What Does The Future Hold?

I’ve wanted to write a piece about cricket’s future, and what the domestic and international game might look like post-coronavirus, for some time now. However, like Jason Roy in The Ashes, I’ve found it hard to get my timing right. There have been snippets of news but very little that’s concrete. It’s all basically speculation at the moment so it’s hard to know what to write.

Only two things are certain at this stage. The England versus West Indies Test series (followed by Pakistan’s tour) look like they’re going ahead. But even then there have been whispers behind the scenes. The news that the ECB gave Cricket West Indies a £3 million loan back in May has certainly raised eyebrows. Was this money an ‘incentive’ for the Windies to tour? Or was it was an ‘incentive’ for Cricket West Indies to support Colin Graves’s nomination for ICC chairman? The conspiracy theorists will be having a field day.

Obviously I couldn’t possibly comment on such matters on a public forum like this. There’s no evidence. I’m just glad we’ve got some live cricket to look forward to – although obviously the idea of Graves becoming ICC president fills me with dread. The ICC seems to be the place where controversial (or disliked) ECB employees go when they’ve outstayed their welcome here.

We’ve also heard in recent days that the World Test Championship could now be under threat. Indeed, Tom Harrison’s recent appearance on The Tuffers & Vaughan Show suggested that everything’s currently up for grabs – or at least it would be if Harrison himself had anything to do with it.

Personally I think it would be a tragedy if the WTC was postponed – especially as postponed things often get cancelled in the long run. Although the WTC wasn’t perfect, and it’s perfectly valid to hold concerns about its format, there’s no doubt that Test cricket needed something. Consequently I was quite happy to give it a go.

What worries me is that Harrison is now calling for a complete reevaluation of the Future Tours Programme and the international schedule. And inevitably he seems to want less Test cricket and more white ball action. You can read his comments here.

Although Harrison’s comments are open to interpretation – as always one has to read between the lines – my interpretation of what he calls ‘meaningful’ cricket basically amounts to more Ashes series, more Test series against India, and more white ball contests against everyone. What he misses, of course, is that the more Ashes series one plays, and the more ODIs one plays, the less meaningful and special they become. In fact, they’ll eventually become routine and mundane.

I don’t know a single person who finds bilateral ODI series in the slightest bit meaningful. They’re usually just a bit of fun at the end of Test series. Few people even remember the results a few months later. Outside of World Cups, white ball games and T20s have no meaning whatsoever. It’s Test series – which Harrison doesn’t think every country should be ‘forced’ to play – that really captures the imagination of cricket supporters (even if they can’t always attend in person).

The current domestic situation is equally intriguing. Or perhaps I should say alarming. Apparently the counties are working towards a restart date of 1st August – although what shape the season will take is anyone’s guess. The T20 Blast has been pencilled in for late August and September, with the county championship (what’s left of it) likely to happen in regional conferences.

The conference idea – which seems reasonable in the circumstances – is to get local rivals playing each other. This sounds practical considering the shortage of time and the difficulties presented by travelling the length and breadth of the country during the current crisis. However, what’s worrying is that some counties are apparently reluctant to play. This means that the championship (and presumably the one day cup if there’s room for it) could start with approximately fourteen counties rather than the full complement.

So what, exactly, is the problem? It all comes down to furlough. Some of the smaller counties are reluctant to take their players off the government’s furlough programme when their income moving forward (i.e. gate receipts) is likely to be small. Basically they’re worried about losing even more money.

One can understand where the counties are coming from on this. Of the eighteen first class counties only Surrey and Lancashire didn’t take advantage of Rishi Sunak’s scheme. Coming off this financial life support machine is therefore somewhat risky.

But what happens if the season restarts without the involvement of some counties? Could this be the beginning of the end for our domestic structure as we know it?

The fear, of course, is that the ECB and the other counties might quite enjoy life without so many mouths to feed. They might also enjoy the extra elbow room at the table. Scheduling a first class competition, a one day cup, and a T20 tournament for eighteen teams has always been tough. Throw in The Hundred (or whatever franchise event ultimately transpires) and the schedule looks like two cans of sardines compressed into one.

The financial implications can’t be ignored either. Would the ECB’s broadcasting deals contract significantly if a few counties ultimately went to the wall? Personally I doubt it. And less counties means that the remaining ones can probably expect a larger share of the pot. In others words everybody wins – except the bankrupt counties, their players, employees, members, and supporters of course.

What’s worrying is that desperate times often call for (or result in) extreme measures. It’s well within the ECB’s capabilities to ensure that all eighteen clubs survive the COVID-19 crisis but, and it’s a crucial ‘but’, they may not have the will.

I suspect we’ll see one of two things transpire. Either (a) the ECB will fight tooth and nail for the status quo, or (b) they’ll pretend to fight tooth and nail for the status quo whilst surreptitiously doing sod all. After all, if the authorities do want to slim down our domestic structure then the coronavirus crisis gives them the perfect cover to do so. They could simply shrug their shoulders, wheel out a few cliches like “unprecedented times” and “financial costs too high” and few would bother to question them.

It will be interesting to see which way the ECB goes. I really have no idea what will happen. And what will the other counties make of it all? Sadly all we can do is speculate.

James Morgan

19 comments

  • James
    I tried to post this last time but it didn’t work. Just wanted to thank you for keeping this going with interesting articles and reader comments, when there is little new to write about. Much appreciated.

    • Hi John. I think I did see your comment. Not sure what happened there. Thanks again for your kind words.

  • The only bit missing is what will happen to the amateur game – and the clue is in the latest missives from the ECB (now known as the Extermination of Cricket Board). In their 5 stage plan (yes, they seriously thought it was a good idea to mimic Benny Hill and the vegetables) stage 4 includes a proposal to play short format cricket. Are there no depths to which they will not sink in order to foist their pet project onto clubs who do not want it? Even I thought they might draw the line at using over 40000 corpses as a vehicle for bringing clubs into line.

  • I’ve already said what I think will happen to international cricket so won’t go over that again. I’ll only add that I wouldn’t be at all sure even about Australia’s medium-term future (anyone who follows rugby union should know Australia aren’t necessarily eternally good in team sports) and I think I’d rather teams like WI, SA, Pakistan and SL packed in Test cricket instead of sending hollowed-out, half-baked teams for ritual drubbings that ECB and BCCI stooges then use to trumpet the genius of those governing bodies.

    On the domestic front, I’d accept the regionalised competition if I didn’t suspect it would become permanent. The likes of Vaughan and Lloyd coming out plugging a ten game CC looks very like a preparing of the ground. Like most CC fans I’m wondering who these four counties are – Leicestershire, Northants, Gloucestershire and Derbyshire seem most likely (assuming Glamorgan and Durham are in slightly different circumstances because of their grounds). Remember how Harrison said a few years ago he wanted more counties? Instead the county of Grace, Jessop and Hammond and the county that produced England’s last two world class spinners look like going under on his watch. If you think this has been forced on a reluctant ECB by external events and was not what they wanted all along, I have a used-car to sell you….

    If your county (like mine) isn’t on the immediate chopping block, don’t think you’re out of the woods. The future for the middle echelons of the game, as in society generally, looks bleak. The world is heading for a super-rich elite selected from birth and neo-serfdom for everyone else. This was what CA’s pay dispute was about and Peever’s only mistake was trying it too early.

    There is a great unknown in all this of course and that concerns future lockdowns. It seems highly probable to me that there will be more. The narrative is in place for any sort of flu season to usher in new, more drastic lockdowns. The quarantining of the healthy and the imposition of any ridiculous rule or ritual seems to have become accepted. Frankly, then, all bets are off and the survival of any mass spectator team sport looks doubtful. Frankly also, from what I’ve seen in the last decade I’m not sure I’d miss it. There will still be a need for the circuses part of “bread and circuses” but who needs real circuses when you can have virtual ones? Plug into the forthcoming brain-computer interface and play virtual games at home – it’s so much safer and good for the environment!

    • If the likes of Vaughan and Lloyd’s comment are taken seriously goodbye 4 day cricket.

      Personally go back to three day games play every one once, which is 5 days less cricket, knock out cup including Minor Counties could call it the Gillette Cup or something similar give them more than enough time to play pub cricket

  • An August start could actually be a fantastic opportunity for cricket
    The next 6 weeks are going to be dominated by wall to wall football
    The FA cup final is scheduled 1st August which means there will be at least a 4 week break before the Premier league can start again which means a month where Sky need to fill their evening sport schedules

    I would be doing a deal with Sky to show an evening T20 game on the days where there is international cricket and 2 or 3 games on non international days.I would get the counties playing double headers ie 11am and 3pm for those grounds without floodlights and 2.30 and 6.30 for grounds with floodlights

    I was hoping the original idea of CC in August and T20 Blast in Sept was going to happen but cricket would be stupid not to take advantage of no football in August

    • JC – A great idea! Of course it would depend on the ECB marketing/promoting it. The Blast is a successful and popular event – 950,000 people attended in 2019

  • Excellent article – raising many of the points that cricket fans are wondering about – but the ECB are providing next to no information. Over the last 12 months, they have gradually reached the point where they do not disguise their contempt for supporters of the game. Everything is centred around short-term financial gain (as the Hundred farce shows). I’ve reached the point where I don’t actually think the administrators like the actual GAME of cricket.
    As andyb has pointed out above, nowhere is their contempt better illustrated than by their shocking lack of regard for the grassroots game. They don’t seem to realise that, unless they address those problems, there won’t be a game in 20 years. But of course, they will all have moved on by then…

  • Still not convinced the so called “Tests”will even take place, let alone any domestic cricket. With all those idiots demonstrating about statues on the streets the virus could be going everywhere again. If your going to lock down the do it, not this Government ‘s half baked policies that just confuse everyone. The signs on the roads say only travel if essential, and yet they open all the shops, but don’t let the children back to school. Absolutely bizzare. As for the cricket, well it would suit the Exterminate Cricket Board (ECB) to a tee if half the counties went down the pan. James, they haven’t liked cricket for years, which is all you can expect from ex bankers and shopkeepers.

  • What continues to baffle me is that when the likes of Graves and Harrison get in front of a microphone spouting their diatribe, it remains largely unchallenged. It wouldn’t take much to pick holes in their arguments, so why isn’t it being done. Even, ‘define meaningful cricket’ would have been a starting point. They just need to pushed to provide categorical evidence that their assertions have credibility. To me it wouldn’t take much to have them hoisted by their own petard, yet mainstream sporting journalists remain conpicuously silent in committing themselves one way or the other.
    Maybe we should call for a national debate on the future direction of the game so their views can be put into some sort of context and everyone’s interests get a hearing. At least then no one can say they were never made aware of the consequences of whatever decisions are made.

  • Interesting article, what would your preference be, in regards to county cricket? If the number of teams slims down but the money remains the same, could we see an increase in the standard moving forward?

    Also, in regards to recreational cricket, the ECB have pushed out a few, fairly useless guidelines with no timescale, but one thing they continue to include is “revised playing conditions” (or words to that affect). Could they use this opportunity to make every team in the land play The Hundred for whatever recreational season we have? They could get thousands of games worth of feedback, and possibly one or two fans.

    • Div 1 is a pretty good standard. Not sure how in the medium term decreasing teams would increase standards – it would however diminish the talent pool. Many players have been developed by the “lesser” teams.

    • It’s a constant debate re: the number of teams. Whenever Australia win The Ashes lots of people bemoan that talent is spread to thinly in county cricket so the step up to international level is too big. Whenever England win The Ashes, the Aussies moan that they have too few teams i.e. there isn’t enough room for emerging players whilst late developers can be lost to the game due to a lack of opportunity. Basically it’s a fine balance.

      Personally I think two divisions works fine as long as there are quality overseas players and also, controversial I know, a few quality Kolpaks around too. This was the case in the early 2000s when many professionals, including many Aussies, believed that our division one was the highest standard domestic first class cricket in the world. The result was that England had a very good Test team during this period.

    • Most clubs would struggle to put out all their teams for shirt formats.. ours would go from 33 on a sat to one team. No one is interested in short format sthff

      Keep it for thr beer heads

  • This is in no way a criticism of this site which I think is excellent, but it’s the first time I have looked here for a few weeks. There is another cricket site that I may have glanced at, but I don’t remember when I last looked at a rugby site.

    Being a member/ST at both has taken up a fair amount of time and money in the past (35 years (with a break of about 5 for good behaviour) with cricket, and 15 at rugby), and yet I am not missing either in the slightest.

    Sport is becoming far too political and media driven and I think there is a very good chance that I won’t be renewing my Rugby ST and my county membership is in the balance.

    Am I the only one who thinks like this?

  • Not at all. Personally I am missing county cricket immensely. Currently it should have been the Roses match played at Scarborough. Accommodation was heavily booked up for months in advance. It would have been a celebration of the traditional county game. Our game of cricket needs to go back to its roots. In a way I partly agree with the above comment, strip away the hype and enjoy the contest.

    • Well I agree Richard. Not sure the ECB (now better known as the Exterminating Cricket Board) will actually be able to afford the hype after this year. It’s time to consolidate the game not invent new rubbish that no one appears to want. Money will be in short supply come 2021 for all sport.
      As for the County Championship, I read on the BBC yesterday that a 3 conference round robin idea may be a goer should there be an August start but the Sussex Chairmen reckons they’d need to know early July to get players off furlough. Spectators? Very iffy. Would clubs consider Members only perhaps? All looks a bit second rate, like the football.

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