty20 crowds since they expanded the number of games.

  • POSTED BY Rake1 on | March 31, 2010, 11:03 GMT

    I am a member of Surrey Cricket Club & I have not been to the Oval much in the last 2-3 years, so I agree with Rob's friend. I think 3 conference of 6 team each selected on drawing of lots. Top team in each conference + best second place go to 5 day semis & final matches. Also would like to see two 20/20 competitions. 1st a knock out between the 18 counties and second EPL based on city/ region based sides for e.g. London, Birmingham etc - perhaps 6 sides ( maximum 8 sides), having 2 foreign players, played on a league basis, with semi & final .Winner + runner up play the T20 Champions League. The second EPL competition is needed as 18 counties dilutes the talent available to each county and having 6 - 8 teams would mean that the English teams can compete with likes of New South Wales, Trindad & Tabago and SA domestic sides & IPL sides in league.

  • POSTED BY Patrick_Clarke on | March 31, 2010, 9:13 GMT

    Just 3 years ago, Justin Langer said that the County Championship was the most competitive domestic cricket tournament he'd ever played in. It was also graced by the presence of such talents as Shane Warne, Stephen Fleming, Simon Katich, Mushtaq Ahmed and other leading players of recent years. Last year I saw two of the best last day match action I've ever seen - Somerset's record breaking run chase to beat Yorkshire at Taunton and Matthew Hoggard's hat-trick at Hove to turn the crucial relegation decider between Sussex & Yorkshire on its head, far better days than any T20 pantomime. Less than a year later I feel complete depression about a sport I actively followed for 40 years. The ridiculous scheduling, with so many matches in April or Mon to Thurs matches, the exodus of talent to the IPL circus, the retention and expansion of completely irrelevant 40 over cricket, artificial restrictions on players and now talk of dismembering county cricket to cram more 1 day matches in.

  • POSTED BY allblue on | March 31, 2010, 8:51 GMT

    1000 characters is simply not enough to raise all of the many complex issues involved, so I'll just throw this into the mix. Three divisions, five high-intensity matches in a block early season, the reverse fixtures in a block towards the end, with room in the middle for money-making one-day/T20 competitions. Scheduled opposite to Test matches, allowing people to watch both. Weekend cricket for heaven's sake! One-up/ one down, possibly involving a play-off. A regularised transfer system to allow the best players to compete in the top division, the third division a less pressurised environment suitable for blooding youth. ECB grants more tightly focussed on developing future England players. Two overseas players per team, with strong grant-related incentives to exclude Kolpaks. This set-up would give us a top division much closer to Test match standard, which in this multichannel age may well have a TV market. Traditional County support is an asset, not a weakness, so let's use it.

  • POSTED BY DustyBin on | March 31, 2010, 7:25 GMT

    Rob places Northamptonshire in the North and Nottinghamshire, which is 70 miles further North, in th "Mid West". Glad to see you thought it through.

  • POSTED BY lodger67 on | March 31, 2010, 7:16 GMT

    At CricFan78 - the Aus-India series in October, to which Modi has been referring, is not even in the FTP at the present, nor has it been there in the past. It does not appear in the past or current ACB lists of future fixtures for Australia, either. Get your facts straight before suggesting that others need to get theirs straight, yes? To Rob, a nice suggestion, yes, which I've long advocated, as the tier system does rob half the comp of a shot at the title and any attenuating benefits. Problem with a three zone system is, how to calculate a national champion from 3 zone winners?

  • POSTED BY NeilCameron on | March 31, 2010, 5:52 GMT

    Yawn yawn yawn. Look, County Cricket is not dead, nor is it dying and nor was it ever a huge money spinner. It plods along getting enough money to support its playing staff and that's fine. It also functions as the training centre for international cricketers - mainly from England but increasingly from abroad. Without county cricket, players would have neither the experience nor the skills to be ready to enter the international limelight (whether that be Tests, ODIs, or 20/20 matches). Like all first class cricket competitions, county cricket provides an invaluable service to top class cricket while simultaneously remaining out of the public eye. County cricket is like a tree's root system - it is rarely seen, it is ugly but take it away and the tree dies. Tamper with it at your peril.

  • POSTED BY TheOnlyEmperor on | March 31, 2010, 5:24 GMT

    English county cricket is dead. In any case it was terribly boring even with the foreign players. Now that the foreign players of any merit, would reserve their energies for IPL, what chance has English county cricket?

  • POSTED BY simon_w on | March 31, 2010, 4:58 GMT

    this is an interesting and well-written article. thanks.

  • POSTED BY CricFan78 on | March 31, 2010, 4:28 GMT

    Rob Steen India-Aus ODI series this Oct has been in FTP for last 3 yrs whereas Pak-Eng ODI series got scheduled only late last year. Maybe you need to get your facts right before writing an article. Coming to county cricket its an outdated system now and full of mediocrity.

  • No featured comments at the moment.

  • POSTED BY CricFan78 on | March 31, 2010, 4:28 GMT

    Rob Steen India-Aus ODI series this Oct has been in FTP for last 3 yrs whereas Pak-Eng ODI series got scheduled only late last year. Maybe you need to get your facts right before writing an article. Coming to county cricket its an outdated system now and full of mediocrity.

  • POSTED BY simon_w on | March 31, 2010, 4:58 GMT

    this is an interesting and well-written article. thanks.

  • POSTED BY TheOnlyEmperor on | March 31, 2010, 5:24 GMT

    English county cricket is dead. In any case it was terribly boring even with the foreign players. Now that the foreign players of any merit, would reserve their energies for IPL, what chance has English county cricket?

  • POSTED BY NeilCameron on | March 31, 2010, 5:52 GMT

    Yawn yawn yawn. Look, County Cricket is not dead, nor is it dying and nor was it ever a huge money spinner. It plods along getting enough money to support its playing staff and that's fine. It also functions as the training centre for international cricketers - mainly from England but increasingly from abroad. Without county cricket, players would have neither the experience nor the skills to be ready to enter the international limelight (whether that be Tests, ODIs, or 20/20 matches). Like all first class cricket competitions, county cricket provides an invaluable service to top class cricket while simultaneously remaining out of the public eye. County cricket is like a tree's root system - it is rarely seen, it is ugly but take it away and the tree dies. Tamper with it at your peril.

  • POSTED BY lodger67 on | March 31, 2010, 7:16 GMT

    At CricFan78 - the Aus-India series in October, to which Modi has been referring, is not even in the FTP at the present, nor has it been there in the past. It does not appear in the past or current ACB lists of future fixtures for Australia, either. Get your facts straight before suggesting that others need to get theirs straight, yes? To Rob, a nice suggestion, yes, which I've long advocated, as the tier system does rob half the comp of a shot at the title and any attenuating benefits. Problem with a three zone system is, how to calculate a national champion from 3 zone winners?

  • POSTED BY DustyBin on | March 31, 2010, 7:25 GMT

    Rob places Northamptonshire in the North and Nottinghamshire, which is 70 miles further North, in th "Mid West". Glad to see you thought it through.

  • POSTED BY allblue on | March 31, 2010, 8:51 GMT

    1000 characters is simply not enough to raise all of the many complex issues involved, so I'll just throw this into the mix. Three divisions, five high-intensity matches in a block early season, the reverse fixtures in a block towards the end, with room in the middle for money-making one-day/T20 competitions. Scheduled opposite to Test matches, allowing people to watch both. Weekend cricket for heaven's sake! One-up/ one down, possibly involving a play-off. A regularised transfer system to allow the best players to compete in the top division, the third division a less pressurised environment suitable for blooding youth. ECB grants more tightly focussed on developing future England players. Two overseas players per team, with strong grant-related incentives to exclude Kolpaks. This set-up would give us a top division much closer to Test match standard, which in this multichannel age may well have a TV market. Traditional County support is an asset, not a weakness, so let's use it.

  • POSTED BY Patrick_Clarke on | March 31, 2010, 9:13 GMT

    Just 3 years ago, Justin Langer said that the County Championship was the most competitive domestic cricket tournament he'd ever played in. It was also graced by the presence of such talents as Shane Warne, Stephen Fleming, Simon Katich, Mushtaq Ahmed and other leading players of recent years. Last year I saw two of the best last day match action I've ever seen - Somerset's record breaking run chase to beat Yorkshire at Taunton and Matthew Hoggard's hat-trick at Hove to turn the crucial relegation decider between Sussex & Yorkshire on its head, far better days than any T20 pantomime. Less than a year later I feel complete depression about a sport I actively followed for 40 years. The ridiculous scheduling, with so many matches in April or Mon to Thurs matches, the exodus of talent to the IPL circus, the retention and expansion of completely irrelevant 40 over cricket, artificial restrictions on players and now talk of dismembering county cricket to cram more 1 day matches in.

  • POSTED BY Rake1 on | March 31, 2010, 11:03 GMT

    I am a member of Surrey Cricket Club & I have not been to the Oval much in the last 2-3 years, so I agree with Rob's friend. I think 3 conference of 6 team each selected on drawing of lots. Top team in each conference + best second place go to 5 day semis & final matches. Also would like to see two 20/20 competitions. 1st a knock out between the 18 counties and second EPL based on city/ region based sides for e.g. London, Birmingham etc - perhaps 6 sides ( maximum 8 sides), having 2 foreign players, played on a league basis, with semi & final .Winner + runner up play the T20 Champions League. The second EPL competition is needed as 18 counties dilutes the talent available to each county and having 6 - 8 teams would mean that the English teams can compete with likes of New South Wales, Trindad & Tabago and SA domestic sides & IPL sides in league.

  • POSTED BY davidmoz on | March 31, 2010, 11:07 GMT

    County Championship attendances have actually increased over the past couple of years. However, the ECB is shooting itself in the foot this year- many four day games are starting on a Tuesday, meaning if they last four days, people who work weekdays won't be able to get to the last day. My county, Lancashire, also have some stupid fixture programming- two back to back one day games followed the day after by a four day game, and two four day games with no day off! They should look at these kind of issues too...of course it's all been done to squeeze in more Twenty20, but I've noticed a drip in Twenty20 crowds since they expanded the number of games.