Guest Post: The County Game

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.

Annie.

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28 thoughts on “Guest Post: The County Game

  1. Rooto Jul 26, 2018 / 5:22 pm

    I like the idea. I understand that a key expression here is “appointment to view”. I never follow the T20 Blast or the RLC, and it’s mainly because I don’t know when they’re on. And when they arrive they’re at such random times.
    I like the single squad idea. A few fewer cricketers with more rounded skills could reduce costs for a few counties (and the most talented, elite group would probably be away playing for England anyway). A step further could be a suggestion aired briefly by Matthew Engels today, in that the 3 tournaments could be added together to create a “single narrative”. Not completely convinced about practicalities there, but it’s interesting, and he was throwing out any ideas to counter the Hundred concept.

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    • Annie Chave Jul 27, 2018 / 11:10 am

      Thank you. I agree – I liked Engles article mostly because it was so dismissive of the hundred ‘concept’. There are a lot of practicalities that need ironing out but I think the state of the schedule at the moment is such that there needs to be intervention.

      Like

  2. stephenfh Jul 26, 2018 / 7:11 pm

    It’s a tricky subject but I certainly agree that there needs to be a push back for more Championship cricket between May and August and that in a saner world it would be along the lines of the CC and T20 competitions running in parallel and there also being a regular schedule for the Tests to go with. In the days when the Championship matches were 3-days, matches starting on Saturday were put on hold for the Sunday League, if T20 games were on Sundays it might help attract more juniors.

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    • Annie Chave Jul 27, 2018 / 11:19 am

      Thanks for your comment. I really think that consistency and regularity is a key issue and I’ve tried to suggest a possible format. It does have issues, I know. I would like to see a return to a ‘saner’ world as well. I think the Friday night is still a peak attraction night for T20s but I can see that a Sunday could provide a broader range of crowd.

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  3. psoans Jul 26, 2018 / 7:29 pm

    Really well written. Looking forward to reading more of your work. Firstly I have to confess that I hardly watch county cricket but I do follow the news about it. Officially I support Middlesex. I really like your idea. The thing I would raise is how would you account for the different skills needed between red and white ball if the same squad is going to play.

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    • Rohan Jul 27, 2018 / 1:14 am

      Sounds like a good plan to start with Anne. I really like the idea of the same squad being used. Would it force players to adapt their technique for the different situations they encounter, thus becoming better? Or would they just adopt one technique/approach and hope it worked whatever the situation?

      Also, off topic, but Rashid recalled to the test team. Great news, I am definitely a huge fan of his, but did I miss something…..when did he last play the longer format?

      Liked by 1 person

      • psoans Jul 27, 2018 / 1:27 am

        I believe he last played in 2016. I also believe that if he plays in the upcoming match then it will be his first on home soil. I believe that the best players should be chosen for the game irrespective which format they are chosen in. I would rather see a player transfer his exceptional form at white ball cricket at an international level than someone who has done well against average side at the county level.

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    • Annie Chave Jul 27, 2018 / 11:27 am

      Thanks for your positive comment. In an ideal world I’d like to see a real melding of white ball and red ball skills and I think that using the same squad can only help to develop these. I hate to see players turning to white ball only when really they would never have started off as 20/20 players. Really Tyrone Mills is the only cricketer that has a good excuse to do that. Of course the choice of spinner is as issue. Do you use a wicket taking one or an economical one?

      Like

  4. oreston Jul 26, 2018 / 9:49 pm

    I think this is the basis for an eminently sensible way of doing things, Annie. I like the idea of the same teams playing T20 on Friday night followed the next day by a CC match (not such an alien notion to those who remember how things were 30 years ago with the Sunday League). I love the idea of starting all the CC games at weekends. Who knows? People might actually be tempted to attend! Most of all, I like the fact that you’ve demonstrated in a few paragraphs that the problem isn’t perhaps as intractable as it’s sometimes made out to be. There just needs to be some honesty about what the issues are and sane, rational and proportionate solutions implemented to address them. No need to throw out the baby with the bath water as is currently happening.
    Of course, what this proposal does lack is muddled group think and an “innovative” new franchise and format that nobody knew they wanted (and still don’t). Sadly then, I think there’s zero chance of Graves and Harrison inviting you in for a chat to explore matters further. Their loss (…and thus unfortunately everybody else’s).

    Like

    • Annie Chave Jul 27, 2018 / 1:02 pm

      Wow, thank you. I agree, I feel the ECB are not seeing anything clearly at all and just meddling with and blindly throwing ideas at a county scene that could easily be rescued with a bit of careful thought. There is so much love for the county game and I hate to see it being slowly destroyed. I’d love to speak to Graves but he wouldn’t give me the time of day and my suggestion isn’t all about money.

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  5. Jim Thomson Jul 27, 2018 / 7:11 am

    I completely agree with Annie on the primacy of the County Championship – if we care about test cricket, then we have to look after the domestic version and keep it as close as possible to the international real thing. Part of that must be to get crowds into the county grounds so as to give developing players a hint of the atmosphere at test grounds.

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    • Annie Chave Jul 27, 2018 / 11:30 am

      Thank you Jim. Absolutely and I can’t see why this isn’t paramount in the ECB’s thinking.

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  6. REDRUM106 Jul 27, 2018 / 7:48 am

    Really well written piece with a lot of good points. This idea would give the cricket season two things it doesn’t have at the moment, a structure and a narrative. With 9 teams in each division you would actually need 18 weeks to complete the fixtures not 16 but that still leaves 4 spare weeks. I would revert the 50 over competition to a straight knockout with 32 teams (including minor counties, Ireland, Scotland and Holland) and play the first 2 rounds in 1 week and the quarters and semis in another week with the final at Lords. I would also suggest having the T20 game on a Sunday afternoon in the early and later weeks of the season to avoid spectators having to sit there freeing their k……..s off on a late Friday night, Great article

    Like

    • Annie Chave Jul 27, 2018 / 11:34 am

      Thanks so much. I grappled with the 16/18 weeks as I’m no mathematician but I think it is only 16 weeks as you play each team twice and you can’t play yourself. Am I right? I’m happy to play around with the 50 over format as long as the county game can remain consistent. Thanks again.

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      • REDRUM106 Jul 27, 2018 / 12:34 pm

        The only reason I said 18 weeks is that with an odd number of teams in each division one, each round of matches would involve 1 county having a stand down. But 16 or 18 doesn’t affect the rationale of your proposal which is excellent.

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  7. metatone Jul 27, 2018 / 8:08 am

    Personally I’m happy to leave the matter of squads up to market forces – very few county teams have a hugely different T20/LO squad, so I don’t think pushing the same squad notion is worth the aggro.

    What I love is the idea of the calendar that works.

    One day, people will realise that what actually makes the IPL/Big Bash isn’t the “play it all in a few weeks” – it’s a television and promotion deal that actually puts it in front of fans.

    Rather than try to imitate those competitions, better to focus on building a good week by week competition that people can stay in touch with. Yes, you won’t have the international stars, but job one is not “be the richest league in the world” – it’s get to sustainability and growing the fan base again.

    As I type, I think the hubris of the ECB has led it to a mess. We need to accept that for various reasons (population size, competing sports, etc.) cricket in England is not football. The “world’s favourite competition” in football is the EPL, but in cricket it is the IPL and instead of trying to supplant it with “one weird trick”, we need to focus on how we build up the fan base, player talent base and financial sustainability of our smaller league into a powerhouse. (To continue the analogy, we need to think how we become the Bundesliga.)

    Like

    • Annie Chave Jul 27, 2018 / 11:45 am

      Thanks. I completely agree – the ECB need to realise that there is a massive cricket audience that can’t be pigeon holed into a football crowd. I really feel that cricket so needs the consistency of week after week scheduling in the height of summer- where it’s meant to be. Your points are brilliant.

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  8. Phroco Jul 27, 2018 / 8:26 am

    The primary issue I can see the counties having with this is that in a divisional setup neighbouring counties may never play each other and this would remove some of the derby matches that are the moneyspinners. I follow Somerset and their T20’s with Glos are the big cash games for both of them. Somerset are more or less permanent residents of division 1 and Glos can never get out of division 2 so these games would disappear.

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    • REDRUM106 Jul 27, 2018 / 12:30 pm

      That’s a fair point and the same would be true if my team Worcestershire were in a different division from local rivals Warwickshire something that has happened quite regularly in recent seasons (including this one). Just playing devil’s advocate would Somerset get a smaller crowd for a Friday night game against say Yorkshire, a team they would not normally play in T20 except in the latter stages of the competition? The other point is that with 2 up 2 down there is quite a lot of movement between the divisions so any absence of a “derby” fixture would possibly only be temporary.

      Like

    • Annie Chave Jul 27, 2018 / 8:51 pm

      I’m a Somerset fan too and I really did struggle with this as well. I’d like to think that there is chance for promotion & demotion and that one day they may join the same division. Other than that – the 50 over match and home support for T20s. Not ideal I know.

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  9. Steve Tancock (@stevetancock62) Jul 27, 2018 / 1:15 pm

    Thought provoking stuff from Annie. Interesting that we are all agreed that there is no place for The Hundred which is encouraging. Doubly interesting that so many people are supporters of red ball cricket.
    I really like the concept of the T20 running alongside the championship. The ECB seem fixated on the idea of the one-day competitions being played in blocks which I suspect has financial justification. The desire to attract overseas players in the T20 is I’m sure largely responsible for the current set up but that can, as Annie suggests, be overcome.
    I think the concept of the T20 being structured in parallel with the championship is a really neat solution. I recall the days of the Sunday League when players had to travel on a Saturday evening after a day’s championship cricket and then back again the following evening which wasn’t ideal!
    While accepting the issue of chilly Friday evenings I’d prefer that option, allowing the 4-day game to run Saturday to Tuesday.

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    • Annie Chave Jul 27, 2018 / 8:44 pm

      Thank you Steve. Let’s face it there is no place for the hundred. No place for circus cricket.

      Like

  10. Benny Jul 27, 2018 / 5:45 pm

    Good work Annie. I like it. Shows what happens when you sit down thinking practically and without a marketing chap in your ear.

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    • Annie Chave Jul 27, 2018 / 8:47 pm

      Cheers! It’s true that somewhere along the way the ECB have lost sight of practicalities and are focused only on the money. A short sighted view and a dead,y one.

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  11. manyheadedhailwood Jul 28, 2018 / 5:48 pm

    This is a really sensible idea. It made me reflect that I often tune in and out of Somerset’s County Championship campaign throughout the season – I get really into following them, and make more of an effort to attend games, and then the season gets put on hold for another format and I lose track, and often miss the resumption of the Championship. Sport is all about meaningful narratives, and regular and consistent installments are the only way to get people involved in the sport at the level that makes them really fall in love with and care about it. It’s like a good book – if you keep dipping in and out and putting it aside for long spells it doesn’t have the same impact as when you read it in day in day out. One reason why I have become a baseball fan in recent years is because they play everyday, so the narrative becomes very consuming, and the same is true for a Test Match. Annie’s plan would give us meaningful cricket 5 days a week, every week, to get absorbed into. I love it.

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    • Annie Chave Jul 29, 2018 / 8:14 pm

      Thank you. Consistency is the key.

      Like

  12. thebogfather Jul 30, 2018 / 12:34 pm

    Hi Annie, some great thoughts put forward here, the only issue I can see (apart from the main one being the ECB) is that if you have two divs for CC and T20 with the same teams in each div of each comp, and 2 up 2 down for the CC, then if say you come bottom of CC2 but win T20 div2, you can’t be promoted to T20 div 1 if, as you suggest, the CC follows (or surrounds) the T20.
    I also think the idea of winners of T20 automatically winning the toss for the CC is good, but again the logistics of promotion/relegation would negate the possibility of this.
    Whatever the ECB decide to do, it will still be a clown fest of ineptitude and short term greed.

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  13. Paul Howarth Aug 13, 2018 / 9:40 pm

    Nice one, Annie. Certainly, a more integrated season has its benefits, joining up the formats and providing the opportunity for more cross-fertilisation between white-ball and red-ball formats. I wouldn’t impose a rule that counties have to field the same squad for 4-day and T20 games, though – teams and players must be allowed to specialise.

    Like

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