Deep misgivings about a defensive philosophy, 1993

The Murray report: the case against

The Murray Report was a dangerously plausible document. I say so, because it was lucidly presented, and will have seemed reasonable to many who do not have the background and experience to realise its wide implications. Over the last few years, the TCCB executive has spared no effort to maximise revenue to the centre, chiefly by focusing all attention on the England team and acceding to every demand of its management; hence loyalty bonuses, and the two-day rest before Tests which threw the pattern of county fixtures into a hopeless confusion. This muddle of their own creation they now intend to rescue by the desperate remedy of truncating the Championship.

Although all are agreed that players are worn down by too much one-day cricket, the 1993 programme will increase the ratio of limited-over as against proper cricket. There will be less Championship cricket and surely duller, slower cricket. Let me list some considerations and perhaps expose a few fallacies.

  • Three-day cricket on uncovered pitches produced outstanding county teams, and great England cricketers for a century or more, until full pitch-covering was introduced in 1981. In these conditions, it could still fulfil that role granted the will of the captains.
  • 2.
  • First-class cricket must entertain by positive attacking play. A four-day diet encourages a workaday grimness, putting initiative and variety at a discount. It is all of a piece with the defensive philosophies of Messrs Stewart and Fletcher.
  • 3.
  • Other countries covers their pitches, so we should. No. In England, experience on different surfaces refines technique and often makes for intriguing, sometimes heroic, cricket.
  • 4.
  • In 1992 the 18 counties played on 66 grounds. With the inevitable concentration on the main centres, I estimate that at least 20 grounds will eventually be lost to county cricket.
  • 5.
  • Festival weeks. For several counties the heart of their summer. Few will survive, certainly, if made to start on a Thursday.
  • 6.
  • Countrywide interest in county cricket has always been the life-blood of our game. The proposed 1993 programme will mean that the vast reading public will be deprived for more than 30 days of the season of any active match reporting.
  • 7.
  • Of the 20 four-day periods in 1993, seven will coincide with Tests or one-day Internationals. So members and public will see their top players in only five or six home Championship matches a season.
  • 8.
  • Early batsmen used to average around 38 or 40 first-class innings. Now it will be, say, 30. Correspondingly fewer chances then for young cricketers.
  • 9.
  • Current players favour the 17 x 4 scheme. Well, they would, wouldn't they? Less work, less travel.
  • 10.
  • Is all-play-all a fairer way of determining the champions, as is alleged? Arguable. The more matches the less will be the influence of the weather.

Famous players, of all vintages, bar the present, have the deepest misgivings. It is a tragic dichotomy.

From 1946 to 1975 E. W. Swanton was cricket correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, which originally published a fuller version of this article.

© John Wisden & Co