Steve Marchant's blog

The People's Championship

The County Championship has been running awhile - since 1890 by popular acclaim - and has a rich history which has seen many changes. I believe that most cricket supporters are happy with the present structure, fed up with regular structural changes but open minded as to better scheduling, particularly to reduce travelling time. However it looks like more fundamental - ECB driven - changes are imminent. Above all what is happening to our cherished championship?


Background


Whilst there's been little, if any, official news during the summer there has been a lot of media coverage. I had a letter from one club of which I'm a member setting out that their board was unanimously opposed to change in the championship. This set alarm bells ringing - what did other clubs want to do? Would they consult or communicate with their members? It seemed that the ECB wanted significant changes.


Speculation increased as the date of the ECB's two day presentations to county clubs approached. The first day was attended by chief executives and the second day by chairmen of the clubs. After the first day we heard that the changes were overwhelmingly rejected by the CEOs. A brief hurrah as the next day we heard that the chairmen were broadly in favour! What could we fans do?


There was continued speculation surrounding the perennial 'city based' T20 franchises and a reduced county championship. A BBC TMS radio interview with Tom Harrison, the ECB's chief executive gave an insight as to the organisation's thinking. The city based franchises were unlikely but cuts to the championship were on the table. It seemed that the ECB wanted to give a higher priority to the short form of the game. The consequence we understood could be a concentrated summer of 50 over and 20 over cricket with county cricket pushed out to the periphery or 'shoulder' months of spring and late summer.


Another argument put forward was that England have been poor at winning short form cricket cups and a focused summer of such cricket with overseas stars will help achieve success on the field.


It has also been said those setting aside the summer for short form cricket would make it easier for overseas players to commit tor representing counties. Whilst winning more one day games is of course a good objective should the involvement of overseas players be a priority for English cricket? They may add to the entertainment value but I'm less sure they'll lead to more skilled England players.


We also understood from the media that a significant majority of county players responding to a questionnaire had said that they want to play less cricket. It was also said that it would be easier for them if they could concentrate on one form of cricket at a time. I don't have details of the questionnaire but I would argue that many workers if asked if they want to work less hours for the same money would vote the same way. Also many jobs across society are multi skilled. Other workers in the entertainment industry work long, irregular and 'anti-social' hours.


The public response


As set out above, lots of speculation but little hard facts / information has been provided to the cricket going public.


Communication has been varied (where it exists) from county clubs. As mentioned above one club wrote to all members stating that its opposition to changing the championship. Another briefed members at a forum before the ECB presentations, another held a members meeting to explain the tentative proposals. I've yet to hear of any club officially supporting a reduction in championship cricket or of any clubs members promoting this. Indeed Sussex posted a damning critique on their web site at https://www.sussexcricket.co.uk/news-1/statement-on-behalf-of-sussex-cricket


What could we fans do?


Concerned Middlesex members started a petition, with which I was involved, as follows: "We, the undersigned supporters of County Championship cricket urge you to act swiftly on our behalf to oppose any ECB proposals that seek to change the current structure and format of the County Championship. In our opinion any reduction in the number of four day games will have a severe detrimental effect on the success of the England Test Team."


This was addressed to Ian Lovett - Middlesex CCC chairman and ECB vice chairman - was signed by almost 500 people against change. Hearing of this around the country members of other county clubs wanted to participate and thus a similarly worded e petition was set up. This received almost 1500 signatures in less than three weeks. Over 500 people took the trouble to add comments to their signatures. Much food for thought for the ECB.


No sooner had the petition been tabled than Colin Graves, ECB Chairman, wrote back offering to discuss this which we did the same evening. Mr Graves told me that no vote on significant changes to the Championship would take place at the upcoming ECB Board meeting and thus 2016 will be structured similarly to 2015. I also understood that the ECB would be taking a roadshow of their proposals around all the county clubs over the winter months. I confirmed that this would be interactive with a real opportunity for members to ask questions and make their views known


Call to action


Whilst the 2016 season may be safe we won't really know what action, if any, we may need to take in the medium term until we understand what is proposed following the winter presentations and feedback. Meanwhile what can you do?


If not a member of a county club then join one - they're all brilliant value for money and you'll be made very welcome whatever format you follow.


* Attend the presentations at your home clubs and make your views known.
* Write to the ECB setting out your views
* Follow us on https://twitter.com/CountyChamps16


Steve Marchant




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