Drastic changes needed for the good of English cricket - starting with a reduction of clubs

The Essex team head out onto the field for day one of the Specsavers County Championship match at th

The Essex team head out onto the field for day one of the Specsavers County Championship match at the Essex County Ground, Chelmsford. - Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Drastic changes are needed to safeguard our domestic game.

The sad reality is our national summer sport, in its current guise, is not sustainable with the ECB bailing out each county to the tune of at least £1.5million each year.

Without that amazing support every county would crash. These central payments are largely from the existing BSkyB deals signed some years ago and will be up for re-negotiation in 2019.

Most County Cricket Clubs are run democratically by their elected committee and chairman. Some have a management board but the members still have the right to vote. Just as ‘turkeys never vote for Christmas’, the counties’ members never vote for change that will affect them in a negative way.

For instance, the ECB Board have confirmed that next season will see a reduction in four-day Championship matches at each home ground for the benefit of England Cricket. There will also be a radical change in the T20 NatWest Blast.

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However, the majority of the membership are concerned that they will see less cricket and spend less time at their home venues and perhaps receive less cricket for their annual membership fee. They are ignoring that the product on the field could be better because players would play less, train more and have the opportunity to rest.

A large percentage of County Cricket members are elder statesmen who love their tranquil days out in their usual seat for all their county’s matches. Whilst these members are integral to the day-to-day summer existence of the club they will not sustain the game at professional county level.

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The most controversial topic for discussion is the franchise proposals which have been raised so often in the past. I was a traditionalist and proud of my own career within the First Class game, but in those days we enjoyed the very best overseas players and all England players played too.

Today, the top overseas players don’t come to play in England as they chase the rupee in India for just six weeks’ work.

England players do not play too often as they are also contracted centrally to the ECB and not their counties. There is a suggestion that our International One Day cricketers might be centrally contracted soon – something Andrew Strauss (ECB cricket director) is desperate for.

The professional domestic game has to change. Most modern overseas T20 competitions (Big Bash, IPL, CPL, BPL, RamSlam) have about eight participants, not 18 counties as we have. We dilute the product – imagine how much better the standard would be with just 12 British franchises and just the top players playing together?

With a shorter period for the event it would also attract top overseas players back.

I firmly believe that a new T20 competition will be significant for our domestic game.

We need, say, six less teams and ‘free to air’ television. This particular event is not about those elder statesmen who pay their annual membership – it’s about attracting a younger fan.

County Cricket Club members appear to be worried that their club may be one of the six to eight sides to be cut and not included in this new revolution.

Those same elder members often suggest T20 is not proper cricket. The game in this county will be so very different in five to 10 years but, whatever it becomes, it has to be sustainable.

I am also suggesting that this ‘brave new world’ may end up aiding counties. Rather than potentially going to the wall, the likes of Northamptonshire and Leicestershire could receive life saving money from a central pot emanating from the new showcased t20 competition.

Essex County Cricket Club are slightly different to the rest but are not guaranteed a place at the top table. It’s now widely accepted that the Essex County Ground is the worst ground on the county circuit in desperate need of refurbishment.

The proposed redevelopment is now on hold where only one of five phases of redevelopment has been met. The one great advantage for Essex is that they currently have no debt.

The ECB have already advised some of the non-Test playing counties that they can no longer bail them out financially.

The Test Match Grounds – Yorkshire, Warwickshire, Durham, Hampshire, Lancashire, Nottinghamshire and Glamorgan – all owe millions for their own huge redevelopments.

Each of those need to ensure they are better than their competitors as we now have nine Test grounds for six or seven Tests per summer.

These days each international venue has to bid for the right to host a Test Match. Surrey remain the wealthiest and most profitable of the lot.

Colin Graves (ECB chairman), Tom Harrison (ECB managing director) and Andrew Strauss have only been in place for the year and are expected to bring greater authority and modern leadership in guarding England’s domestic game.

They have some big decisions to make.

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