Future of County Cricket

The Bob Willis Trophy is a success no matter what measure is used to evaluate it. Surrey is the only team to have lost all of its games. There has been a steady online viewership of about 3000 people through the day for each and every game with the local derby between Surrey and Middlesex getting 66 times more people watching the game than the same game last season. There is thirst for the domestic game not only within England, but all over the world and the usual followers of domestic cricket watching were more than happy to educate the new audience who were not familiar with the domestic players. That though is the beauty of cricket where people can come together to experience the game no matter what part of the world they come from and I must confess that I have over the course of the last two seasons changed my mind about the overall quality of English cricket. I made a statement in a post about Adil Rashid that county cricket is not good enough to judge the quality of players, but I was wrong to have been so vociferous in hammering down the level of county cricket but one important thing that I raised was the long term purpose and significance of county cricket. Cricket is a mirror of life and change is part of life for just as in life a refusal to change will lead to stagnation which is in no one’s interest but making the right change is crucial especially in times of turmoil. As an investment analyst I believe that change and uncertainty is good as it creates an opportunity but any action, conceived during these periods should be based on a clear long term strategy rather than short term needs. The obvious short term need for cricket in England is money and that is a problem which I expect to linger on in the near future. A shortfall of £100 million cannot be easily filled, but can be mitigated in the long term by having a clear picture of who the stakeholders of English cricket are.

Colin Graves, who will step down as the chairman of the ECB at the end of this month has been warped from one media outlet to the next peddling a doomsday message that cricket in England will fail unless County Cricket goes through some radical changes. He is of the belief that people who play and follow cricket in England are resistant to change, but I believe that this is far from the truth. T20 was invented in England and has become a global phenomena, but India took it to another level altogether with the Indian Premier League. Despite all the hurdles England has been the first Test playing country to not only host a Test series, but also started their domestic cricket which is a marvelous feat considering the unprecedented times that we are going through. I stressed in my article that appeared in County Cricket Matters that I will not form an official opinion until I see the published research on why The Hundred will be successful or the game itself both of which may not happen. I am also not going to take the word of Colin Graves that India is interested in adopting the The Hundred. The BCCI has not even acknowledged this notion and Virat Kohli has been clear that cricket does not have room for another format. The issue now is whether Ian Watmore who will take over from Colin Graves will seek to continue the things that have been placed by the previous management or will take English cricket in a different direction. It is highly likely that the rumored changes are associated with the outgoing chairman, but it is still worth looking into.

1) Creating a variant of the Bob Willis Trophy: The regional format that was implemented for the Bob Willis Trophy should be seen as a temporary solution that was necessary to deal with the threats placed by Covid19. India had a zonal based format in the Ranji Trophy, which is their main domestic red ball tournament, but that was changed and further changes can be expected. The proposal is that the top teams of each group will end up qualifying for the next round with the remaining three spots being battled for by the five teams that finished in second place. I see this as a feasible solution that can be implemented in County Cricket. Have three groups of six with the winner of each group going to the semifinals and the fourth place can be the team that finishes with the most points from the teams remaining. The three groups can be filled in any which way as long as it does not include zones except for where traditional rivalries exists. There are calls in India to remove irrelevant competitions. The purpose of a red ball competition should be to identify people that will give the national side the best chance to win internationally while continuing to find fresh talent.

2) Red/White ball balance: Cricket is becoming a game where different skill sets are required depending on the format which will result in boards or players choosing to focus on one format or the other while a select few will play in both formats. This change should not be forced onto the players by changing the proportion of red ball and white ball games played so that it becomes financially more viable for a player to play only one format. The new format for qualification for the World Cup and The World Test Championship means that every game matters. Players should be accustomed to all three formats otherwise it is probable that England will nit even qualify to play for the World Cup.

3) Decreasing the number of Counties: This is one idea that I hope never gets implemented. The apathy to The Hundred by “traditional” cricket fans was partly due to the fact that people could not relate with the city teams. If certain counties were either merged or asked to play only white ball cricket then it would end up alienating people. Middlesex no longer exists, but would a merged London team of Middlesex and Surrey have a greater combined fan base? Who would make it into the team and who will be left out?

4) Less professional cricketers: There are about 400 professional cricketers with possibly more than 25% of them set to lose their contracts at the end of this season. Every cricket player should have a back up plan as a career incase injury befalls or the person just does not make it into the top, but cricket should be seen as a viable career option, especially if we would like to see more people from the BAME community playing the game.

The people who succeeded from the 2008 financial crisis were those who continued to invest their money in a disciplined manner. Those that sold their investments and took their money out of the banks to keep it safe suffered significant losses. Will the ECB be able to hold their nerve and promote cricket starting from the grassroots or will it focus more on preserving money but lose current and potential fans in the process? We hopefully will get more clarity about that from September but may not see the impact of it until it is too late.

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