Exclusive: Yorkshire want three-way split in Championship

Colin Graves
Colin Graves
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YORKSHIRE are to press for a radical overhaul of the County Championship that would see the competition split into three divisions and clubs playing 14 matches per season instead of 16.

Chairman Colin Graves will push for the plan at a meeting of the England and Wales Cricket Board on January 12 amid ongoing discussions into the structure of English cricket.

The 18 first-class counties have been asked by the ECB to respond to suggestions put forward in a recent review of ways of improving the county game.

The Morgan Review, conducted by former ECB chairman and International Cricket Council chairman David Morgan, has made various recommendations after in-depth consultation with the counties that have gone back to the counties for further discussion.

Although Graves is happy with certain proposals, such as a return to a 50-over one-day tournament to mirror the format played at international level, he does not like those advanced for Championship cricket.

These include a reduction from 16 to 14 games in an effort to reduce an overblown fixture list that would see the counties remain in two groups of nine and a mere acceptance they would no longer play each other twice.

Some clubs would prefer a First Division comprising eight teams and a Second Division of 10 counties. But Graves would rather see two divisions of eight teams and a consequent reduction to 14 matches, along with a Third Division that could be swelled by such as Minor Counties and university sides.

“I think we need to come up with a more creditable proposition,” said Graves, who sits on the ECB board that will meet to finalise proposals.

“I certainly don’t want to see an eight-10 split, which I don’t think would work very well at all.

“The way I see it, the mathematics are like this. In the first instance, you need eight teams in a division to get up to 14 games per county, with each county playing the other home and away.

“As there are 18 counties, you are faced with the choice of either scrapping two counties or adding more to them to make a Third Division. I can’t see any counties being scrapped and I don’t want to see any counties being scrapped.

“Counties aren’t going to vote for counties being scrapped because, at the end of the day, that would be like turkeys voting for Christmas. I would much rather see more teams added to the Championship to make a Third Division – say another four teams to make up a division of six – rather than any move to scrap two of the counties.”

Graves said he was open to suggestions as to which teams could comprise a Third Division.

“I have an entirely open mind about it and I think it should be done on a democratic basis,” he said. “If Yorkshire aren’t good enough, for example, there’s no reason why Yorkshire couldn’t play in Division Three. Just because we’re Yorkshire, we can’t expect to stay out of the bottom division.

“At the end of the day, if there were three divisions and we were to end up in Division Three, that would be our fault.

“I think it would be a workable solution to have a six-team Third Division made up of the two remaining counties who are not in divisions one or two plus four other sides.

“You could get the Minor Counties involved, the universities or even teams such as Scotland.

“I think you have to look outside the box a little bit and really try to make the thing work.

“I will be putting my ideas forward at the ECB meeting and I hope that people will take them on board.”

Graves accepts many Yorkshire members would not want a reduction in Championship games.

Yet amid a widespread acceptance that something has to give, and with counties reluctant to reduce the amount of money-spinning one-day matches, the Championship format remains the most vulnerable.

“I fully understand the Yorkshire members would not like a reduction to 14 Championship games,” said Graves. “But we can’t keep going as we are with the amount of cricket people are wanting to play, so there’s no alternative as far as I can see.

“We need clarity going forward because the fixtures need sorting out and there needs to be a better spread.

“It’s something that needs to be resolved sooner rather than later because it’s going to bite us if we don’t take action.”

Morgan’s interim proposals would result in a maximum reduction of 12 days’ cricket per county in 2014 compared to 2011.

They would also see the 40-over CB tournament changed to 50 overs per side, along with Twenty20 games played on set days of the week.

“I can understand the thinking behind wanting to stage Twenty20 games on a Friday or a Sunday,” said Graves. “It’s good from a spectators’ point of view because it spreads things out properly and gives the public an appointment to view.

“In my opinion, we also have to make the other one-day tournament more meaningful.

“We have to get to 50 overs per side to mirror what the England team are playing at international level.”