The May Marriage

Today we have an article from Paul Potter, who is one of our Australian readers. He’s been following our recent discussions about the county championship with interest and has a rather interesting take on things. He certainly offers food for thought and, quite frankly, it’s good to see that people from other countries have faith in our domestic product. More than the ECB do anyway. Over to you, Paul … 

The IPL features many a full toss, but it is not a tournament for The Full Toss. England players like Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler miss the cold of a May day in the County Championship to earn Indian rupees at night. Counties are forced to rely on contingency plans at short notice when a franchise decides they want the services of a Liam Plunkett or a David Willey. While it is on, the whole world is told:

This is cricket. This is the cricket.

What I’m about to write, therefore, may surprise some readers, although the recent antics of the England and Wales Cricket Board must have stretched your capacity for surprise.

I actually think the IPL is the key to improving the County Championship’s relevance. Let me explain.

Before it began, the County Championship had a more coherent structure, but too many competitors and too many types of competitors. A Test here, an ODI there, and often more than one of each. It took a long time, but there is now a window for the IPL.

Only Ireland’s inaugural Test is set to break it, and their opposition, Pakistan, have had its players blackballed from the IPL for nearly a decade now. No other male international cricket will be played during the time of the IPL.

As for other male domestic competitions, there have been one-day tournaments in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, but these pale in comparison with the County Championship’s status as the oldest multi-day domestic competition in cricket, and do not attract overseas players like the championship does.

This is one of the reasons why, in my opinion, the County Championship should be designed to be the IPL’s No. 2. There is a degree of burnout with an IPL season, and the County Championship has its degree of stories with which to fall in love.

For example, when Jake Ball was bowling to Chesteshwar Pujara the other day, he was bowling to win for Nottinghamshire, and he was bowling to have the chance to win for England again. Pujara was not just resisting for Yorkshire’s sake, he was learning how to resist for the days he will need to resist when India try to win in England. This was just one of the subplots that the championship regularly presents.

If you’re not fussed with nation vs nation cricket, and just want to follow a good quality competition involving some of the world’s best known players – Morne Morkel and Shivnarine Chanderpaul spring to mind – then the championship holds plenty of interest if your eyes are tiring of the IPL’s barrage of boundaries.

What’s more, there are usually plenty of players from different countries taking part. Just from my home country, Australia, there are several. For example Peter Siddle might have worn a beanie, but he’s also taking wickets that could mean the difference between being in England next summer and being in Victoria. Joe Mennie is fighting for the chance to prove he was better than what his one Test appearance showed. Shaun Marsh is in England. So is Matt Renshaw. And Mark Cosgrove, who does not currently play for any professional team in Australia, is still going strong. Apologies to those I left out.

As an overseas cricket fan looking at the championship from the outside, there’s no doubt that the IPL and the County Championship are destined to compete. But they can also compliment each other – so long as the administrators, fans and players want it to.

Paul Potter


  • Hi Paul. Thanks for your article. In a weird may, perhaps the championship needs more overseas players to survive. It could become a base for globetrotting red ball specialists, just as the IPL has become a focus for freelance T20 players. We have 18 teams, so there should still be enough English talent getting a game. It’s certainly an interesting take. Big names and a general raising of standards should attract the crowds, right?

    • It’s certainly true that big names and raised standards mean more interest. I can remember watching Hampshire (in, I think, 1974) play Buckinghamshire in the Gillette Cup. The Hampshire openers were world class players (Barry Richards and Gordon Greenidge), and the chance to see those players at close quarters ensured a big crowd (who saw a lot of Greenidge: probably rather more than the Bucks bowlers wanted!). Similarly, Somerset used to win one day trophies because of their trio of superstars (Botham, Viv Richards and Garner). I recall seeing a young Greg Chappell play for Somerset too.

    • Hi James. Thanks for publishing it. I agree with much of what you just said – I think part of that is the case now by default. One of the great pities of the ECB and the BCCI not working closely together in this way is that it could have operated the other way as well – England’s T20 competition and the Ranji Trophy having their own window. Perhaps more on that another time, as there are some other issues that justify another article on their own.

  • Yes but the IPL is not a UK Cricket Competition. It’s an India one. I actually don’t know anyone who watches it because it’s crap.

    However it seems to me that most English players spend the duration of the IPL mostly sitting on their backsides, not only receiving a fat pay cheque from the IPL but a retainer from their counties as well. Not bad if you can get it, but it is not good for a young players ultimate career prospects. Example: Jason Roy and Tom Curran have hardly played a game.To replace these with dubious globe trotting red ball specialists is an idea, but it seems to negate the roll of nurturing UK talent, don’t you think?

    I would prefer to see the domestic schedule sorted out so that the CC is not being played mainly in April, May and September. But this would go against the ECB’s apparent desire to actively destroy it, and possibly ultimately Test Cricket.

    • Happy to clarify that I don’t think that the IPL is an English competition – I just thought that went without saying. I have a few English mates who watch it – much more than what I have, as I don’t have pay TV and it hasn’t been on free-to-air in Australia for several years.

      As it is somewhat inaccessible to me, it is something of a mystery as to what international players do when they are not selected in the IPL. For all I know, they could be working harder than anyone else off the ground. I agree that a lack of playing time negates the nurturing of English talent, and that the CC is currently badly scheduled – should start in the first week of May.

  • Unless and until the BCCI decide to hoover up all the remaining dollars with a second IPL in September / October. With the ECB bent on destroying the county and hence the test level it must be time for a breakaway movement. Let Graves and his acolytes sail their own ship off into the distance, they’ve a good record – just remember what a success the Stanford connection was. Time to reclaim the game.

    • What practical actions do you suggest cricket fans take for a better game?

  • I remember when I was young that limited overs cricket was played on Sundays and county championship was on the telly. There were loads of fans. Let’s go back to days when cricket was popular and debated in the house of commons. Forget all these new ideas. Let’s go back to what is tried and tested and works !

  • Just to clear up things. Stokes and Buttler are not missing the cold of May. It’s been exceptionally warm, sunny ? and dry for May. Worryingly so. Not normal but even in bleak old Durham it’s been hot. Rather pleased the Sky commentators couldn’t moan about the icy far North. They never seem to notice the climate of Headingley which is actually worse.
    The IPL suffers from too few teams playing each other for too long. I can actually only watch bits of it by now and I can contentedly watch County cricket all day. They keep extending the IPL. Counter productive? I think T20 and The 100 will doom themselves eventually. Not enough variety.

  • A couple of thoughts:
    1. Are playing numbers going down? It’s a while since I’ve played club cricket so not sure if kids are simply not interested – and I make the distinction between playing and watching, because I think the 100 Ball idea misses the point if young people are still wanting a game.
    2. Kids cricket and evening league are usually T20, and always have been, which generates the interest in the game.
    3. At 18 counties the professional player base and finances are stretched too thin so should the first class game be rebalanced on a regional level? Would be painful and resented by the counties, but was the restructure Welsh rugby clubs went through to increase competiveness in order to improve standards and the national side. Fewer teams and games should raise quality.
    4. Is Test cricket just in terminal decline in some Test playing countries? Watching Tests on TV the numbers in the stadium in WI, Pakistan (UAE), even Aus and S.A. when the opposition is not popular, are low.

  • It’s a fact these days that players in all sports chase the money. Sporting careers are unpredictable as you are always one injury away from oblivion. You see it in soccer as players are signed as squad members for the leading clubs, very few playing regularly for 90 minutes. Even though this clearly has an effect on their international selection it doesn’t seem to deter them. Similarly in cricket players are willing to risk their international selection to sit on their backsides for much of the IPL competition. You can’t blame the players as their priorities are different from those of the supporter, their livelihood being their exploitable asset.
    Personally I’d like to see us going back to allowing up to 4 overseas players in each county squad, but they have to commit themselves for the eantire season unless selected for international duty. I dislike intensely the mercenary who comes in for a few weeks to play in one competition. It makes a mockery of that competition.
    Having foreign players certainly does increase interest in the championship and makes it more competitive.

  • I’d agree with you Marc but one difference I’d make is that the international players have to be of a decent standard. Test cricketers minimal. I’d kick out the Kolpack players too. I don’t want to see journeymen clogging up the English game. Much rather we had young talent being given a chance to compete.

    • Kolpak is an EU employment law thing, so post-Brexit presumably there won’t be any new ones – and one assumes that anyone here now will be allowed to stay on

  • “Come see the players who can’t get an IPL gig” looks a pretty tough sell to me – but probablu no harder than selling The Hundred so who knows?

    Let’s look at another sport, the one everyone else looks at with envy:
    “Maybe I will see you in a few years and you will certainly have a European league over the weekends,” Wenger said. “A domestic league will certainly play Tuesday/Wednesday. It will happen and it will be soon… It is inevitable. Why? First of all, to share money between the big clubs and small clubs will become a problem. Why? Because the big clubs will say that if two smaller clubs are playing each other nobody wants to watch it. People want to watch quality. The big clubs say: ‘So we have to share the money but nobody is interested in you?’ The Premier League will get smaller. If you want to make it more attractive, you have to go down to 16 and make a real competition of it. But it will be smaller if it goes to Europe.”

    Those were of course Arsene Wenger’s words just over a week ago. Football clubs are city franchises by another name. In all the hoo-hah about the number of overs, the nature of the teams has been neglected. Someone somewhere is in the process of shifting our allegiances from nations to cities. The future is going to see most of the population living in “smart” cities with everything privately owned and nothing held for the common good. International sport is one of the main motors keeping national sentiment alive so of course it must be downgraded and eventually destroyed. I’m not particularly nationalistic but I can recognise a direction of travel when I see it.

  • I am an Indian and I love following your county championship. I believe it is held in higher regard than our domestic equivalent Ranji Trophy.


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