There isn’t a cricket season that goes by without a change in regulations or competitions by the powers that be at the ECB.
Whether that is the Pro40 changing back to the 50-over-cup to mirror the international game, Friday night T20 Blast cricket, and most recently the change in structure in the Championship which leaves the smaller teams in Division Two next to no chance of gaining promotion.
I remember the Pro-40 cup well, it was a competition that attracted a decent crowd and was entertaining enough to gain interest from fans of all ages. It allowed adventurous batting as it was the middle ground between the T20 and the longest format the 50-over cup. For me, as a bowler, the T20 is a batsman orientated game, which I understand, it is far more entertaining for the public seeing balls fly into the stands than to see your generic caught behind. But the 40-over game allowed a perfect balance, and it also didn’t last too long.
Whilst the decision to bring back a 50-over competition is an understandable one, it does take out a whole day and if you are with children it is hard to keep them interested for 100-overs of cricket. And you could argue that it hasn’t really helped us out on the international stage, yes, we excelled in the T20 World Cup reaching the final, but in the longest one-day format we are still light-years behind the likes of Australia, India and New Zealand to name but three.
One change that the ECB made that I do agree with however is the decision to move T20 games to a Friday night, it allows younger fans to attend games as the weekend means they can stay up later and enjoy the game without parents having to worry about school the next day. Not only that but statistically it has proved to be a very shrewd move indeed with attendances rising by 12% last year compared to that of the last five-years.
So that’s one pat on the back for the ECB, but the decision to take away a promotion spot from Division Two disgusts me. It just smacks of ‘Test ground team bias’ to me. As it was, teams that went down, generally returned, but at least it gave teams like Northampton (who are financially ruined, by the way) and Worcestershire the chance to gain promotion through the second promotion spot.
Now, with only one spot up for grabs, come June/July time this summer we could be left staring at a whole host of meaningless games, as the promotion picture could be sewn up by then. Take my team Essex for example, they are so often the nearly men, finishing third in the last two season to far superior teams like Hampshire, Surrey, and Lancashire, spot the theme there, all the three mentioned teams have Test Match grounds.
As a fan, you are left to hold your hands up and admit you finished third to the best teams in the division and that’s that. But now, the level of consistency has to be immense. With just one spot up for grabs, you can seldom afford to lose many games.
This ties nicely into the new toss regulations that have seemingly confused most county captains too. It essentially means that away club skipper has first dibs on bowling first before a coin is tossed in anger.
The decision taken on the opening weekend of the season by Ben Brown at Sussex and Gareth Batty at Surrey was a questionable one, to say the least. It almost felt as if it was a decision they just felt they had to make for the sake of it.
Indeed, Northants went on to rack up 481/7 before rain ruined their encounter, and although Surrey battled back bravely, they ultimately fell short of victory after falling behind on first innings.
Now the reasoning behind this is to encourage skippers to bowl their spinners as in theory with the away team getting to decide if they want to bowl first or not. Groundsmen are now going to stop producing green tops. Essex were the main culprits of this, they produced extremely friendly seam conditions for the likes of David Masters, Jesse Ryder and Jamie Porter to roll teams over cheaply in the hope they could gain a huge first innings lead and secure maximum bowling and batting points. Now this plan cannot be utilized which is a good thing, and I do believe in the long run it will help spinners.
It will harm the smaller counties though I am sure, who may not have the facilities to produce these brilliant cricket wickets and they will ultimately fall victims to these changes.
Mark my words, these new regulations will see a county die, with Northampton teetering on the brink these changes in regulations meaning only one county can go up could send them over the edge.
Whilst money in the top-flight of the Championship isn't brilliant, it is a darn sight better than that in Division Two, it boosts finances and will also bring more punters through the door if teams like Lancashire, Yorkshire, and Middlesex are turning up to Wantage Road.
So by denying them the opportunity it could have a detrimental affect on their future and other counties future. On the ECB's head be it. It is shortsighted from them and this 'top club bias' is starting to rear its ugly head. And it has to stop.
Written by David Bowden (@Bowdenwhu)
David Bowden, Site Owner - Grumbler, Cricket fanatic and Sports Journalist