March 30, 2012

We underestimate county cricket at our peril

Its familiarity may have bred contempt in many, but the County Championship remains of enormous value - value that cannot be judged by financial turnover alone
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Like Mozart, van Gogh, your parents, or your corkscrew, it seems the destiny of the County Championship is to go unappreciated until it is no longer with us.

There are those - usually those who prefer their lazy view of county cricket to be uninformed by facts - who insist that the domestic game is tired, reactionary and serves little purpose. It is not so. It was the county game that gave birth to the List A format in 1963 and the county game that gave birth to the T20 format in 2003. It was the county game that nurtured the likes of Hobbs, Hutton, Gooch and Gower. It was the county game that produced the players - yes, all the players - who led the current England side to the top of the world ratings in Test and T20 cricket.

While other leagues have come, often amid a storm of propaganda, and gone - sometimes amid a torrent of lawsuits and unpaid bills - the championship has persisted for over 120 years. Its familiarity may have bred contempt in some, but it remains a gem. A bit in need of a polish, perhaps, but an unappreciated, priceless gem. We underestimate its worth at our peril.

It is not as unappreciated as some might have you believe, either.

Championship attendances actually increased by 9% last year (to 531,000) - how many businesses can compete with that in these trying economic times? - while the vast numbers following the game online or in newspapers suggest that interest remains undimmed.

That is not to say that the county game does not have problems. Clearly it does. Most pertinently, the competition to host international cricket has seen several clubs stretch themselves to their limits - maybe beyond them - to redevelop their venues. The Ageas Bowl is now council-owned, Leeds Carnegie is solvent purely through the benevolence of a benefactor, the SWALEC's business plan is patched together with personal loans and hope, while Edgbaston's debt would make a Greek wince. That is before even mentioning Gloucestershire, who in trying to dine with the big boys are in danger of being left with their bill. All have gambled on hosting major matches; it is hard to see how all can win.

The smaller clubs have problems of their own. With players' salaries having risen to unsustainable levels in recent years - a trend that is now being corrected amid much wailing and gnashing of teeth - clubs have sought to diversify. People are as likely to visit their county ground for a business conference, or hotel stay or just to pick up a pint of milk, as they are to watch cricket these days. It is not, by any means, a negative development.

Sadly, though, on the eve of another season, the greatest threat to the viability of the county championship comes from within. The changes advocated by David Morgan's review - one that ECB officials continue to push with the sort of never-say-die attitude that would impress Dracula - are the latest in a long line of well-intentioned interference that threatens to suffocate the counties with kindness. The county game is in danger of suffering death by a thousand regulations.

Consider, for a moment, how many obstacles the counties must overcome. They are not able to sign the players they want due to a raft of qualification requirements that, had they been brought in earlier, would have denied county audiences the opportunity to see the likes of Viv Richards or Graeme Hick. They are not able to pick the teams they want due to a raft of regulations that "incentivise" them to select younger players. They are forced to sacrifice their best players - players they may have groomed from the age of eight - to central contracts, Lions games, gym sessions and even to foreign domestic leagues. They are expected to play on homogenised surfaces that leave players helpless when confronted with alien conditions (the decision to penalise the Rose Bowl for preparing a spin-friendly surface appears even more ludicrous in light of England's struggles in Asia, doesn't it?). They are not able to attract or retain the top players - be they overseas or local - due to the imposition of a salary cap that renders them unable to match the market rate. They are presented with a fixture list so illogical and shapeless that it would take an Enigma machine to make sense of it (some counties play three of their five home T20 games within a week this year). And within a year or two, they will not even be allowed to offer the format - 40-over cricket - that many of their spectators most want.

The counties are not, perhaps, as financially self-reliant as they should be, but they are hardly given the best chance.

There are logical explanations for all these regulations. Most are designed to help the England team and most are accepted phlegmatically enough by the counties. It is all part of the sacrifice they make, quite rightly, for the sake of the game as a whole. After all, the broadcast rights from a successful international team pay the bills. It is quite right to remember that.

But that works both ways. If we accept that the foundations of the national side are in the county game - and we should, we really should - then it becomes apparent that by weakening those foundations we risk the whole edifice collapsing. If young players coming into the county game do not learn their trade against the best - be they Kolpak, overseas or British - the gap between domestic and international cricket will grow, as it did in the 1990s. If spectators are not offered the chance to see the best players, whatever their background, they can be forgiven for not wanting to spend their money or their time at county grounds. And if the ECB does not value its own championship - which should be its pride and joy - enough to fight for its integrity, it cannot be surprised if the rest of the world loses interest. Of course there is a balance to be found in all these areas. But we have degraded county cricket to such a degree that we are now at tipping point.

That is why it is such a shame that Morgan has advocated cutting the championship programme. The ECB accepts that a 14-game season played in an asymmetrical league will compromise the competition's integrity but feels it is a price worth paying. They are seemingly unconcerned that they are dismantling the one competition that everyone agrees has worked outstandingly well in recent years. They are seemingly unconcerned that opportunities for young players will be diminished.

If we accept that the foundations of the national side are in the county game - and we should, we really should - then it becomes apparent that by weakening those foundations we risk the whole edifice collapsing

They are seemingly unconcerned that, by introducing an element of illogicality and chance into the fixture list, they will inevitably reduce the intensity and, as a consequence, the quality of the competition. They are currently trying to convince the counties to accept an eight-team top division and a ten-team second division. Sad to report, they may well prove persuasive.

If they simply allowed the domestic season to continue until the end of September - as it did in 2009 - most of the scheduling difficulties would be resolved in a trice. That they do not has much to do with the scheduling of the Champions League. Quite why the ECB should bend over backwards to accommodate a foreign league that imposes a handicap on participating English teams is anyone's guess. Latest figures from the ECB suggest - contrary to the general perception - that there is no financial gain in participating in the Champions League anyway.

Part of the problem is the much-repeated myth that county cricket survives on ECB handouts. It is a nonsense, but as Joseph Goebbels is alleged to have said, if the same lie is repeated often enough, people will start to believe it.

Actually the game's resources - that is, those of all the counties and that of the England team - are pooled, distributed and reinvested. The counties, which are allocated about one third of the ECB's annual income, scout, develop and nurture players from boyhood to the international arena. So when Warwickshire pick up their annual share of ECB funds (something approaching £1.9m per county, all things considered) they are doing so not out of entitlement, but so they can go out and find another Ian Bell or Chris Woakes or, indeed, a Jonathan Trott.

The smaller clubs contribute just as much. Lowly Leicestershire, surviving on a turnover about 10% that of Surrey's, have produced the likes of Stuart Broad, Luke Wright, James Taylor and Darren Maddy in recent years. Turn off their funding and that supply line will disappear.

So it is a mistake to judge the county game purely by financial turnover. It will never pay its own way, going by the narrow criteria that are often used. But nor will women's cricket, grassroots cricket, disability cricket or the NHS. Not everything of value can be counted so neatly.

There will, thankfully, be much cricket to savour. Durham, who beat Lancashire and Warwickshire home and away last year before Lions call-ups and injuries blighted their charge, will again challenge in the championship. Warwickshire, blessed with an allrounder in Woakes, who could, just could, achieve the double (check his figures for last season if you don't believe it), will push them all the way, and Lancashire, armed with an ageless gem in Glen Chapple and a brilliant young spinner in Simon Kerrigan, will take some persuasion to relinquish their title. Meanwhile Essex should bounce back from a season of underachievement in all competitions, and Somerset, so often the bridesmaids, may finally enjoy a day in the sun. Their T20 side looks mouth-wateringly good.

But enjoy it while you can. The storm clouds are gathering.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • AdrianVanDenStael on April 2, 2012, 14:19 GMT

    @CricketingStargazer: Yes, Woakes played 11 matches last season; however, he scored runs at an average of about 50 a game and took wickets about 5 a game, so that's not quite on course for the double even if he'd played all 16. Anyway, as today's news shows, sadly, it's quite a big ask to expect a player like Woakes to play all 16 matches, even apart from the possible England calls: as an all-rounder his team place a lot of demands on him and thus bad luck with injuries is always possible. I certainly cannot think of any England-qualified player coming particularly close to completing the double since 1984; as you'll probably be aware its 1988 since the last player of any nationality achieved it. With teams now playing 16 games (soon likely to be 14?), it's a difficult enough job just to take 100 wickets in a season; only one player (Mushtaq Ahmed) has achieved that (albeit on two occasions) this century.

  • StoneRose on April 2, 2012, 11:43 GMT

    Another brilliant article from George Dobell; I agree with almost everything the author writes here, and agree totally with its overall sentiment.

  • on April 1, 2012, 5:58 GMT

    u state teh exact problem ...county stars donot perform well for their country...they become laid back and trot in and out on weekends for their local supporters...they lose thethe urge to fight for excellence at teh top level...they cannot convert their minds to beating sri lanka or south africa but want to see whether they can beat lancashire or yorkshire or somerset...county cricket must be given some teeth so that when the players go play for their countries they are not surprised by the bowling or situations ...also i think they cannot forget their local rivalries when playing for their countries...there have been such good county players that have always failed at top level...that is why england are also trying to pick teh budding youngsters rather than teh tried county players

  • 2.14istherunrate on March 31, 2012, 21:04 GMT

    Can't Morgan be moved sideways somewhere where the worst he can do is drop a few plates and saucers. The man is a walking disaster.

  • on March 31, 2012, 17:00 GMT

    Completely out of date, probably was useful when only two teams played. With no turning tracks, with no exposure to subcontinent, the team will always be washed out by second string Pakistan side who are not even playing at home and have lost valuable ballers to scandals, have internal team problems and are not being given matches with top teams for so long. And now are on verge on white-wash to Sri Lanka, who for past two years have only been playing India. Most of the team is anyway south African.

  • mikest1999 on March 31, 2012, 16:37 GMT

    Spot-on. I have been a fan of county cricket since the 1950s and you can take it from me that the crowds have never been particularly good. However if you compare attendances with, say, the Sheffield Shield (or whatever it is called these days), they look pretty good. A lot of the financial problems are, as you say, self-inflicted and the desire for Test cricket at places such as Cardiff has done the counties involved no favours and the atmosphere at these grounds for county matches has suffered as a result of the unnecessary expansion. I would far rather watch, say, Middlesex playing at Southgate or Uxbridge than at Lord's or Surrey at Guildford rather than the Oval.

  • CricketingStargazer on March 31, 2012, 16:19 GMT

    @AdrianVanDenStael What you missed is that he only played 11 games. If he were to play the 16 County Champion fixtures he would not be so far away. However, he is very much on the fringes of the England set-up and is a likely player in the squads for ODIs and possibly T20 so, as you would probably argue, he won't play those 16, 17 or even 18 First Class matches that you need to play if you are to go for the double. The last England-qualified player who got close to the double, at least in my memory, was Vic Marks in 1984: he got the 1000 runs but, if memory serves, only mid-80s wickets. I can't recall anyone more recent. Any other offers? One thing that was not raised here has been the steady reduction in the length of matches. From 117 overs per day the ration has dropped steadily, taking the equivalent in overs off the matches to two full sessions. It is one reason why so many more matches are being drawn now.

  • on March 31, 2012, 15:06 GMT

    ESPNcricinfo is committed to a marked increase in county coverage this season with online forums, match reports etc. Please help us to give county cricket a home that it deserves.

  • on March 31, 2012, 14:20 GMT

    @hhillbumper

    'Less Aussies lowering the skill level'

    Australia were the best in the world at all formats for more than a decade, and some of the players who have appeared in the County Championship in the last 5-10 years (Katich, Langer, Rogers, Clarke, WARNE for gods sake) are some of the best players of the era. Just because England currently has a stranglehold on the urn doesn't mean you can marginalize the positive effect said Australians have had!

  • on March 31, 2012, 14:14 GMT

    Aussies lowering the skill level mate ??

  • AdrianVanDenStael on April 2, 2012, 14:19 GMT

    @CricketingStargazer: Yes, Woakes played 11 matches last season; however, he scored runs at an average of about 50 a game and took wickets about 5 a game, so that's not quite on course for the double even if he'd played all 16. Anyway, as today's news shows, sadly, it's quite a big ask to expect a player like Woakes to play all 16 matches, even apart from the possible England calls: as an all-rounder his team place a lot of demands on him and thus bad luck with injuries is always possible. I certainly cannot think of any England-qualified player coming particularly close to completing the double since 1984; as you'll probably be aware its 1988 since the last player of any nationality achieved it. With teams now playing 16 games (soon likely to be 14?), it's a difficult enough job just to take 100 wickets in a season; only one player (Mushtaq Ahmed) has achieved that (albeit on two occasions) this century.

  • StoneRose on April 2, 2012, 11:43 GMT

    Another brilliant article from George Dobell; I agree with almost everything the author writes here, and agree totally with its overall sentiment.

  • on April 1, 2012, 5:58 GMT

    u state teh exact problem ...county stars donot perform well for their country...they become laid back and trot in and out on weekends for their local supporters...they lose thethe urge to fight for excellence at teh top level...they cannot convert their minds to beating sri lanka or south africa but want to see whether they can beat lancashire or yorkshire or somerset...county cricket must be given some teeth so that when the players go play for their countries they are not surprised by the bowling or situations ...also i think they cannot forget their local rivalries when playing for their countries...there have been such good county players that have always failed at top level...that is why england are also trying to pick teh budding youngsters rather than teh tried county players

  • 2.14istherunrate on March 31, 2012, 21:04 GMT

    Can't Morgan be moved sideways somewhere where the worst he can do is drop a few plates and saucers. The man is a walking disaster.

  • on March 31, 2012, 17:00 GMT

    Completely out of date, probably was useful when only two teams played. With no turning tracks, with no exposure to subcontinent, the team will always be washed out by second string Pakistan side who are not even playing at home and have lost valuable ballers to scandals, have internal team problems and are not being given matches with top teams for so long. And now are on verge on white-wash to Sri Lanka, who for past two years have only been playing India. Most of the team is anyway south African.

  • mikest1999 on March 31, 2012, 16:37 GMT

    Spot-on. I have been a fan of county cricket since the 1950s and you can take it from me that the crowds have never been particularly good. However if you compare attendances with, say, the Sheffield Shield (or whatever it is called these days), they look pretty good. A lot of the financial problems are, as you say, self-inflicted and the desire for Test cricket at places such as Cardiff has done the counties involved no favours and the atmosphere at these grounds for county matches has suffered as a result of the unnecessary expansion. I would far rather watch, say, Middlesex playing at Southgate or Uxbridge than at Lord's or Surrey at Guildford rather than the Oval.

  • CricketingStargazer on March 31, 2012, 16:19 GMT

    @AdrianVanDenStael What you missed is that he only played 11 games. If he were to play the 16 County Champion fixtures he would not be so far away. However, he is very much on the fringes of the England set-up and is a likely player in the squads for ODIs and possibly T20 so, as you would probably argue, he won't play those 16, 17 or even 18 First Class matches that you need to play if you are to go for the double. The last England-qualified player who got close to the double, at least in my memory, was Vic Marks in 1984: he got the 1000 runs but, if memory serves, only mid-80s wickets. I can't recall anyone more recent. Any other offers? One thing that was not raised here has been the steady reduction in the length of matches. From 117 overs per day the ration has dropped steadily, taking the equivalent in overs off the matches to two full sessions. It is one reason why so many more matches are being drawn now.

  • on March 31, 2012, 15:06 GMT

    ESPNcricinfo is committed to a marked increase in county coverage this season with online forums, match reports etc. Please help us to give county cricket a home that it deserves.

  • on March 31, 2012, 14:20 GMT

    @hhillbumper

    'Less Aussies lowering the skill level'

    Australia were the best in the world at all formats for more than a decade, and some of the players who have appeared in the County Championship in the last 5-10 years (Katich, Langer, Rogers, Clarke, WARNE for gods sake) are some of the best players of the era. Just because England currently has a stranglehold on the urn doesn't mean you can marginalize the positive effect said Australians have had!

  • on March 31, 2012, 14:14 GMT

    Aussies lowering the skill level mate ??

  • hhillbumper on March 31, 2012, 8:35 GMT

    It has got a lot tougher and with the move towards having younger players and less Kolpaks it has become more beneficial for the future.A few more spinning pitches would not go amiss and less Aussies lowering the skill level would be good but County Cricket is a good school.

  • RandyOZ on March 31, 2012, 2:33 GMT

    The problem is that cricket is pretty much dead in England. It is being overtaken by sports like rugby.

  • on March 30, 2012, 21:19 GMT

    Nice work George. The bit about homogenised surfaces rings most true. We should do teh Geoff Boycott impression "In my day pitches were uncovered, and you'd have a sticky dog turner in Bradford for the 50 over cup game on a Wednesday, a raging seamer at Trent Bridge on a Friday for the first day of a Championship game, then take a day off to play on a dust bowl in Surrey for a Sunday league game before you went back to Trent Bridge for the final day of the Champiosnship game, players had to learn to play oin all surfaces and adapt almost every day" If only that were the case now! England in the subcontinent and India in the UK look like batting sides who have never played serious cricket before - never mind be respective "number one" at the time of their drubbings. Home advantage in cricket is now far too big, and that's the administrators fault.

  • on March 30, 2012, 19:02 GMT

    Great article George. I think this season will be pretty near to perfect in terms of the balance of the various formats: 16 CC games, 10 Twenty20 and 12 40 over matches. All the ECB need to do now is come up with a coherent fixture list!

    I disagree about Kolpak players however, Northants for instance had 5 a couple of years ago, surely that is stopping home grown talent from getting a game. However once the rules were tightened up on Kolpak players the old rule of 2 overseas players per county should have been re-introduced.

    Finally the sooner that the Morgan Review is kicked into touch the better.

  • Chase_HQ on March 30, 2012, 17:58 GMT

    this article is spot on - our Test team is built on the county game. How else are players to get the required training and experience? Other countries which have a weaker first class system are often dependent on a few 'star' players, and struggle when they retire or are injured. These teams also seem to use Test cricket as a way to learn their game - which devalues the whole thing. I wonder, like many, if there aren't a few too many counties, but those inside the game tend to support it, and I defer to their opinion.

  • AdrianVanDenStael on March 30, 2012, 16:53 GMT

    "It was the county game that produced the players - yes, all the players - who led the current England side to the top of the world ratings in Test and T20 cricket". I can't imagine some of our Australian correspondents accepting that statement if they bother to read, but Mr. Dobell is correct. However, he seems to repeat some of the fulminations I've seen elsewhere about the Morgan Review and the iniquities of proposing an asymetric county championship, which I can't accept. Yes it would introduce an illogicality, but it's hardly the end of the world the county championship adopted an asymetic structure in 1969 to accommodate List A cricket - ironically something which Dobell praises it for doing - and had one every year until 1993. I may be missing something, but I've checked Woakes' performance last year and he scored about 550 runs in county championship division one and took 56 wickets. It seems somewhat audacious to suggest he is on the verge of achieving the 1000/100 double

  • yorkshirematt on March 30, 2012, 16:18 GMT

    Great article, thanks. As a lifelong member at Yorkshire I see county cricket as something to be cherished and it's such a pity it doesn't get the coverage it deserves. It produces memorable occasions, sub plots and matches. Even the T20 tournament only really gets detailed coverage from Sky. Unfortunately "Team England" gets the ECB's priority and our domestic game is overlooked, and is ultimately seen as the stepping stone to the elite club of the national team, which is a shame. Back in the day just playing for your county was an honour and although I like to think it still is at yorkshire, the reality is that young players are not satisfied with just a career playing at county level, which is fair enough given the money and status it involves. I just think more attention form the ECB would allow the county game to flourish, as well as benefit the future of the England team. On another note it looks like the season will start in typical April conditions, so pack your thermals.

  • pietrojackson on March 30, 2012, 16:16 GMT

    Great article but still assumes the continuation of an archaic structure. Why not have a championship based on regional teams with each region using a limited number of venues each with high population density ? This would provide a higher standard of cricket at the top and 2nd team levels, remove much of the overhead, limit the number of matches to be played, etc. Once the initial fan reaction to the loss of the traditional counties is overcome [surely not significant now that the traditions of county birth and continuity of service have been eroded] overall attendance would not be significantly impacted. Rather than uncovered tracks i would suggest that the 4 day game will allow groundkeepers to have 1st day for the quicks, 2nd and 3rd for the batsmen and 4th day for the spinners.

  • cricromantic on March 30, 2012, 15:11 GMT

    Fab Article George. I am from India and I follow county championships like a maniac, it is game at a different level. There will always be comparisons with IPL or Big Bash and other leagues but the quality of english seaming conditions and like of Corky, Simon Jones, Sajid Mahmood etc exploiting the condtions is a delight to watch games are highly intense and professional. Honestly, there is a lot of hooplah around IPL, finishes Friends T20 are really dramatic with quick bowlers getting their share of the pie and of course I salute county for keeping the purest form of cricket - Test Matches alive and kicking. Its a shame that they are not appreciated a lot here.

  • myboyharry on March 30, 2012, 12:44 GMT

    Good article. The county championship is a gem in the English summer and the author of this article is right about the scheduling which should go on until the end of September. There should also be a review of the start and end times of each days play as currently the matches are over by the time people get back from work. Games should start later and finish later under floodlights which would encourage more people to come down and at least see one session.

    I'm tempted to say that an unofficial third division of the county championship should be added ie the minor counties to get more teams potentially playing the longer format of the game, get their facilities built up to ready themselves for promotion into the elite ranks.

  • Meety on March 30, 2012, 12:07 GMT

    At least there will be a 50 over competition. Without one, how can you expect England do anything good in that form? As for the County game, being an Ozzy, I think there is too much FC cricket played in England. I think some County sides trott out a side that wouldn't win many grade cricket matches in Oz. So I think there needs to be some sort of rationalization. Maybe 1st Divison should have a ONE import rule, whilst SECOND division can have no restrictions (can sign marquee players). Have a "Superbowl" play off at the end. Dunno, I just think it is hard to work out what talent you've got when the disparity standards is so vast.

  • brainbox on March 30, 2012, 11:30 GMT

    Another fantastic article from George Dobell, the championship is the best first class competition so why change it. What needs to change is the excessive amount of t20 cricket.

  • njr1330 on March 30, 2012, 11:11 GMT

    Last year, Lancs won the Championship, through playing a lot of games at Liverpool. They played on 'sporting' pitches, which almost always gave a result. They had average daily crowds of about 1,500. They had no overseas superstar...lots of local players. Two of their matches were won in the last half-hour of the 4th day...Oh, and an unknown local spinner called Kerrigan, took 9 for 40 in about an hour, and was completely unplayable...now imagine what will happen when he bowls in Galle and Colombo !!

  • ChewtonMendip on March 30, 2012, 11:04 GMT

    The county championship is a fantastic competition which Justin Langer, no less, described as the toughest domestic cricket he's played, and which with it's excellent current structure has recently produced cricketers that have taken England to no.1 in the world rankings. Matches are very well attended where I watch cricket (Taunton). The biggest threat to the championship perversely comes from the ECB who have marginalised and undermined the domestic game in the last few years (Somerset play a quarter of their championship programme in April this year. Whatever happened to the great showpiece one-day finals that were so well followed? What have you done ECB?) and now the crass Morgan report which threatens to undermine and denigrate the competition which as GD says should be it's pride and joy. The county championship should be promoted and trumpeted by the ECB, from my experience of county cricket over the last 30 years there is big appetite for domestic cricket around the country.

  • anuradha_d on March 30, 2012, 9:43 GMT

    It is not about emotions...but economics.........if the counties can neither generate profits.....not get outside funding.....they will die........profitable they are unlikely to be on their own......so they need funding......in India First class cricket is funded from the riches accumulated throuhg IPL and ODIs........and there is ONE universal source of funding availbale to the global cricketing community....if they can accept it with HUMILITY...is IPL......instead of showing a false bravado of country and county cricket BEFORE IPL.....the counties and ECB must align arounf the IPL calendar.....encourage ALL their top stars are availble for IPL and take a percentage ( call it tax 40%) of their IPL fee towards the respective county funding for making their stars availbale.....however as it stands now the ECB and Counties under them seem to want to bite the hand that is likely to feed them

  • John-Price on March 30, 2012, 8:52 GMT

    'Part of the problem is the much-repeated myth that county cricket survives on ECB handouts.' This is no myth - it is fact. My own county, Worcs, receives two thirds of its income from the ECB (ie international cricket) and spends roughly the same on players salaries. Development expenditure is tiny in comparison with the money spent on paying for the first XI squad. As for the four alleged superstars that Leicestershire have produced over the last twenty years, (at £2m handouts per annum, that is a total cost of £40m or £10m each) only two have played test cricket and only Stuart Broad has made an impact - and somehow, I don't think he would have been lost to the game if fewer counties existed.

    I like county cricket as well, but I still think that too much of the revenue generated by international cricket goes on the wages of second division players Administrators are often accused of being obsessed with money - in truth they are obsessed with keeping these non-viable clubs going.

  • on March 30, 2012, 8:49 GMT

    It's simple- reduce the number of Twenty20 games to roughly how many there were when it first came out (as crowds have been diminishing since the number of games was increased), bring back a 50 over knockout trophy like the NatWest Trophy, have a two division one day league of 40, 45 or 50 overs and LEAVE THE CHAMPIONSHIP ALONE! As a Lancashire fan, last year's Championship gripped me until that final hour on September 15th- after we lost to Durham twice I thought they'd run away with it, then on stumps on the penultimate day I was convinced that Warwickshire would easily run through Hampshire and claim the title. And that was just last year- several Championship run ins in recent years have gone right down to the wire. It is a great competition that needs to be left exactly as it is.

  • CricketingStargazer on March 30, 2012, 8:00 GMT

    Fascinating article. For the first time in a number of years I was able to attend some county games last season (both divisions). The point about the crowds is a good one: I was surprised just how many were at the games and, I believe, crowds have increased steadily for a sumber of years, something that no other domestic First Class tournament can boast. Calculate the average attendance per match and day and it comes out at a figure that Tests in some countries can't match. Reducing the programme further makes little sense to anyone. One thing that you do not mention is the growth of on-line cricket commentaries nurturing the county game: tens of thousands listen to their side on Digital radio or through the Internet and love the coverage, which is now severely under threat from BBC cutbacks.:Radio London, at least, believes that 2012 will be its last season of coverage. I think that you will find that listening figures are far higher for the Championship than for one-day matches.

  • Hammond7249 on March 30, 2012, 7:40 GMT

    It's time for County Cricket fans to stand up. There are plenty of us out there but if we don't make it known how passionate we are about it the ECB will run ramshod over it and we will not get a say. It's one of the few things left that actually promotes our traditional counties.

    Seeing Michael Carberry and Neil McKenzie in a 529 run partnership last year was a moment to savour only tempered by how few people there were there to see it. There's nothing better that spending a pleasant Saturday at any county ground in the country. County membership is great value for money even if, like me, you live 200 miles from the county to which you have membership.

  • on March 30, 2012, 7:29 GMT

    Superb! One of the problems with inviting commercial tycoons is one of perspective. Theirs is the next Annual Report and the maximisation of profit by then in order to satisfy shareholders and impress/persuade investors whereas the perspective of cricket is measured in years if not decades.

  • on March 30, 2012, 7:04 GMT

    Great to see so much sense so excellently articulated.

    I actaully agree with 8 counties in Div 1 and 10 in Div 2, it would allow everyone to play simultaneously.

    The qualification rule could be simple. Any county XI must have 7 players who are England-qualified and under 31 or, if older, have actually played for England in the past 4 years. The other 4 can be anybody in the world who hasn't played for another county this season, and no salary cap.

    They really are trying their luck to schedule the season to start in March aren't they! Most years they'd have better weather in the first half of October.

  • on March 30, 2012, 6:32 GMT

    Great article, To me wickets or playing surface is a major problem you cannot be a rounded player unless you have experienced the many varieties that grass wickets can supply . I would bring back uncovered surfaces not run ups for first class cricket .But then I am just old fashion.

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  • on March 30, 2012, 6:32 GMT

    Great article, To me wickets or playing surface is a major problem you cannot be a rounded player unless you have experienced the many varieties that grass wickets can supply . I would bring back uncovered surfaces not run ups for first class cricket .But then I am just old fashion.

  • on March 30, 2012, 7:04 GMT

    Great to see so much sense so excellently articulated.

    I actaully agree with 8 counties in Div 1 and 10 in Div 2, it would allow everyone to play simultaneously.

    The qualification rule could be simple. Any county XI must have 7 players who are England-qualified and under 31 or, if older, have actually played for England in the past 4 years. The other 4 can be anybody in the world who hasn't played for another county this season, and no salary cap.

    They really are trying their luck to schedule the season to start in March aren't they! Most years they'd have better weather in the first half of October.

  • on March 30, 2012, 7:29 GMT

    Superb! One of the problems with inviting commercial tycoons is one of perspective. Theirs is the next Annual Report and the maximisation of profit by then in order to satisfy shareholders and impress/persuade investors whereas the perspective of cricket is measured in years if not decades.

  • Hammond7249 on March 30, 2012, 7:40 GMT

    It's time for County Cricket fans to stand up. There are plenty of us out there but if we don't make it known how passionate we are about it the ECB will run ramshod over it and we will not get a say. It's one of the few things left that actually promotes our traditional counties.

    Seeing Michael Carberry and Neil McKenzie in a 529 run partnership last year was a moment to savour only tempered by how few people there were there to see it. There's nothing better that spending a pleasant Saturday at any county ground in the country. County membership is great value for money even if, like me, you live 200 miles from the county to which you have membership.

  • CricketingStargazer on March 30, 2012, 8:00 GMT

    Fascinating article. For the first time in a number of years I was able to attend some county games last season (both divisions). The point about the crowds is a good one: I was surprised just how many were at the games and, I believe, crowds have increased steadily for a sumber of years, something that no other domestic First Class tournament can boast. Calculate the average attendance per match and day and it comes out at a figure that Tests in some countries can't match. Reducing the programme further makes little sense to anyone. One thing that you do not mention is the growth of on-line cricket commentaries nurturing the county game: tens of thousands listen to their side on Digital radio or through the Internet and love the coverage, which is now severely under threat from BBC cutbacks.:Radio London, at least, believes that 2012 will be its last season of coverage. I think that you will find that listening figures are far higher for the Championship than for one-day matches.

  • on March 30, 2012, 8:49 GMT

    It's simple- reduce the number of Twenty20 games to roughly how many there were when it first came out (as crowds have been diminishing since the number of games was increased), bring back a 50 over knockout trophy like the NatWest Trophy, have a two division one day league of 40, 45 or 50 overs and LEAVE THE CHAMPIONSHIP ALONE! As a Lancashire fan, last year's Championship gripped me until that final hour on September 15th- after we lost to Durham twice I thought they'd run away with it, then on stumps on the penultimate day I was convinced that Warwickshire would easily run through Hampshire and claim the title. And that was just last year- several Championship run ins in recent years have gone right down to the wire. It is a great competition that needs to be left exactly as it is.

  • John-Price on March 30, 2012, 8:52 GMT

    'Part of the problem is the much-repeated myth that county cricket survives on ECB handouts.' This is no myth - it is fact. My own county, Worcs, receives two thirds of its income from the ECB (ie international cricket) and spends roughly the same on players salaries. Development expenditure is tiny in comparison with the money spent on paying for the first XI squad. As for the four alleged superstars that Leicestershire have produced over the last twenty years, (at £2m handouts per annum, that is a total cost of £40m or £10m each) only two have played test cricket and only Stuart Broad has made an impact - and somehow, I don't think he would have been lost to the game if fewer counties existed.

    I like county cricket as well, but I still think that too much of the revenue generated by international cricket goes on the wages of second division players Administrators are often accused of being obsessed with money - in truth they are obsessed with keeping these non-viable clubs going.

  • anuradha_d on March 30, 2012, 9:43 GMT

    It is not about emotions...but economics.........if the counties can neither generate profits.....not get outside funding.....they will die........profitable they are unlikely to be on their own......so they need funding......in India First class cricket is funded from the riches accumulated throuhg IPL and ODIs........and there is ONE universal source of funding availbale to the global cricketing community....if they can accept it with HUMILITY...is IPL......instead of showing a false bravado of country and county cricket BEFORE IPL.....the counties and ECB must align arounf the IPL calendar.....encourage ALL their top stars are availble for IPL and take a percentage ( call it tax 40%) of their IPL fee towards the respective county funding for making their stars availbale.....however as it stands now the ECB and Counties under them seem to want to bite the hand that is likely to feed them

  • ChewtonMendip on March 30, 2012, 11:04 GMT

    The county championship is a fantastic competition which Justin Langer, no less, described as the toughest domestic cricket he's played, and which with it's excellent current structure has recently produced cricketers that have taken England to no.1 in the world rankings. Matches are very well attended where I watch cricket (Taunton). The biggest threat to the championship perversely comes from the ECB who have marginalised and undermined the domestic game in the last few years (Somerset play a quarter of their championship programme in April this year. Whatever happened to the great showpiece one-day finals that were so well followed? What have you done ECB?) and now the crass Morgan report which threatens to undermine and denigrate the competition which as GD says should be it's pride and joy. The county championship should be promoted and trumpeted by the ECB, from my experience of county cricket over the last 30 years there is big appetite for domestic cricket around the country.

  • njr1330 on March 30, 2012, 11:11 GMT

    Last year, Lancs won the Championship, through playing a lot of games at Liverpool. They played on 'sporting' pitches, which almost always gave a result. They had average daily crowds of about 1,500. They had no overseas superstar...lots of local players. Two of their matches were won in the last half-hour of the 4th day...Oh, and an unknown local spinner called Kerrigan, took 9 for 40 in about an hour, and was completely unplayable...now imagine what will happen when he bowls in Galle and Colombo !!