Future of English Domestic Schedule

Posted on December 10, 2010 by

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In the break between Test matches, my thoughts return to the English Domestic game.

We haven’t yet received fixtures for 2011 although we know that the schedule will sadly be the same as 2010 – A schedule which received much criticism.

Despite knowing that the season starts every year in April, the ECB essentially left it too late to have the necessary discussions and implement any changes to next year’s domestic county fixtures.

Recently, the ECB’s executive board decided to back the findings of an independent working party which recommended cutting the number of Championship from 16 games to 14 and the Twenty20 Cup from 16 to 10 per county.

The proposed changes to the County Championship are as follows:

  • Div 1 moves to 8 teams – the “elite” playing 14 fixtures (each team home and away)
  • Div 2 moves to 10 teams – the “rest of them” also playing 14 fixtures in total.  Eh? That maths doesn’t work.   So essentially div 2 teams will play 5 of the other counties both home and away and 4 of them only once (either home or away).

Now aside from the sneaky timing of this whilst the news cycle is wrapped up in Ashes fever – I can’t begin to tell you how stupid I think these proposals are.  But more importantly than my opinion, I can’t find any county supporter, journalist or players who think this is a good idea.   One wonders who on earth within the game the ECB have actually consulted with?

Personally, I remain unconvinced that there is actually too much cricket being played.  Cricket is a spectator sport; spectators want to watch people playing it, not spending their time in the nets and the gym. The players don’t actually play too much cricket and I don’t imagine that any player is going to be prepared to accept a 20% pay cut even though they’ll be playing 20% less cricket.  The problem isn’t the number of days being played; it’s how they are arranged within the season.

Nottinghamshire celebrate winning the 2010 County Championship.

Of the 3 formats – the one that definitely isn’t broken is the Championship – ask almost any player, coach or executive in the game and they will tell you that the Championship is the most important thing to them, doing well in that matters to them more than anything.  I know this isn’t reflected in crowd numbers, CCC is never going to be mass attended given it is almost all played on weekdays during the day.   But the Championship remains enormously competitive and, as we saw from the last day of last season, remains exciting and tense.  There are some arguments that it would become even more competitive if we allowed for promotion into and relegation out of Division 2 but the Minor counties are a long way from being able to host and pay for 1st class cricket.  This would require some serious investment and in these austere times that simply isn’t going to happen.

When I speak to casual cricket fans, their main problem with Championship is that they don’t understand how it works, how the scoring system works and therefore what the significance of each day’s play is.   There’s a PR job to be done here and it would, of course, help if a national broadcaster actually showed Championship cricket – or at the very least did a weekly roundup show (a bit like Match of the Day).

Back to the schedule.

In my opinion, each of the 3 formats should be spaced out evenly throughout the season so in a 7 or 8 day period, a county will play 1 CCC, 1 CB40 (or preferably a CB50!) and a T20 or 2.   If counties are smart with squad rotation, this sort of schedule would put far less pressure on players then cramming 8 CCC fixtures into the first 7 weeks of the season (as happened at Middlesex last season)

If you ask me, the season finished too early, there is room to extend it for another couple of weeks into September, the weather stays fine enough although I realise there are potential clashes with other international and domestic competitions but believe it’s possible with enough depth in your squad to manage this.   A 2 week extension to the season would also ease the pressure on the schedule without reducing the amount of cricket.

One thing that certainly might liven up the domestic game is an FA cup style knock-out competition involving the minor counties.  A proper knock-out competition with rounds leaving opportunity for say Devon to knock out Durham in the 1st round – an FA cup style shock.  I think this could be really fun.

The financial impact of these proposed changes will, for the smaller counties, be considerable if the motion is passed by the ECB in February.  These are incredibly trying times for counties trying to balance the books with ever increasing wage bills – where is the sense in making them even worse off.   The smaller (non-test ground) counties will be looking for some compensation from the ECB, I’m not sure I fancy their chances.

I’m afraid this is just another notch in the bedpost of despair I have with the ECB.   There must be a better way of them canvassing the views of all those involved, however peripherally, with the game – we’re a relatively small community.

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Article by Lizzy Ammon