Many of you will know Annie Chave from Twitter (and if you don’t, give her a follow – @AnnieChave) and here’s her thinking about how to change county cricket. She would welcome comments, suggestions, criticisms and disagreement, but as we always say with guest posts, be nice – it’s a nervy experience to put your first article up.
A Saturday in July in one of the hottest and driest summers in living memory and there is one T20 game in the whole of the first-class cricket calendar and no Test Cricket. This has prompted me to think how we can rescue County Cricket in our country and restore it to its former glory. The ECB in its wisdom has negated the importance of the county championship and has relegated it to the fringes of the season, playing most games in April/early May and then finishing off the season at the fag end of the summer in August/September. They have cashed in on the hype and the glamour of T20 cricket and given some limited importance to The Royal London Cup and the unpredictability of 50-over cricket.
Looking at the problem of planning fixtures, I can see that there is a real dilemma in accommodating three different formats in a sensible and cohesive way. I’m not claiming to solve all problems, but I’d like to see the three existing alongside each other in a way that can work for each format. Mine is a suggestion that lifts county cricket into the status it should have if it is to feed into the pinnacle of Test Cricket and gives T20 prime viewing time whilst giving it a lesser importance.
The obvious idea would be to shorten the county game back to 3 days, but this wouldn’t make for great games. The pitches probably wouldn’t wear enough to bring in the spinners, and they wouldn’t therefore prepare the players for five-day Test Cricket. Games would more than likely end up with no result or, worse still, produce either an artificial one or a declaration ‘bash’, not dissimilar to T20. I don’t think that playing on uncovered pitches is a viable option. They bring their own problems. So, working with what we have, I would keep the county format as it is: i.e. four-day matches, two divisions with two teams going up and two going down. With an emphasis on consistency, we could play the games over the 22 week season (with rest weeks for The Royal London Cup to be played at different grounds) throughout the whole summer, with 16 weeks (Division 1 with 9 teams and Division 2 with 9) dedicated to the county championship and the T20 competition playing alongside each other. The T20s could be played on the Friday nights. The winning team of the T20 Friday game is deemed to have won the toss for the County game that starts the following day – Saturday – and runs until Tuesday, using the same squad. This way makes the toss less a matter of luck, gives the teams practice for T20 and Test Cricket and restores the importance of the County Championship. But perhaps the two most important things are, firstly, it will provide the T20 crowd with a link to the following championship match, heightened by a familiarity with the players who feature in both formats, and, secondly, counties will be able to develop a squad that can play all formats, thereby encouraging them not to abandon red-ball cricket.
I know that currently there is a North/South divide for T20 cricket separate from the divisions of the County Championship, but this proposal is that the T20 should mirror the Championship. The consistency of a weekly T20 games would be massively better for TV rights, and I think home support for T20 matches is strong enough to provide sell-out games. There would still be a finals day for T20 and for The Royal London Cup to complete their own separate competitions.
The main aim for this suggestion is that we have cricket consistently throughout the summer and not random blocks of various formats punctuated by cricket voids. I know my alternative programme needs ironing out and that it has its problems, but it’s a suggestion I’m happy to argue over.