“SIXTEEN games is a lot and if you take that down to 14 the implications are not significant. Supporters want to see players playing to the limit of their ability every time they go out on to the park.”
So proclaimed Tom Harrison, chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board, when discussing controversial plans to cut the number of County Championship matches from 16 to 14.
The plans, which are set to be presented to the 18 first-class counties at Lord’s on Tuesday, are designed to make room for a reshaped T20 tournament played in a block in the middle of the season and to allow more rest and recovery time for players.
They are, in fact, thought to be a compromise after the ECB are believed to have initially wanted to cut the number of Championship matches from 16 to 12, a concept met with disquiet around the shires.
The idea of trimming it to 14 games is not thought to have got much support either, with Yorkshire having pledged to fight such a move tooth and nail.
When I first read Harrison’s remarks, a shiver went through my bones.
“Sixteen games is a lot and if you take that down to 14 the implications are not significant.”
Er, hang on a second...
How is cutting the number of Championship games “not significant”?
It is our premier domestic tournament, the one beloved by all genuine cricket fans and the one that prepares our players for Test cricket.
Harrison’s contention that “supporters want to see players playing to the limit of their ability every time they go out on to the park” cannot be doubted. The question is: what is the best way of achieving that?
Supporters, it should be remembered, also want to see the best players in action, which does not happen often enough.
Since the advent of central contracts, England players rarely turn out for their counties, and when they do it is on such a seemingly ad hoc basis that the Championship itself is consequently devalued.
I know it is a different era, but, in the old days, Yorkshire’s supporters saw plenty of Brian Close, Fred Trueman, Ray Illingworth and Geoffrey Boycott, whose presence helped raise the standard of Championship competition.
Nowadays, there are not the same number of international players on show, which can only be to the detriment of young English players learning the game.
The lack of international players in the Championship – and the benefits that would give spectators and young English cricketers – is something to which the powers-that-be seem oblivious.
They argue that county cricket should exist for the benefit of Team England, whereas I argue that it should exist just as much for the people who actually pay to watch it.
Yorkshire believe the schedule does not need cutting but tweaking.
They feel it would make more sense to play the 50-over tournament in a block – say in May – and to have the T20 played more in line with school holiday time.
This year, Yorkshire had only 12 days of cricket scheduled for August and only two of those at Headingley.
This is what the administrators need to address.