The members in county cricket are revolting by Annie Chave


The members are revolting, Yes, my title is a play on words, but it hits the mark.

Members of counties are inconvenient.

That’s the bottom line. It’s an outdated system and it makes it difficult for the counties and
for the ECB to take control. But the reality is that fifteen of the counties are member-
owned. They hold the power to elect or to sack the Board, and this is a precarious position
for the governing body. Their answer? Set about wrong-footing that membership.

A 4-0 drubbing down under, followed by poor selection decisions for a West Indies tour in
March, led to the commissioning of a High Performance Review to look at cricket in England
and Wales. After drip-fed leaks throughout the season, Sir Andrew Strauss’s final proposals
were published on 22 September. Their purpose – ‘to make England the world’s best team
across all formats within five years, for a sustained period of time’. There are many
recommendations, but I will concentrate on those directly concerned with the county game.

Whatever you think about the review it’s been driven by a genuine desire to improve English
cricket: it’s just that the orchestration is so complicated and inevitably weighted by personal
bias. As Strauss says, ‘it’s impossible to keep everyone content’. You can’t solve one thing
without un-solving another thing. But it appears that, despite a complete turnaround in the
fortunes of the Test side following a change of coaching staff and captain, the thing to
‘solve’, the scapegoat, is the county set-up. On 7 September, Strauss warned the counties
that ‘English cricket faces an exodus of its playing talent unless reforms to the domestic game
are adopted’, and Michael Vaughan followed up (again in a Daily Telegraph interview with
Nick Holt) with a stark warning that ‘counties have a simple choice, back Andrew Strauss’s
reforms or watch red ball cricket die’. This feels like bully-boy tactics, loading the blame
onto the counties, with the aim of forcing an eventual outcome that it seems to many of us,
the ECB always intended – fewer counties at first-class level.

On the face of it a top tier of six teams, with one team relegated each year, sitting above
two conferences of six teams, has some merit, but the reality is potentially really damaging.
It may make mathematical sense of the ten-game format, but five home games only! This is
a major problem for the smaller counties in particular. How do they sustain their local
relevance, and how do they actually survive? If the playing days are reduced, must the
playing and behind-the-scenes staffs be reduced, too? And what about membership fees
and the kinds of deal offered to members, the stakeholders and to sponsors? Essentially, it
gives the team fewer chances to actually play games of cricket. Is it wise to devalue the
Championship so radically? I’ve heard from many current players that it is still the format
they hold above all others, the prize they most want to claim. Popular with players and with
members, where is the call for the cull coming from?

What the Strauss Review proposes is shrinkage, pure and simple. It envisages a 6 or 8 élite
division of counties, all or most of which will also host the 100. The remaining 10/12
counties will become feeder clubs, playing cricket against similarly placed counties. How do
we stop top players gravitating to the top six teams, as is the reductive way of modern
sport? This is already the whole premise of the 100: to create teams of ‘the best of the
best’. Such non-aligned elitism ignores a key point of County Cricket, the fact that each new
game not only belongs and adds to a rich history but also contributes to the work every
county does in the local community. Sean Jarvis, CEO at Leicestershire CCC, who has spent

all season engaging with his community, chasing new audiences and working with diverse
groups not traditionally engaged with cricket, feels that ‘It really does, potentially, put a nail
in a coffin …. it feels like we’re being bullied’. In an interview with BBC Sport Leicester, he
calculated that the Strauss proposals could lead to a fall in income of £250,000, which would
ultimately threaten the Club’s survival.

The Strauss proposal that the Royal London One Day Cup be played in April as a straight
knock-out competition will find defenders. We all love the lottery of the FA Cup. But a small
county, already confined to a total of 10 Championship matches, may find itself knocked out
in Round 1, with no further prospect of gate money that month.

And then there is the T20 Blast, to be ‘played in a single window in dedicated blocks with
more fan-friendly prime-slot fixtures over 10 group-stage matches per team’. In effect, this
reduces home games from 7 to 5, with significant loss of income from a growing fan-base
with a taste for ‘carnival cricket’. The short-changing of this group in counties that don’t
host the 100 is an unspoken by-product of the Strauss Review.

One final piece of flummery is a proposed Festival Cricket Tournament, described in the
Review as ‘the new concept to provide opportunities for our specialist red-ball players and
developing talent’. Martin Bicknell, ex-Surrey and England player, admitted on Twitter that
he could think of nothing worse than playing such ‘meaningless, low-grade cricket’. It is, in
truth, not difficult to see through this transparent attempt to fob off the Counties with a bit
of August jollity while the real business of high summer, the 100, dominates our television
screens. And this was the nub of Sir Andrew’s problem. He was not asked to review ALL
ASPECTS OF THE GAME. He was obliged to regard the 100’s possession of August as
sacrosanct. It must have occurred to him that this was a flaw in his brief, that it
compromised the objectivity of his Review. Can it be good for English cricket that there will
be no home county (or test) matches in the best month of summer?

Finally, back to the membership. Counties are right to be concerned that their membership
will drop with the reduction in first-class cricket on offer, but I urge you to use the Strauss
Review as a call to arms and a chance for the membership and the counties to work
together more cohesively, because if we want to see county cricket ultimately thrive then
we need to be united in our endeavours.

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