Time for game’s rulers to afford the Championship support it deserves

MANY reasons have been advanced for England’s rise to world No 1 in the Test rankings.

The influence of head coach Andy Flower has been heralded as a major factor, the Zimbabwean having brought stability and focus following the damaging falling-out between his predecessor, Peter Moores, and former captain Kevin Pietersen.

Andrew Strauss, who replaced Pietersen as captain in 2009, has also been acclaimed as a significant influence, the opening batsman having inspired through cool, calm leadership and developed a fine working relationship with Flower.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The players have obviously played a huge part – indeed, the biggest part – in the ascent to the summit; so much so, it would be invidious to list them all here, for there is not one who has failed to “come to the party” in recent months.

One reason for England’s rise which has not been widely championed, however, is close to the hearts of everyone who has followed Yorkshire County Cricket Club through a difficult season.

Namely, the dear old County Championship.

The four-day competition is invariably held up as the root of all evil when the England side are struggling but curiously does not seem to get a mention when England are doing well.

But the Championship has played its role in England’s development, even if many people – Team England included – do not seem to appreciate the extent of its worth.

Not only is the Championship wonderfully entertaining (indeed, one can count the number of poor Championship games these days on the fingers of one hand), it is an important breeding ground for international players.

The most obvious example is Yorkshire’s Tim Bresnan.

Possibly more than anyone in the current England set-up, Bresnan has proved the value of county cricket. The 26-year-old has honed his craft in the four-day game and graduated seamlessly into the England side.

If that is not an advert for the efficacy of the Championship, it is hard to know what is.

It is not only Bresnan, however, who has cause to thank the four-day competition.

When Pietersen stepped into the cauldron of Ashes battle in 2005 and helped win the series with a scintillating century at The Oval, he did so not only because of outstanding natural talent and love of the occasion, but because he had learned his skills in the county game.

Pietersen’s four seasons with Nottinghamshire laid the foundation for everything that followed.

Others who have benefited from four-day exposure include the likes of Ian Bell and Graeme Swann, while Stuart Broad’s return to Championship action earlier in the season was credited as having played an important part in his success against India following a disappointing series against Sri Lanka.

The Championship, however, remains criminally under-appreciated. It has been devalued by central contracts, which means England stars rarely turn out for their counties, as well as inept scheduling which further keeps those appearances to a minimum.

The preponderance of England Lions’ matches has also not helped. What sense was there, for example, in England taking away the likes of Yorkshire’s Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root this summer to play against Sri Lanka A when they could have played in an equally good – if not higher –- standard in the Championship?

It is time the Championship was credited for its part in England’s success and time it was appreciated by the powers-that-be.

It must be carefully nurtured to ensure England remain at No 1.