The most plausible explanation for the ECB’s systematic marginalisation of the County Championship is that it is a deliberate plan to reduce the competition to a state where it can either be abolished or at least left in a form that would be unrecognisable as the County Championship, probably with either the abolition of counties and the creation of teams based on regions or city franchises or a Championship with a severe reduction in the number of first class counties and a much reduced programme. However, whether intentional or not the marginalisation is proceeding as follows:
First, the Championship was s divided into two divisions. This produced the idea in the public mind that the standard of the divisions is vastly different even though there is solid evidence that as yet there is no great difference, for example, both Nottinghamshire (2005/6) and Lancashire (2011/12)have won Division 1 one year and been relegated the next.
Second, the CC games were concertinaed into the beginning and the end of the season leaving a swathe of weeks at the height of the summer with little or no first class cricket.
Third, the number of games has been reduced over the past 25 years, from 17 in 1993 when all matches became four days to 14 from the 2017 season.
Fourth, from 2017 the first division is to be reduced to eight teams and the second division increased to ten. This makes the second division seem even less on a par with the first division and continues to prepare the ground for a massive reduction in counties at the FC level or regional teams. That there are eight teams in the first division may well be significant because eight is the oft cited figure for a new T20 competition.
Fifth, there is no settled pattern to the Championship season anymore with games starting on Sunday, Monday,, Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday.
Sixth, many games could start of Saturday and finish on Tuesday. Having two out of four days outside the working week is surely a no-brainer. Yet at the end of this season we find that four out of the last five CC groups of games are not scheduled to have any weekend play and the fifth only has scheduled play at the weekend only on the fourth day.
Seventh, no attempt is made to ensure that Bank Holidays have plenty of Championship games.
Eight, next to no ECB money is spent promoting the County Championship.
What should be done to promote the Championship?
- Abolish the two divisions of the Championship and revert to one division with all the 18 first class counties playing 17 matches a year. Teams would play nine games at home one year and eight games the next. This would greatly simplify the fixture list and allow supporters of a county to see all counties playing at home every two years.
- Make the T20 county competition a league. Each county would play 17 games (19 if they got to finals day). There could still be a finals day featuring the top four sides in the league.
- Institute a predictable fixture list. This would consist of seventeenth rounds of a four day county match preceded by a T20 league game played against the same opponents. The T20 game would be played on Friday evening and the four day match Saturday to Tuesday. This would greatly reduce the travelling which counties currently have to undertake.
- In compiling the fixture list every attempt should be made to ensure that in any round of Championship and T20 League games the games are spread throughout the country so that if a county is not playing at home there is an opportunity for a supporter to either go to an away match of their county or watch another team close to home.
- The Championship season should start during the first week in May and end in the middle of September. This would allow 140 days on which cricket could be played. That is 20 weeks . Only 17 of those would be needed for Championship and T20 League. Hence, a 50 Over competition could be fitted in and a proper schedule for touring sides accommodated. If necessary, a week could be added at the beginning and end of the season making 22 weeks in which to play . This distribution of matches would ensure Championship cricket was available throughout the season and do away with having a disproportionate number of matches played in April and May as is now the case. This would provide regular Championship cricket for the spectator and encourage the playing of spinners.
- Strive to have a minimum boundary of 70 yards. This will not always be possible but the bringing in of boundaries would end. This will both encourage spinners and minimise to some extent the gross hitting advantage given by modern bats.
- Allow counties to prepare pitches as they choose. The interference of inspectors armed with possible points deductions has resulted in bland pitches which particularly hinder spinners. Before pitch inspectors county cricketers would face a very wide variety of pitches and became better players, both bowlers and batsmen, as they greatly increased their technical competence.
- Actively promote Championship cricket . They could do this variously , viz:
– As a T20 match would be attached to a 4 day match the two can be promoted as a package.
– Do more using digital media such as twitter.
– Get a computer game featuring Championship cricket off the ground.
– Set up a website for schoolboy cricketers, a feature of which would be provision to allow individual schoolboys to post details of their own school or club and their performances.
– Make a few experimental forays with television adverts to see if these are a paying proposition.
– Allow spectators attending England matches of all sorts (Tests, ODIs and T20s) to enter free of charge any Championship match for one day. Entry would be effected by presenting the stub of their England ticket at the gate (There would be minimal extra administrative cost.) As there were 784,000 paying spectators at home England matches in the 2015 season it would not be unreasonable to expect an increase in Championship spectators of 200,000, but the figures could well be considerably more. Although not paying to get in such spectators would be likely to spend a significant amount ion food, drink and in the county shop. Moreover having seen a day’s cricket for free quite a few might well come back as paying spectators.