BADGER SPEAKS: The ECB has the domestic schedule all wrong Part 1/2

In the first of two pieces on the state of English domestic cricket, James Buttler gives World Cricket Badger’s view on how the ECB can breath fresh life into England’s domestic cricket.

I had mixed emotions when I read a piece yesterday in the Daily Telegraph which suggested counties would be in favour of a franchise, Big Bash, IPL style t20 competitions in England.

Part of me thinks I told you so! I’ve been bemoaning the lack of imagination shown by the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) for some time.

Another bit of me simply sighed. We’ve seen the ECB talk a good game before.

Australia’s BBL has excited full grounds and goes from strength-to-strength

And finally, as someone that has watched a lot of BBL and IPl cricket over the last few years, I thought England deserves some of that glitz and excitement.

I know Colin Graves, the man to take over as chairman of the ECB on 26 January. He is a cricket man, has done wonders for Yorkshire and will surely give it all he has got. He’s never been one for half measures and will be an excellent appointment, but he’s got plenty to put right.

There’s been a complacency around English cricket. Not the international team, that’s where the focus has been, but around the domestic game. A kind of we are England, we invented cricket, everything will be alright in the end attitude.

Well it won’t. Not unless Graves and the 18 county chairman think short, medium and long term - not just what’s best for next year’s balance sheet.

For too long the ECB have flitted from one schedule to the next, few in the game have understood why and few spectators know when games are played and how competitions work. The domestic format rarely stays the same. If an idea is worth implementing for a season, it’s surely worth persevering with to allow it to bed in.

But the problem has been the ideas have been flights of fancy, often based on data from skewed surveys and research. If you already know the answers you want to prove, it’s easy to let a survey engineer the findings you want.

One revisions for the 2014 season was a wise one. County Championship matches tended to start on particular days of the week - about time.

But the introduction of a 50-over one-day competitions running in two clumps at the start and end of the season excited no one. And quite frankly the English NatWest Blast T20 competition is a joke for a number of reasons.

When T20 was established in England in 2002 it was to introduce a new fan-base to the game. That has not happened. Children are marginalised by late start times, which get later as more counties instal floodlights. And just as they break up for the summer holidays the group phase of the competition ended.

I can see why most games are preferred on a Friday night, there’s more people fancying a few pints without the hassle of work tomorrow, but every T20 competition that works around the world plays its games in a block of a few weeks. The ECB schedule the matches across the whole season. In a world where there are so many other distractions, other things to do and to spend your money on, the competition becomes diluted and ultimately few, but the hardcore fans, actually really care.

Talk has begun about staging a second T20 tournament in England on a franchise basis, to be played in a block. But why introduce a second version when the competition already in existence needs fixing?

As Chris Grant, the Derbyshire chairman told the Telegraph, “Even if we had the money, it is hard to attract the likes of Chris Gayle at the moment to spend basically the whole summer in Derby just to play one game a week.

Chris Gayle - one of the best in the world - “We have to give the kids some heroes”

“That’s just not practical but we need the biggest names like Gayle to play here. We have to give the kids some heroes by giving them the opportunity to come and watch the biggest names in the game in an EPL.

“We have to get away from this tribal mentality. High-profile global sponsors would be very interested in getting involved and as long as the benefits are felt by all 18 counties, that has got to be good for the game. This is a great opportunity waiting to be grasped, in my view.”

The counties do struggle to get T20 specialists and to manufacture the glitz of the IPL or BBL having the world’s stars present and firing is fundamental.

It’s also important that the game’s hierarchy values its own players. The current schedule is cramped. Players go from game-to-game, often traveling on rest days before being asked to play at full capacity. Don’t forget, however talented, players are people. They need breaks and they need time to prepare.

If you are reading this article you are likely to be a cricket lover and you are likely to care about the English game. We are entering a crucial period for English cricket.

With falling participation rates and counties experiencing perilous financial circumstances, the game is walking a tightrope.

There’s a chance to get it right, but the repercussions of getting it wrong will see England fall behind other countries even further.

In Part Two (23 Jan), I will give you World Cricket Badger’s suggestions for an English domestic season. One that can work, entertain, make money and thrive.

It would be great to have your thoughts….

James Buttler
Editor of World Cricket Badger

 

James Buttler

James has been working as a journalist and broadcaster in cricket since 2006 and was an avid fan for many years before that.
As the editor of World Cricket Badger he is intent on building the website to give quality coverage of the domestic game around the world.
He is also the presenter of the Cricket Badger Radio Show on Radio Yorkshire every Tuesday evening between 7-9pm UK time.
James was the full-time Media Manager at Yorkshire County Cricket Club between 2007 and 2010.
James is a published author, a writer/video contributor to many cricket publications and a complete cricket badger!

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