Call it a draw
Much has been said about the state of the County Cricket Championship in recent years. Many have commented on the low turnouts to county grounds to watch the longer form of the game and how that is having an impact on the overall interest level in the sport. Why would someone watch a game which will end in a mundane draw after four days when they can watch a T20 game and be guaranteed a result after three hours?
I am a Lancashire supporter and have attended two days of county cricket so far this season. As an avid cricket fan, I take enjoyment from seeing good quality batting and bowling in the longer form of the game which allows for the accumulation of long, dogged innings from batsmen who do not excel in the boundary-laden short forms of the sport. Yet there is a growing need for something to be done to prevent these matches from becoming dull-to-watch draws which benefit neither the spectator nor the competitors.
A high percentage of matches in Division One have ended in draws so far this season. This point is illustrated by the fact that the County Championship leaders, Essex, have won just two out of their first five games, whilst second placed Surrey have won one game, drawing four. Compare that to other sports where the top teams would be expected to win a high percentage of their games in order to top their respective table and the problems begin to emerge. Cricket is conservative by the nature of the sport and the average spectator will expect a more pedestrian style of play than in other sports however teams should be incentivised to win rather than draw the majority of their matches.
Ahead of the 2016 season the ECB announced it was abandoning the toss in second tier games should the visiting captain choose to bowl first. According to an article by Kent CCC, exactly half of all county championship matches were drawn in 2015 following the introduction of the change. Whilst the regulations were brought in to ensure that games did not finish prematurely, within two or three days, they do not encourage teams to play expansively in order to win the match after four.
The point structure in the county championship can also be called into question. Teams are awarded points based on their batting and bowling performances in the first innings only of a match. Whilst the overall outcome of the match carries the weight of the points awarded, teams are also awarded points based on their batting and bowling performance in the first 120 overs of the first innings only. Whilst taking all ten wickets in the first 120 overs carries four points in the first innings of the match, there is little incentive for the team bowling in the third innings if the game appears to be petering out to a draw.
Whilst recent changes to the game have resulted in more games entering their fourth day, they have also ensured that exactly half of all games end in a draw. Arguably the biggest knock on effect of recent changes and increasingly turgid pitches are higher batting averages in both innings. As the regulation changes have only been in effect for two seasons, it is yet unclear as to whether these regulations are responsible for producing a higher calibre of county cricketer who are then able to progress into the international game. Despite higher batting averages emerging from the first two seasons of the regulations, I am doubtful as to whether they are a positive change for county cricket. It is clear, however, that far too many games now end in draws and aren’t entertaining for cricket fans countrywide. Something has to change.