Yorkshire take fight for County Championship format to Lord’s

Yorkshire chief executive Mark Arthur.
Yorkshire chief executive Mark Arthur.
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YORKSHIRE are to fight controversial plans to cut the number of County Championship games.

The England and Wales Cricket Board have suggested that counties play 14 matches per season instead of 16.

The ECB believe that would make room for a reshaped T20 tournament played in a block in mid-season and give players more rest and recovery time.

But Yorkshire – the Championship holders and this season’s champions-elect – are against cutting the four-day competition and claim their fellow counties agree with them.

Mark Arthur, the Yorkshire chief executive, said: “At our last meeting, the Yorkshire board was unanimous that we didn’t want to see a reduction in Championship cricket.

“We believe in the quality and intensity of the product, and if Test cricket is to maintain its status within the cricket world, you have to have the right nursery for the development of Test players in the future.

“I also understand from my colleagues around the country that there is no appetite whatsoever to reduce or change the structure of Championship cricket.

“Until we get something definite from the ECB, it would be wrong to make a judgement, but what I can say is that Yorkshire have voted to maintain the status quo with regard to Championship cricket.”

Arthur and Yorkshire chairman Steve Denison, along with director of cricket Martyn Moxon, are tomorrow due to meet senior ECB officials – including chairman Colin Graves and chief executive Tom Harrison – as part of the ECB’s ongoing visits to the counties.

The structure of the Championship will be discussed before the ECB officially present plans for the future of the domestic game to the 18 first-class counties at Lord’s on Tuesday.

However, Harrison betrayed the ECB’s position last week when he confirmed the governing body want to prune the Championship.

Speaking on Test Match Special, Harrison said: “The desirable position is to have a block in the summer which is given to a particular format.

“Where the domestic structure proposals for next year are going is to deliver an element of this, create some space in the calendar – and controversially that means playing one or two first-class games less than this year – and enabling the formats to breathe a bit and give players the ability to get into playing a specific format over an elongated period.

“That will raise the performance levels, it won’t compromise on the very important revenue streams that T20 is delivering and help make sure T20 is played at the time of year that gets the most fans into the grounds to see it.”

Harrison added that 16 Championship matches is “a lot” and claimed that “if you take that down to 14, the implications are not significant”.

Rather than cut the Championship, Arthur wants ECB to focus on rescheduling the two one-day tournaments: the T20 Blast and the Royal London Cup.

Arthur wants the Royal London held in May and the T20 moved to the height of the summer (the group stage is currently mid-May to late July).

However, he does not want T20 played in a block.

Arthur believes the present format of 14 group games spread out over several weeks works, with Yorkshire’s T20 crowds up 51 per cent this year on 2014 helped by regular Friday night cricket beneath Headingley’s new floodlights.

“Our desire is to see the T20 game moved more into the summer months and the 50-over game moved into May, which could then be used for international players to get some practice before the 50-over international programme,” he continued.

“We are told by the ECB that the 50-over game is very important to them as it’s a chance for their international players to get some practice, but, so far, I have not seen too many of the international players involved in the current rounds of the Royal London Cup.

“As for T20, that works well. Our crowds are up 51 per cent on 2014, and what works for Australia (where the T20 Big Bash is played in a block) doesn’t necessarily work for England.”

Arthur wants the ECB to distribute matches more evenly. Despite innumerable tweaks, the schedule remains a mess, with Yorkshire having had only 12 days of cricket scheduled for August – two Championship matches and four Royal London games.

“People say we play too much cricket, but if you look at our schedule for August, we’ve not had that many days of cricket scheduled,” said Arthur.

“That’s what needs looking at – not how much cricket we’re playing, but when we’re playing it.

“When you’re trying to take the game out to future generations, surely one of the things you want to do is to play cricket in August when you’ve got a chance to invite schoolchildren down to watch a game.”