Wednesday, 30 April 2008

A simple step to improve county cricket

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.


Chrispy said...

Good piece Tim. I agree that scheduling often does the game few favours. We need more day/night matches, or lunchtime onwards games to get more people in, must use every weekend and bank holiday and should allow players time in between to prepare. The FP Trophy should stick with the improved format of groups, quarters, semis and then the final, while the pro40 should just be scraped. It is exciting yes, but doesn't prepare players for either T20 Internationals, ODI's or Tests. Scraping it would allow for better scheduling and a longer T20 League, which includes all 18 counties, not franchises, which is surely the ultimate goal, given the current climate.

Brian Carpenter said...

Totally agree, Tim. For a long time now I've felt that the ECB are happy with the fact that the championship is mainly watched by pensioners. It's only a few mad people like me who will regularly take time off work during the week to watch four-day cricket, and I've largely given up hope of there ever being regular weekend play again.

I also agree with Chrispy that the Pro40 is pointless and should be scrapped. In fact, the entire county programme needs reorganising from scratch but that will never happen either.

Mark said...

Another way to get more people in would be to start getting more adventurous with membership. At a lot of county grounds there seems to be a 'full membership' or nothing scenario, which is a very old-fashioned attitude.

Why not offer a pack of, say, ten entry tickets - and let groups of people buy them rather than individuals. The whole idea should be to get bodies through the gate, as once they are in they'll be spending money on food/drink etc to help boost county profits.

Take me for example. I work in London and The Oval is my local ground. I'm not going to lash out on a membership, but would buy a 'book' with some mates at work.

Then - why not say that anyone buying a 'book' of tickets is elligble to buy a test match ticket.

Just takes a bit of thought!

The other thing ALL counties should do is let kids under 16 in free of charge - but make sure there are plenty of sweet stands open!

River Taff End said...

Agree, all round.

I also think that pricing policies for 4 day games need review.

Many people can go for a few hours or 1/2 day (sneak off work etc), but admission prices for a day's CC cricket are £14 at Bristol for example.

Given the amount of people that actually do pay, does it make that much difference to charge £14 or £7?

I agree with Brian's view that we seem hell bent on keeping people out of grounds.

If they got a few more in, they may sell a few more coffees, beers and pies at least and, - shock horror - may pick up some new members, which raises another issue about whether counties actually want members as opposed to 'customers'.

Tim said...

Cheers all. Agree Taff - that's another area in which the counties seem totally bereft of flexibility and business acumen . Half-price at lunch or later, and free after tea - that'd help to get more people in, while even cricket-haters may be tempted to give it a go for a bit!

Cricket er said...

Twenty20 does sound like it might work

Rob said...

Well said, it is as if they are scheduling matches to prove that people will not come...

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