Guest Blogger Greg Boon with some thoughts on the state of the game (@AshesRugbyGuy)
I have actively tried to stay away from debating the impact of the ECBs reforms on County Cricket, and ultimately test cricket. The announcement that the new based franchise base tournament would be an entirely new format came close to ruining my good intentions. England’s loss to Pakistan in the first test has tipped me over the edge of cricketing reason.
The new 100 ball format will be in addition to England’s T20 league, a One Day competition and County Cricket with the games due to take place from late July through to late August to coincide with the summer holidays.
T20 cricket will not overlap the new competition and whereas only those counties selected to be franchises will play the new format, all 18 counties will continue to play T20 cricket along with County and One Day cricket.
It’s the latest in a long line of changes that have pushed County Cricket to the fringes of the cricketing mind and calendar in England and Wales. Changes that have ultimately had a huge impact on test cricket, reducing England to a mediocre test team at best.
Cast your mind back just a month and we were watching three games of County Cricket before the end of April. The result, games impacted or called off entirely due to the weather. The BBC County Championship commentary had to stop on more than one occasion as they had no games to commentate on.
Since County Cricket has moved from terrestrial TV and is now predominantly played during the work week it engages with fans via the county social media accounts, the ECB’s and official highlights videos, the BBC’s online commentary service and sites such as ESPN Cricinfo. There is only so much these media platforms can do, they need a product which they can film, commentate and report on.
I know the ECB cannot control the weather, I know the English Summer is about as reliable as the English rail system. As the governing body in charge of the game the ECBs role is to give County Cricket its best possible chance of prosperity. To prosper you need to offer the general public a product, a game, and having so much of the County season squeezed into April and May just doesn’t do that.
How can you ever hope to grow County Cricket if superstars like Hashim Amla go off for bad light at a little past midday? The likes of Amla and Virat Kohli will attract new fans to County Cricket; we have to offer these new fans a product which is good enough for them to stay.
This careless scheduling is not just having an impact on the likelihood of a game, it is also effecting the tactics and style of game we see, which is in turn impacting on the production line of talent through to the test arena.
The conditions mean medium pacers offer an excessive level of threat. They are bowling balls that could stop at the traffic lights and take a left hand turn before arriving at their destination. Into this environment batsman must make hay while the sun shine’s (literally and figuratively), blasting away to accumulate runs before the ball with their name on it.
England has been crying out for a fast bowler of real pace and hostility and yet people are scratching their heads wondering where they’ve all gone. The answer is simple, you don’t need them to win a county game so why invest and develop them. It’s the same situation for spinners; pitches offer nothing to spinners who are left out of match day squads till later in the season when the calendar is full of white ball cricket. Limited overs cricket asks something entirely different of spinners and is no practice for test cricket.
All this does nothing to prepare batsman’s technique or patience for the challenges of test cricket.
I am not against change. County Cricket needs to change; we need to look at the scheduling. Not just the months we play but the days we play, how many people can give up an entire day in a working week? We need to look at the broadcasting arrangements; can a handful of games not be broadcast on terrestrial TV?
Have we had the sort of blue-sky-out-of-the-box-thinking that clearly came up with the new 100 ball format put their minds to County Cricket?
If they did we might think about playing some games abroad in warmer climates, it would guarantee cricket, give spinners a foothold and demand further skills of county players. It might not work but we cannot continue to rely on County Cricket’s extraordinary resilience.
People have announced the death of County Cricket consistently over the last few years and it is still here, but the ECB cannot take this for granted. They cannot continue to claim that new formats and new broadcast deals will give County Cricket the money it needs to survive. Ask any businessman, you cannot continue to pump money from other successful businesses into a failing one. It needs to stand on its own two feet.