Controversial recommendations stimulate interest, 1967

Counties reject the Clark plan

Charles Bray

The Clark committee's bold plan to give the County Championship a new look was killed before it was born. Its main recommendation, which was to alter the existing championship and create an additional one of one-day games, was defeated by 16 votes to 4, a majority so emphatic that the counties may have signed their own death warrant.

Only time will tell. A mountain of labour produced a mouse of achievement. The only change the counties would sanction was a slight alteration in this 1967 season in the points scoring system (eight for a win and four for a first-innings lead) and a reduction in the qualifying period for an overseas player from two years to twelve months.

It would be as well at the outset, to give the reasons for the setting up of the Sub-Committee. Then to examine its composition, the manner in which it went about its work and finally the two reports which caused such widespread interest and controversy.

In 1950 close on 2,000,000 people paid to see championship cricket in this country. In 1966 the figure had dropped to 513,578. In the early fifties the decline was steady but not unduly alarming. Then the tempo increased at an alarming rate until in recent years it became positively frightening.

Worse still was the abrupt halt in the overall increase in membership. In 1964 members totalled 141,707. In 1965 139,964 and in 1966 135,045. To combat the double drop in revenue, counties were compelled to increase subscriptions, which in itself caused a drop in membership.

It was then obvious to all, except those with their heads firmly buried in the sand, that first-class cricket in this country was only solvent because of the efforts of supporters'clubs with football pools and Test match profits.

An exhaustive and detailed investigation with perhaps drastic action was imperative, and a committee under the chairmanship of Mr. David Clark was set up. Its terms of reference couldn't have been wider. They were to examine the future of County cricket in the widest possible terms and if thought fit to recommend alterations in the structure and playing conditions of the County Championship.

The sky was the limit and the men chosen to carry out the job combined playing, business and administrative experience. In view of certain criticism made of the Committee and its report, let us examine the respective members' qualifications.

D.G. ClarkChairman of the Kent Cricket Committee, former captain of the county. Took M.C.C. team to India in the winter of 1963-4. A successful farmer.
G.O.B. AllenTreasurer of the M.C.C., who has had more experience of cricket administration than anyone in the world. Former England captain and Test cricketer. A stockbroker.
E.R. DexterFormer captain of England and Sussex. One of the most dynamic batsmen in English cricket for many years. Several business interests, including close-circuit television.
D.J. InsoleChairman of the England Test Selection Committee, former captain of Essex. Vice-chairman of Essex. Holds important position with well-known firm of contractors and property developers.
A.B. SellersCaptain of Yorkshire from 1933 to 1947. A former Test selector. Chairman of Yorkshire Cricket Committee. Runs a printing business in Bradford.
W.S. SurridgeChairman of Surrey Cricket Committee. A former and highly successful Surrey captain. Head of sports goods manufacturing firm.
E.H. KingChairman of Warwickshire. Partner in well-known firm of accountants in Birmingham. Financial adviser to Aston Villa F.C.
O.S. WheatleyThe Glamorgan captain.
F.J. Titmus Middlesex captain and Test cricketer.
C.G. HowardManager of several M.C.C. Overseas tours, former secretary of Lancashire. Now Surrey secretary.
K.C. TurnerNorthamptonshire secretary.
F.M. TurnerLeicestershire secretary.
C. BrayCricket correspondent of a national daily newspaper for 30 years. Played for Essex 1928-38. Reported cricket all over the world. Five tours of Australia, four of West Indies, and three of South Africa.

Ill health prevented Mr. F.M. Turner from attending many meetings and he resigned before the final report was drafted.

The sub-committee held its first meeting in September 1965 and its last in January 1967. Seven meetings were held during the 1965/6 winter. It restarted work in October 1966, met five times and submitted its final report.

To obtain the maximum amount of evidence and date, the sub-committee's first step was to circularise all the counties with a vast questionnaire. This had six main headings: (1) Pitches, (2) Playing conditions, (3) Conduct of and approach to the game by players, (4) Structure of County cricket, (5) Sunday cricket, (6) Test matches. Over thirty pertinent questions were asked and the counties also given the opportunity of offering their own solutions to the various problems.

An analysis of the replies showed that only three counties were satisfied that they had been able to produce fast, true wickets. Only four were entirely satisfied with the approach to the game of their own players and those satisfied with their opponents' approach were two. Seven were in favour of the existing structure. Eight were not satisfied and two were not sure. For Sunday cricket there was an overwhelming majority.

The sub-committee was unanimous in its belief that sub-standard pitches produced sub-standard cricket, a view well supported later by the capped players. Its next step was to call all the county groundsmen to Lord's for conference. Much opinion and evidence was gathered at this meeting.

Each member of the sub-committee not only answered the questionnaire which had been sent to the counties but also submitted a paper giving in detail his own ideas as to the best way to re-orientate county cricket and put it back on its financial feet, as well as making the game more attractive to the spectator.

It was apparent from these individual papers that there existed in the sub-committee just as wide a divergence of opinion as there was outside. Yet on two major issues -- pitches, and the approach to the game by the players -- there was complete agreement. It was felt that pitches must be improved and counties should see to it that they were.

To improve the players' approach was a more intricate and delicate matter. The sub-committee, however, was convinced that it was the key factor and in both reports laid great emphasis on the need for an immediate improvement.

Derbyshire in a lengthy statement giving reasons for rejecting the sub-committee's new structure proposals, supported this view in the most forthright terms. "It is, however, quite clear," the county declared, "that ultimately an improvement will only follow through very tough action when necessary by County Committees through their captain."

One does not recall any such action being taken by Derbyshire, or for that matter by any other county with the possible exception of Yorkshire, who on more than one occasion have disciplined a player. Even their action was not directed against the wrong approach to the actual playing of the game but to club discipline off the field rather than on it.

During the summer of 1966 the Daily Mail, at the request of the sub-committee, commissioned the National Opinion Polls to carry out a national survey, the object of which was to investigate the reasons for the fall in crowds at county grounds and in particular to find out how far the causes of it may be (a) counter attractions and present national social habits and (b) a feeling that there are defects in the game as a spectator sport on account of the way in which it is played or orgainsed.

This vast document was of immense value to the sub-committee. In addition, counties were asked to carry out a postal survey of their members, in order to elicit more fully the possible contrast between the opinion of members and that of the cricket-watching public covered in the N.O.P. report.

Still with the object of getting the widest possible evidence and opinion, the sub-committee had a questionnaire sent to all capped players. Well over a hundred replied.

They were almost unanimous that modern pitches were largely to blame for the dull cricket and that modern first-class cricket was not good entertainment. It was significant that of the various suggested alterations in the structure of the county championship the players were emphatically against all but the one finally recommended by the Clark committee.

The counties for their part produced some remarkable suggestions. Hampshire were so satisfied with the status quo that they didn't want any change for at least three years, despite the state of their finances.

Glamorgan, whose secretary greeted the Clark report with "it's a lot of tommy rot" were in favour of leaving well alone, although the county lost £10,539 in 1966 and their gate receipts were £6,573 less than in the previous season. They were £5,344, the lowest since the war. A similar reduction this season would see the county paying spectators to watch its cricket.

Sussex went even further than Glamorgan. They suggested even more first-class cricket. In other words they want to give the public more of something of which, by its decreasing support, it has shown that it has too much already.

Gloucestershire put forward an interesting programme, which staggered championship matches to one a week in May, June and mid-July and then increased the number to two a week until the end of August. They also suggested that the qualification period for one overseas star player should be the period of one playing season, rather than twelve calendar months.

Derbyshire wanted no change and their main reason was that in their opinion they would lose ten per cent of their members. The Northamptonshire chairman put the loss at fifty percent.

The Clark committee considered at great length the effect fewer matches might have on membership. It agreed in the end that the loss would not be anything like as big as estimated.

Unless something drastic was done to increase revenue counties would be compelled to go on increasing members' subscriptions. That would have a much greater effect on membership than a reduction in the amount of cricket.

The Clark committee found overwhelming evidence in favour of Sunday championship cricket. It could and would be a decisive factor in increasing revenue, but it could not be assumed that it would be legalised by 1968, the earliest that any major alteration in the Championship could be made.

At the same time Sunday play was not the complete solution. A serious attempt had to be made: (a) to get a more positive and enthusiastic approach by the players, (b) to produce a structure that would cause a revival of public interest, and (c) to find ways and means of attracting more players into county cricket. In other words to establish a pyramid by which the budding first-class player could graduate from club to county without having to make first-class cricket his sole occupation, as he must do under existing conditions.

The Clark committee felt that its proposals would be the first definite step towards achieving that end.

The counties have decided otherwise. That was their prerogative, their right. But in doing so they have taken upon their own shoulders the full responsibility of saving our national summer sport.

One may well ask, "What next?" Few can be so sanguine as to believe that first-class cricket is going to recover on its own. A failure of football pools and most counties would be bankrupt.

Despite the rejection of its report, the Clark committee did not work in vain. It gathered and analysed vital statistics and opinions. It stimulated interest by the controversial nature of its recommendations and it must have awakened the counties to the seriousness of the present situation and their responsibility to do something about it.

© John Wisden & Co