ECB’s White Ball Obsessions Concern Many

A reduction in the number of County Championship games may have moved a step closer; a change which is deeply unpopular.

Following lengthy discussions with the ECB, it appears the county chairmen have agreed, in principle, to a number of proposals outlined by the game’s governing body during the meeting at Lord’s yesterday afternoon.

For many, the news served not only as further examples of the pig headedness and questionable handling of the domestic game from the ECB, but also raised concerns over whether the County chairman are really representing the interests of their members.

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The advantages of a reduced Championship schedule centre around greater opportunities for rest and recuperation for players, most notably at counties with limited squad sizes. The knock on is an improved standard, as players are better prepared, healthier and more energised.

All admirable aims. Especially in light of the recent Professional Cricketers’ Association survey, which reinforced the need for a re-think of the domestic schedule.

However the survey also confirmed that the majority of players share the same view as supporters – that the County Championship is the pinnacle of the domestic game – with 85.2% of the 240 PCA members who replied to the survey indicating that they valued the County Championship as the most important of the three domestic competitions.

Speaking to One Stump Short recently, former Essex, Nottinghamshire and Hampshire bowler Andre Adams said “The County Championship is supposed to be tough. That is what makes it so special. Keep it tough. Lose some of the white ball cricket, but keep the four day campaign strong. The Ashes is Test Cricket. The long format. End of story.”

The former New Zealand international’s feeling are clearly shared by a great many people close to the game, and as a result the idea that the County Championship might be in anyway diminished is massively unpopular within the sport.

The situation is further exacerbated by suggestions the ECB want to use the change as a means to further England’s 50 over prospects, most notably at the 2017 Champions Trophy and 2019 World Cup.

The PCA survey demonstrated that the Royal London One Day Cup ranks as the least important of the three domestic competitions among players, adding that “the cricketing arguments for retaining the competition in its current form are correspondingly weak”.

Public interest in the World Cup and the Champions Trophy is questionable, especially where the latter is concerned, and while England Team Director Andrew Strauss may want to see a 50 over tournament held in July and/or August, few current players and county members agree.

Some wouldn’t miss the the One Day Cup if it disappeared from the schedule entirely. Much like the YB40 before it.

Despite solid crowds and an exciting round of quarter finals this year, the scheduling of the One Day Cup has been questionable – with the second semi final taking place on Monday, after the vast majority of children have gone back to school – and counties struggling to make the format work commercially.

In short, it lacks both the ‘oomph’ of the T20 Blast and the prestige of the Championship.

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Further frustration stems from the ECB’s apparent willingness, or perhaps even determination, to simply force through some of changes outlined by chief executive Tom Harrison and chairman Colin Graves when the current domestic scene has been so mangled.

A dedicated block for the T20 Blast seems popular, especially if the ECB is so comfortable with giving up on the ‘Friday night is T20 night’ plan half way through its four year cycle (in spite of improving attendances and greater profits). Creating such a block is not overly difficult either. But the ECB’s interest in the Blast continually comes back to the eight city set up proposed earlier this summer.

The idea was, again, very unpopular, and the suggestion the One Day Cup could become an eight city affair met with similar scorn. Cynics might suggest the ECB are spending too much time chasing broadcasters money rather than looking at constructive ways to improve the domestic game.

Even reshaping the existing One Day Cup would not be hard, and it would reduce the need to chop and change formats quite so often – a concern highlighted several times in the PCA survey. It might even give it a little more ‘jazz’ to excite people. Because, despite those respectable attendances and some exciting games, it’s not a competition or format which commands any great affinity.

A return to the old knock out format might be an option, with a return to the fold for the minor counties adding a small layer of intrigue to the competition.

With centrally contracted players rarely featuring in the One Day Cup, and Twenty20 offering players the education in fast paced limited overs cricket Strauss and co seem so interested in, the current 50 over competition isn’t going to be sharply improved by a reduction in Championship games, and so neither is England’s one day squad. At least it could be a little more fun, hold that element of surprise when Cornwall topple Hampshire – much like the simple joy in seeing Northants compete for the T20 Blast crown. Small clubs coming up trumps. Everyone loves an underdog story.

But despite the outcry, despite the negative feedback – most notably following Harrison’s appearance on Test Match Special during the Fifth Ashes Test – the ECB executive board seems determined to plough ahead though. The ‘eight city’ suggestion won’t go away and, rightly or wrongly, does hold some weight with a few chairmen – most notable Nottinghamshire’s Peter Wright.

Limited overs cricket increases its’ domination of the discussion. Its’ domination of the sport. The status of domestic championships, and even Test cricket, increasingly under threat.

News that the county chairmen are now backing changes to the Championship will have put them on a direct collision course with county Chief Executives and members; as the proposals fly in the face of their, and the players, desire for the Championship to endure.

Australian fans have not failed to notice the decline of their Test side following the marginalisation of the Sheffield Shield, and World Cup success did little to dull the anger at the team’s Ashes defeat this summer.

But the ECB continue to salivating over the Big Bash and international tournaments – which many fans are, ultimately, apathetic towards. As a result they now risk the same fate befalling England.

Administrators are rapidly losing sight of the formats that fans and players really want to see success in; and while the ECB is supposed to safe guard the sport in England, instead it looks more likely to split it in two.

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About Rob

Software engineer by day, Elite League Media man by night, Rob also blogs about cricket for One Stump Short, hockey for In Goal Magazine and video games for Outpost Delta as well as hosting the One Stump Short Podcast.

Posted on September 3, 2015, in County Championship, Domestic Cricket, England, International Cricket, One Day Cup and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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