Restructuring the Championship

On the day that it has been reported that the ECB is considering reducing the number of Championship matches from 16 to 12, I though it was about time I finally committed to this blog an idea I’ve been championing for the past three years.

Restructuring the schedule and fixtures of county cricket has been a long debated subject, and one that is very hard to find a solution to. The main issue is that there are too many interested parties. The players, the spectators, the marketing men, the ECB, and the counties, all have their own vested interests in seeing the schedule aligned in a particular way.

The move towards a more limited set of Championship fixtures is being ushered in due to the need to increase the amount of time available for limited overs competitions. The idea being that it will allow more time for market and priorities in particular the T20 competition. As well as a desire to prioritise and promote 50-over cricket ahead of the World Cup in England in 2019.

But what is the true point of county cricket? Does it simply exist to supply players for the Test side, or are they only in existence because of historical tradition. I would argue that whilst county cricket must always be preparing young players for the rigours of the international game, it should also be allowed to stand alone as an entity in its own right. There are a significant majority of county players that will never receive international honours, and who are we to say that being a county player is not a valid and successful career choice?

So, the system that I would advocate is this. Just to make it clear, I in no way expect this system to be adopted, it is simply too different, but that won’t stop me from harping on about it for a little while yet.

Firstly, the two-division system is done away with. Instead the current 18 counties should be split into 3 divisions of 6. This would serve a few purposes, firstly it would mean that end of season games are no longer dead rubbers, with 2 sides being promoted and relegated from each of the divisions. It would also encourage the best talent to rise to the top; this would help to prepare players for international cricket.

The second radical change would be to increase the number of days in Championship matches from 4 to 5, in complete contrast to Colin Graves’ nonsensical idea of 3-day matches. 5-day matches would obviously prepare players more realistically for Test cricket, as well as allowing for different pitches to be prepared. Green-tops are all too common in many Championship games, and as such the matches are often finished within three days. With a five-day match, ground staff would be able to prepare a more evenly balanced pitch, and crucially it could lead to the re-emergence of the lesser-spotted spinner in the county game. How can we expect players like Moeen Ali or James Tredwell to step up and take wickets on a Day wicket, if they’ve never even bowled on a day 5 pitch before?

In addition to this I would also look to distribute the Championship matches more evenly throughout the season. We are barely halfway through May and some counties are already playing their 5th Championship match of the season. This is yet another reason why spinners so often fail to prosper in the county game.

So I would certainly make some sweeping changes, and I’m certainly not saying that I have the absolute answer to a very complex problem. But, I believe that switching t 3-division, 5-day County Championship cricket would benefit both the England side and the counties they represent.

It’ll never happen anyway….

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