Wednesday, October 24, 2012

ECB Announce 2014 County Cricket Schedule

2014 might seem a long way off to start planning your summer holidays, but the ECB have shown county cricket fans the shape of summers to come with the publication of the 2014 domestic cricket schedule on Thursday.

The format of the LV= County Championship will remain as is; two divisions of nine with two teams promoted and relegated each season. The scheduling of first class matches will change however, with games running from Sunday to Wednesday for the first 14 matches of the 2014 season.

The t20 tournament will become a regular weekly fixture occupying Friday nights and Sunday afternoons, in line with the “strong desire from Counties and spectators," to have an "appointment to view," t20 schedule.

Finally, the Clydesdale Bank 40 tournament will become a 50 overs a side to mirror One Day International cricket, with 8 teams progressing from two groups of nine into quarter-finals, a change from the present setup where three group winners and the best runner-up progressed into the semi-final stage.

Changes to the domestic schedule have been the subject of much debate throughout this season, ever since the proposals of the Morgan report were published earlier in 2012. David Morgan, the former ECB chairman was asked by his former employers to compile a report into the “business of domestic cricket and its interfaces with the international game.”

And it’s fair to say that some of Morgan’s findings, such as wanting to reduce the number of first class matches from 16 to 14, were opposed by players, counties and spectators alike.

An online survey was launched by the ECB - “the largest piece of market research ever conducted on county cricket,” according to ECB Chief Executive David Collier - to ascertain what fans wanted from the domestic game.

Even the Professional Cricketers Association put forth their views on the report, with 91% of players who participated affirming their view, that first class cricket should be prioritised above all else.

What should be clear by now is there are a lot of views and opinions, a lot of people to keep happy and, lest we forget, a hell of a lot of cricket to cram into a short and (as we saw with this year’s weather) relatively unpredictable summer period.

To address each format, the retention of a sixteen game county championship is a good thing. It means no fundamental change to the make-up of the two divisions, something players and counties were keen to ensure.

Sunday starts for championship matches from 2014 is a big change, leaving a lot of fans unhappy as it means less first class cricket on weekends. Whilst I sympathise with people on this, the inconsistent nature of the championship cricket schedule last season meant more structure was required.

What are the alternatives to a Sunday start though? Last season at the Ageas Bowl in Hampshire, the turnstiles were lucky if they rolled over more than a couple of hundred times, even on a Saturday. The staff employed for a days cricket almost outnumbered the spectators.

I am a huge fan of Championship cricket but with all things considered (supporters, finances, other cricket formats), the fact that Championship cricket is accessible at the weekend, in part at least, is a good thing.

T20 cricket is a tough one. Cricket fans may wonder why England cannot create a competition akin to the IPL or Australia's Big Bash. The poor climate and protracted nature of the tournament are two major factors, as is the money required to sign overseas players, money which English counties don’t have.

Chris Gayle was due to line up for Somerset last season. The fact he decided to rescind his deal to make himself available for international selection tells us a lot about international cricketers’ opinion of the competition. With that in mind, perhaps it's not the worst idea to keep t20 as a purely domestic competition. In spanning the whole season it gives England players more opportunity to participate, rotation permitting, and for the punters it is the best night of the week – after a week at work yet before family time starts on Saturday morning.

I attended a Hampshire v Sussex t20 match this summer. It was a Friday night fixture and the place was heaving. You can't blame the counties for wanting to cash in on these nights, most of them living on a knife-edge financially.

Finally, the CB40. List A is a tired looking format, and last season’s campaign, although blessed with a nail biting finale at Lord's in September, was largely forgettable. That said the ECB needs it to facilitate England's One Day side.

Now, you could argue that in ten years’ time, One Day cricket will be a thing of the past, so why have it taking up so much of the domestic window? Whilst this may be true, we do know that the ECB are committed to challenging for the ODI World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in 2015. It would therefore be foolish to kill off the game domestically if they still want to be successful in the international format.

The suggestion that the competition could become a straight knock out affair with teams eliminated after just one match, just doesn’t support the England campaign. Potential one day England players could be knocked out in the first round, damaging theirs and their country's future aspirations.

And this is a really key point. Not only are we trying to keep a lot of Counties in business here, we are also trying to facilitate a successful domestic game which will ultimately benefit Team England.

This is a strong statement from the ECB, and I think that, on balance, they have the structure about right. Championship fixtures have a regular slot, t20 will potentially generate more revenue, while List A cricket now replicates the international version.

It was nigh on impossible for the ECB to please everyone, but personally, I think the summer of 2014 looks about right.

Tom Huelin for DieHard Cricket Fans
Follow Tom on Twitter @tomhue1

No comments :

Post a Comment