The English domestic cricket schedule

Preamble

Following the recent Ashes debacle, there has been much talk of why the England cricket team’s performance has been so poor. One of the reasons (but by no means the only one) seems to be the lack of emphasis given to the red ball game in the domestic structure.

Ben Stokes bowled at the MCG

In addition the fact that red ball cricket has been increasingly pushed to the margins of the season to accommodate more and more white ball cricket, and in particular the abomination called the Hundred (and here I let my prejudices show clearly), and thus not allowing the development of batting skills in dry, hot conditions – which are the normal conditions in most other cricket playing countries. Thus in this blog post I set out a possible programme for the domestic season that, whilst allowing the financially lucrative white ball cricket proper exposure, also allows for red ball cricket to be played in the high summer months. I think it would be workable, but, inevitably, others will disagree.

Principles

In setting out the proposal, I adopt the following principles.

  • The domestic season should have a clear, identifiable structure that allows for each of the three formats to take the limelight at appropriate times.
  • All formats should be contested by the existing county teams, rather than by multi-county franchises based on the larger grounds, thus allowing for equitable treatment of all counties based on performance, and thus acknowledging the importance of history and tradition.
  • That there should be space in the high summer months for both red ball and white ball cricket.
New Road Worcester

What I propose is for the men’s game – I am afraid I simply don’t know enough about the structures, resources and finances of the women’s game to be able to make coherent proposals. That being said, it would seem to me that something mirroring the proposals below might be quit feasible, albeit with a reduced number of teams and matches.

Fifty over format

  • Three groups of six county teams, perhaps geographically based, playing each other twice (10 games) with quarter finals, semi-finals and final.
  • First round of five group matches to be played in last two weeks in March in southern hemisphere countries, and perhaps marketed as a cricketing holiday to county members and the public.
  • Second round of five group matches to be played in last two weeks of April in England (which will thus give an interesting variety of conditions overall).
  • Quarter finals on the Friday before May Bank Holiday. Semi-finals a week afterwards.
  • Final on Late May Bank Holiday Saturday.

Two innings format

  • First division of eight county teams, each playing each other twice (14 games) with bottom two relegated to second division.
  • Second division of ten county teams, split into two groups of five, which may or may not be geographically based. Each team to play the others in the group twice and those in the other group once (13 games). Top team in each group promoted, with play off for the divisional championship.
  • Games to be played from Sunday to Wednesday from first week in May to second week in August (15 weeks) with some exceptions to accommodate the twenty over format (see below). This would allow games to be played in high summer conditions.

Twenty over format

  • To be played in two stages. County teams in first stage to be divided into three geographical groups of six, each playing each other twice (10 games), with games on Friday evening or Saturday afternoons between the start of May and end of July. Games would thus not be spread through the week which might not please broadcasters. There might need to be some slight modification of the schedule for two innings games to accommodate two games on one or two weekends. Top two in each group and two best third place teams to Premier league, and others to National League.
  • The ECB to give contracts to twenty or more overseas players with different skills, who would be allocated to the Premiership counties at the start of August, based on the county’s requirements.
  • The Premier league would run in the last two weeks in August and the first week in September, with each team playing the others once (7 games). It would be desirable for their to be no international games during this period to allow England players to compete. A “hundred” format could be used if felt desirable (although I can think of no reason why it should be so). Finals day on the second Saturday in September would consist of a play off between second and third place teams, and a final between the winners of that tie and the first placed team.
  • The National league would consist of ten counties, play six franchise teams composing those displaced from premiership squads, second eleven, university and academy players etc. over the same period. These would be divided into two groups of eight, and each play each other once (7 games). The franchise teams would be based at holiday destinations, or conurbations normally without top level cricket as a means of widening audiences. The top teams in each group would contests the final, on the same occasion as the Premiership finals day.

Final thoughts

I would suggest that the advantages to such a system would be as follows.

  • The format would thus give a structured approach to the season, with the three formats contented sequentially, with manageable overlap between the formats.
  • There would be three high points in the season – the fifty over final on the late May Bank holiday; the climax to the two innings game in early / mid-August; and the short form finals day in mid-September.
  • The international / domestic structure for the fifty over competition would both be attractive in its own right for at least the more affluent spectators, would give players experience of a range of conditions, and would also take some scheduling pressure off the domestic season
  • The structure would allow two innings games to be played in high summer conditions. The proposed second division structure would enhance the integrity of the competition with teams only being judge against teams that have played the same number of games against the same opponents.
  • It would also maximise audiences for the short form game on summer evenings and during the last two or three weeks of the school holiday period.

As a final point, such a schedule would also allow space in late September for a regional championship between, say, teams drawn from northern south eastern and south western counties with three four day matches over a two week period. This would give the players some experience of cricket between county and international level. But this is not an integral part of the proposal.

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