Why it’s time to switch Lions games into Twenty20 schedule

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DURING Yorkshire’s annual meeting at Headingley in March, Geoffrey Boycott raised a question.

“Why do we have so many England Lions games?” asked Boycott of Yorkshire chairman Colin Graves, who sits on the England and Wales Cricket Board’s management board.

“When they stage these games, we lose some of our best young players.

“It devalues county cricket and hurts us a great deal.

“This is affecting Yorkshire cricket and a number of other counties as well.

“All of us put a lot of effort into producing young players.

“Then they have to go and play these Lions games which clash with County Championship matches.

“But no one gives a toss about these England Lions games.”

It was typically forthright stuff from Boycott, whose comments were warmly applauded from the floor.

The former Yorkshire and England opening batsman was not criticising Graves, who replied that he agreed with his views and had pressed at ECB level for fewer Lions matches.

At present, Graves said there is an agreement at ECB level that there will be no more than four Lions’ fixtures per season.

There is also an agreement that no more than two players will be chosen for Lions games from any one county at any one time, although Boycott said he felt that should be reduced to a maximum of one.

In principle, the Yorkshire hierarchy are singing from the same hymn sheet on this issue and I would humbly add my voice to the chorus.

In my view, it is ridiculous that Lions games are staged at the same time as Championship matches, which, as Boycott says, further devalues the four-day competition.

This week, Yorkshire are without the services of Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root for the Championship game against Gloucestershire at Bristol because they are playing in the Lions four-day match against the West Indies at Northampton.

Although it is further recognition for Bairstow and Root, with Bairstow now surely on the cusp of Test selection, Yorkshire could ill-afford to be without two key players.

It is yet another consequence of a silly schedule in which the county fixtures are all over the place.

The decision to shoehorn four rounds of Championship fixtures into April – to accommodate the mid-summer torrent of Twenty20 – is further evidence of what the powers-that-be really think about Championship cricket.

The situation has been rendered worse this year because of the appalling weather that we witnessed in April. A sizeable proportion of games were ruined, which surely came as little surprise.

The situation with Lions matches is the equivalent of rain falling on already saturated ground.

Spectators are cheated enough as it is; there is far too much international cricket these days, which means the best players hardly ever turn out for their counties, and the Lions matter is an added frustration.

Yorkshire have had the services of Tim Bresnan for their last three games but how long will it be before they see him again?

Furthermore, a number of overseas players no longer want to come and play Championship cricket because they want to save themselves for IPL.

If the county fixture list was better spread out, with fewer one-day games and/or Twenty20 matches, England Lions games could have their own slot.

As it is, there is no room for them in a cluttered schedule.

Instead of staging Lions fixtures at the same time as Championship matches, why not run them alongside Twenty20 games?

Surely it would be far better for England’s top young players to miss a couple of Twenty20 matches for their counties instead of Championship games which are so crucial to their development and to England’s ambition to stay world No 1?