The only thing, said David Morgan, that everyone could agree on about the structure of domestic cricket in England was that it wasn’t right.
The former chairman of ECB canvassed in the region of 100 interested parties about how the county game should change before delivering his interim report to the board today.
The major problem, he says, is that no one knows when games are on. There might be a four-day starting in Worcester on a Tuesday, one in Hove on a Wednesday etc. Every cricket fan recognises that ongoing frustration. Is that likely to change after his recommendations? It’d be nice to think so but I doubt it.
The underlying cause of the bloated mess of a fixture list is the TV deal with Sky in which there is a contractual obligation to provide county cricket available to be televised on pretty much any day there isn’t an international.
So, if you’re happy simply to switch on Sky and watch whichever 22 flannel led fools are put in front of you then it’s fine. If you like to have a bit of context, a bit of definition, a bit of light and shade and even a bit of, yes, downtime, when there isn’t any cricket on, then you’re stuffed.
But within these undesirable parameters, here is how I would tweak the county game. My ideal scenario would be have all three competitions (four-day, T20 and 40 or 50 over) laid out in three identical regional groups (like the old B&H groups) with play-offs and a final.
This is effectively an American sports model where there are certain rival teams who you play every season but then your other opponents come from the other divisions and are selected on a rotational basis so, for example, Kent don’t go for years without playing Yorkshire.
This also allows you to adjust the number of fixtures to suit. We’re too hidebound by our traditional UK sports model of all-play-all so if you have a league of 10 that means you’ve got 18 fixtures whether you like not or not.
With three groups of six, you could play your divisional opponents home and away or maybe just once if that was preferable and make up your desired number of fixtures from playing teams in the other divisions.
I think this is perfect for the limited-overs competitions where results are guaranteed and promotion and relegation does not feature. For the county championship there is the issue of weather ruining play-off matches. But the over-riding thing is that championship works just fine as it is. It has flaws of course but overall it is the one aspect of the county game that everyone agrees works well.
So leave it alone and make the adjustments elsewhere.