With England’s battle for the number one test ranking taking a well-deserved break, we thought we’d turn our attention to domestic matters. As some of you may be aware, a few days ago both Cricinfo and the Spin Cricket Magazine published articles putting forward the idea of a cricket supporters association. The hope being that such an organisation could work as a medium for the average fan to put some of their thoughts on how to improve the domestic game to the ECB. The initial idea itself came from Spin’s writer George Dobell, who was asked to speak to David Morgan as part of the former Chief Executive’s review of the county setup.
This got us thinking. First of all, this is a terrific idea, and we encourage all (two) of you to get involved. Beyond mobilising our army of followers, we also decided to put our heads together and come up with some suggestions of our own.
Comfortably the most popular suggestion – and this would almost certainly be the case were we to poll every fan in the country – was that one day cricket should be 50 overs, not 40, to mirror the international game. Given that the reason given for returning to the shorter format in the first place was that it drew bigger crowds, it would be extremely interesting to see if there has been any increase at all since the change was made.
This ties in with another problem: The fact that the principle aim of the counties is to make money, rather than to serve the England team. We appreciate that financial considerations must be taken into account, but without the revenue brought in by the national side the whole system would collapse. It seems staggering that county chairmen can dictate terms to the ECB, and that it has taken so long for them to clamp down on Kolpak players. Even then there have been counties who have tried to circumvent the rules, the Riki Wessels affair being a case in point.
Another of the most popular topics was the format of the County Championship itself, and the structure of the season as a whole. It’s fairly obvious that if the England captain has to play for another county in the middle of the season because his own has no four day games there is something seriously wrong with the scheduling. Having half the fixtures completed inside the first two months of the season is just as bad.
Of course, the reason so many Championship games are crammed into such a short space of time is so that the middle of the summer can be given over to a vastly bloated T20 competition. The development of the shortest form of the game is probably the ECB’s success story of the decade, but is also in danger of becoming its biggest failing. Having created this cash cow they are now determined to milk it for everything its worth. Again, we can understand that T20 is here to stay, and that it has also become an important form of the game for a variety of reasons. The money it generates is significant enough, but even as unashamed purists we are not going to deny its accessibility and appeal to a market which would not otherwise have developed an interest in the game. The problem is that it doesn’t seem to have occurred to anyone within the confines of the ECB that, just as nobody wants a three month long World Cup, fans do not want to be completely overwhelmed by one form of the game. Perhaps, by putting together this review, the penny has finally dropped.
Coming up with a summer schedule which suits everyone is an impossible task. Indeed, even amongst ourselves there are considerable differences on how we would alter the way the domestic season is played out (these range from staging an IPL-style T20 tournament once the Championship season is over to drastically cutting the number of one day cricket in order to accommodate a 3 division, five day first class league structure). But just having the opportunity to tell the people who run the game in this country that certain things really must be changed would be a huge step in the right direction.
Whilst we have mainly focussed on the format of the county season, there is another issue which excited the passions of one of our number in particular. This concerns the shadowy figures calling themselves ‘pitch inspectors’. Much like English football’s ‘Dubious Goals Panel’, the pitch inspectors appear to spend most of their time doing precisely nothing before suddenly being thrust to the centre of attention. Nobody knows who these people are, but as soon as wickets start tumbling they are talk of the town (‘talk of the internet’ would perhaps be more appropriate nowadays).
The main argument here is that counties should not be penalised for producing a result wicket. A couple of weeks ago Hampshire and Nottinghamshire played out an exciting draw with all four results possible going into the final day, with Notts eventually falling just four runs short of victory. However, Hampshire have since been docked eight points for a “poor” pitch.
To put this into some kind of context, Warwickshire received an identical sanction earlier this season after their pitch deteriorated so badly over the course of the game that by the final day, three Worcestershire players were forced to retire hurt due to injuries suffered while batting in their second innings and captain Vikram Solanki ended up in hospital.
Neither Hampshire or Nottinghamshire had any complaints about the wicket, both sides were aware it was going to be a spinning wicket from the start, and picked their teams accordingly. There was clearly a fair contest between bat and ball, which is the key criteria the inspectors should be looking at.
Perhaps the ECB want every wicket to be like the Taunton road, where scores of 400+ are commonplace and it’s nigh-on impossible to force a result when the weather’s good. In which case, perhaps the ECB also want players to become disillusioned with the lack of proper competition in the longer form of the game domestically, which would then clearly impact on the ability to bring through players into what is becoming the best Test team in world cricket.
We could go on and on, and we may well revisit this later in the summer, but for now we have outlined our most serious concerns. One of the most interesting aspects of combining various different people’s thoughts into a semi-coherent article is just how many unique and innovative ideas there are out there. Whilst there is virtually no chance of some of these coming to fruition, it makes it seem all the more incredible that the only alterations to our domestic game since the introduction of T20 have come from the powers that be messing about with the length of List A matches.
If anything, it emphasises just how productive it could be to have a forum for the fan to interact with the ECB. It’s almost hard to believe that a genuine supporters association doesn’t already exist, but now that there is the potential for one to develop, we are firmly behind it. Cricket is not generally a sport particularly fond of, less still good at, implementing change, but hopefully such an organisation could help ensure that when the ECB does try it out, the results are rather more Central Contracts than Stanford.
If you would like to read more about the Cricket Supporters Association, or get involved on some level, their website is here.
The e-mail address to send any thoughts you might have on the Associations development or you would like to be part of the debate is firstname.lastname@example.org