Former Essex cricketer Don Topley says something radical has to happen if the sport is to progress
- Credit: AP
Erstwhile Zimbabwe coach Don Topley believes English cricket is in dire need of change and has warned of counties potentially going to the wall should things continue as they are.
England’s recent failure at the World Cup – Peter Moores’ side failed to progress past the group stages – brought the state of the game into sharp focus.
It was painful viewing for Topley, the coach of Zimbabwe between 1990 and 1992, who has called for the number of Championship four-day games in this country to be cut and a limited-over franchise featuring teams representing cities rather than counties to be introduced, in order to better manage the country’s top young prospects and raise the profile of the sport for a younger audience.
Those plans would ruffle a few feathers among traditionalists on the county circuit, but Topley, who enjoyed a 13-year career with Surrey, Essex and the MCC YP, believes the ECB’s emphasis on four-day cricket needs to be tempered in favour of progression in the limited-over game.
“Something radical has to happen, otherwise we will be continually asking why we have not done this or that,” said the head of sports development at Royal Hospital School.
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“This is an opportunity for change. Years ago I was not for change and I am as devoted to professional cricket as anyone. I commentate on it, I coach it, my son (Reece Topley) plays the game and I enjoy watching kids improving.
“But international cricket has moved on, why hasn’t England?
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“We are guilty of valuing Test cricket more than the one-day game in this country and, as soon as we were out of the World Cup, people were already talking about this year’s Ashes.
“This time next year, there is another World T20 tournament in India. We are not going to win it but we should be identifying our young batsmen and bowlers now. It will be a great tournament to find out more about them.
“We are putting too much emphasis on Test cricket and are trying to shoehorn Test cricketers into the one-day side.
“T20 is having a much bigger effect now on the 50-over game than four-day cricket and it’s so much more aggressive.”
Reducing the number of four-day games in domestic cricket would create a gap in the cricket calendar, says Topley, which would allow the ECB to introduce a franchise to rival the lucrative IPL, the Australian Big Bash and the CPL (Caribbean Premier League).
“We should reduce the number of games in a league to 10 or 12, keep the T20 Blast, if that’s what the counties want, and set up a franchise where we push the best talent forward and attract the best players from around the world,” he explained.
“When I played the game, English cricket was at the forefront of the world, every overseas cricketer wanted to play here as they were picking up good money and the cricket was top drawer.
“We dominated and led world cricket with the ICC but unfortunately we are no longer top of the pile. Australia has taken major advancements forward, India has the IPL (Indian Premier League) and even the Caribbean Premier League is bubbling nicely in the West Indies.
“I would like to reduce the amount of county cricket and see the likes of Holland, Scotland and Ireland play Championship cricket.
“Less fixtures would make each match an event rather than just another game.”
Topley’s ideas would be seen as controversial by some, but he insists cricket in this country is in for a sharp shock, should it not stop being set in its ways.
“Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas do they? I don’t think they (counties) would go for it,” he said.
“You get your old committee men going on about how John Lever did this, Neil Foster did that, Norbert Phillip did this.
“You can’t compare today’s game to yesteryear or even my generation. When I played we were cricketers first, athletes second. Today it’s completely the opposite.
“The bowlers especially are like finely-tuned race horses and it concerns me how many of our young bowlers are picking up injuries by excessive training.
“We are asking players to perform and play in every bit of cricket and the agenda for the next 18 months is frightening.”
While Topley believes England’s young prospects – his own son Reece is a left-arm fast bowler at Essex, who has already played for England Lions – are being overworked, the opposite can be argued for the country’s more senior players who are on central contracts and play virtually no domestic cricket whatsoever.
“When I played, the England players were exhausted, the likes of Derek Pringle, Neil Foster,” Topley recalls.
“It’s gone from one extreme to another and now the bowlers are perhaps not playing enough.”
Topley, meanwhile, has explained how he would make a city franchise league work in this country.
He added: “I am not saying it should be like football, but Manchester United fans go all over the place to watch their team.
“If we are saying supporters in Kent for instance will only go and watch cricket in Canterbury, then we are too parochial and we will struggle.
“These diehards won’t be the reason county cricket survives and the game is under extreme pressure.
“Unfortunately it may take one or two counties to go the wall for us sit up and notice. Cricket is in bad way.
“The ECB are the only reason certain clubs are still here. They would not survive if it was not for their handouts.
“Parochial supporters, the elderly, are not going to keep English domestic cricket burning and we need to get cricket into the inner-cities and make it more appealing to younger people.
“The ECB has an opportunity now to look at the future.”