Ideas for how to improve county cricket are nothing if not frequent. It only takes a couple of Test match defeats for the county game to emerge as an inevitable scapegoat.
For all of that, and the recent, and fleeting, floating of the idea to play a Twenty20 competition with cities, Indian style, the county game is reasonably secure. It commands a substantial following, as frequent sell-outs for Twenty20 games, festivals and the 26 million page hits Cricinfo's county cricket site received last season are all testament to.
But this is in spite of scheduling which almost defies belief in its incompetence.
The most fundamental way in which to attract more supporters through the gates is to play on occasions most convenient to them. However, this is patently not currently the case: Championship games running from Wednesday to Saturday, owing to reasons including rain, an overly flat pitch or victory already being achieved, very seldom offer appetising final days with the obvious result that many people who would like to watch cricket decide it is not worth their while.
Furthermore, the early-season pattern of having a championship game from Wednesday to Saturday followed by a Sunday Friends Provident Trophy match is clearly damaging to the progress of the England one-day international side. Games starting the day after a first-class match, with considerable travelling in between, are patently not suited to the adequate preparation necessary to develop one-day tactics and skills. Rest before one-dayers would also allow the games themselves to be of greater intensity.
However, there is a clear solution to these problems. Every weekend there should either be two days of a championship game, running from Friday to Monday, or two one-day games. This simple solution would maximise the amount of viewing time for spectators, ensuring bigger crowds and a more palatable bottom line for the counties. Equally, it would also ensure there was a gap of at least a day between playing in the two different formats of the game. Consecutive one-day matches would allow sides to think about strategy and team selection and, with a few days off prior to the games, would ensure the standard would be raised. Weary players who have just played four consecutive days of cricket, and often travelled, will axiomatically not consistently perform at their best.
By its very nature, county cricket is never going to produce consistent sell-outs. But, if only some more judicious scheduling was introduced, it would be able to capitalise on, and increase, the considerable interest than does exist in it.