County Championship format hinders chances of unearthing next Joe Root, fears Andrew Gale

YORKSHIRE first team coach Andrew Gale believes that the County Championship format is actively working against England’s hopes of finding the next Joe Root.

Yorkshire's coach Andrew Gale (Picture: SWPix.com)

Gale said that the pressure on clubs to produce result pitches in the competition’s divisional stage is damaging England’s chances of developing great batsmen.

Yorkshire started out bottom of Division One – 16.5 points behind eventual champions Warwickshire – because teams took through points based on results in the initial conference stage.It meant that Yorkshire had one hand tied behind their back before a ball had been bowled and put pressure on them to produce spicier surfaces that were harder to bat on.

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“Personally, I don’t think that the latter part of the tournament worked,” said Gale.

Yorkshire's Gary Ballance drives the ball back down the ground against Warwickshire on a result pich at Scarborough (Picture: WIll Palmer/SWPix.com)

“I don’t mind the conference system itself, but the way that the points are then worked out going into the divisional stage, it’s hard to catch up as it was for ourselves.

“If we’re serious as a country about producing more Test match batsmen, then it doesn’t help because we’re under pressure to produce wickets like the one we saw at Trent Bridge last week and at Headingley the previous week when a little bit more grass was left on and it was under-rolled.

“And as a young George Hill (the Yorkshire opening batsman), trying to make his way in the game, that’s tough for him to then make hundreds that are going to give him that confidence to be able to push on, and it’s the same for young players all around the country.”

As with Yorkshire, whose batting department lacked the consistency to win the Championship, so England have struggled for top-order runs.

The final round was unfair on Nottinghamshire who won three of four matches (Picture: PA)

Root has carried them to the extent that he has hit six of their seven Test hundreds this year and scored 1,455 runs compared to the next-highest aggregate of 479 by Rory Burns.

The conference system, brought in this season to replace two divisions, and which could be retained next year, saw the 18 counties initially split into three groups of six.

The top-two from each group went into Division One, the third and fourth-placed sides into Division Two and the fifth and sixth-placed teams into Division Three, with clubs taking through half the number of points that they accumulated in the two matches they played against the county with whom they advanced. In other words, Yorkshire, who advanced into Division One with Lancashire, carried forward 4.5 points as they totalled nine points against Lancashire in their two group meetings compared with Lancashire’s 33.

The starkest illustration of the problems presented by the points-carried-through system, which may well be looked at if the format is kept, was the case of Nottinghamshire, who topped Group A by six points over Warwickshire.

However, because Warwickshire won both meetings between the sides, taking 42 points to Nottinghamshire’s 10, it meant that Nottinghamshire began the divisional stage on five points, half a point more than Yorkshire.

Nottinghamshire then won more games in Division One (three) than any other team yet only finished third, half-a-point behind Lancashire and four points behind Warwickshire.

“The way that the system’s set up, we played on wickets that did more at the back end of the season and you only had to look at the scores around the grounds to know that we weren’t the only county who struggled to score runs,” added Gale.

“As a country we’re always talking about our batting, and I actually had Rooty on the phone the other day asking what the wicket was like when we played (Warwickshire) at Headingley.

“They got bowled out for 150 and we got bowled out for 100 twice, so that’s not any good for him in terms of trying to pick the next Test batter.

“But that’s the way the system is set up at the back end of the year and the bottom line is that clubs need results.”

Counties are now considering a proposal by the England and Wales Cricket Board to retain the conference system next year – amid fears of potential further disruption from Covid – pending a return to two divisions in 2023.

If voted through, finishing positions in 2022 would determine the make-up of the divisions in 2023, which would likely see 10 counties in Division One and eight in Division Two.

The Royal London Cup is set to be played again next summer at the same time as The Hundred and after the T20 Blast.