The state of the game: a time for change

The Covid-19 pandemic has provided sporting governing bodies the opportunity to think carefully about the current structure of their game and cricket should be no different. In my opinion, the current structure of the domestic summer isn’t working and I believe we should do away with some of the ‘block’ formats.

The Hundred is sure to take place around August in 2021 in a condensed block format with the best players from around the world. This should take place as planned, partly for the revenues that the competition can make, helping our game at all levels post Covid-19, as well as potentially bringing more people into the sport.

Outside of the Hundred, the domestic season can be planned accordingly. The biggest problem with the current structure is that the County Championship is predominantly played at the extremities of the summer in April and September.

This first class schedule does not help produce quality international cricketers. As recent years suggest, first class conditions have been particularly bowler friendly meaning the supply of exceptional top order batsman and spinners are dwindling.

Furthermore, whilst seam bowlers are consistently hitting the 50-wicket mark, the friendly conditions mean a premium is placed simply on consistency and hitting the seam. Whilst these skills shouldn’t be smirked at, playing more first class cricket in the middle of the summer will ensure bowlers adapt to bowling on flatter wickets – more similar to those in international cricket.

This is particularly important when overseas test wins are increasingly rare. This should ensure a greater pool of genuinely ‘fast’ bowlers capable of bowling 90mph as well as giving opportunities for bowlers to develop their skills with a reverse swinging ball. Meanwhile, with a small margin of error on good pitches, consistency and extracting movement is still crucial. This will no doubt improve our record in tests away from home in Australia and the sub-continent for example.

Therefore, the County Championship should run throughout the entire summer, allowing first class cricket to be played in differing conditions, including the middle of the summer, giving opportunities for all types of cricketer to learn, adapt and flourish.

County Championship games could typically be played Sunday through Wednesday which would allow for Royal London 50 over cup and T20 Blast games to be played on Friday nights for example.

In my view, it is not right or sustainable to have two T20 campaigns (Blast and Hundred) in block formats in the middle of the summer. Is it viable for a family to attend a Wednesday night T20 blast game and then expect them to attend another home game two nights later on a Friday, as the Blast has been recently? Sometimes, too many games is overkill and I believe the domestic Blast returning to Friday night games allows for a party feel and for families and children to attend more regularly.

It can also give opportunity for kids to come along to first class games on a Sunday or ones played in the holidays if they develop a love for cricket and can help them to understand the longer format of the game.

One argument against this proposition in the past has been the problems it creates in signing quality overseas players for a significant length of time in the Blast. However, post Covid-19, it could present an opportunity for counties to promote home-grown talent more and with the Hundred bringing together a wealth of overseas talent, is this such a bad thing?

It could mean counties make their overseas signings for the entire year and whilst this could be challenging to do across formats I’ve always found overseas players tend to make a bigger impact within this structure.

It is far easier for young players to develop relationships and learn off overseas players when they are involved in the club for a longer term. Not to mention overseas players that are much more invested in the team aspect of the club throughout the season.

Furthermore, it has been argued that doing away with block format cricket dilutes the quality by regularly changing formats. However, I would argue that the game is becoming increasingly specialised between red and white ball formats and county teams would vary more between formats than they did, say, five years ago.

Continuing to play domestic cricket throughout the Hundred competition will also give opportunities for younger players to play and develop in first team cricket with teams’ stars being unavailable.

This window could also be used to play county cricket at some of the beloved out-grounds on the circuit, given that the big stadiums will be used for the Hundred. This will please players and spectators alike – many of whom love bringing first class cricket back to out-grounds.

Whilst in many ways this proposed structure is nothing ‘new’, I do believe that the circumstances around the Hundred, our test game, increased specialisation and the Covid-19 pandemic lends itself to a return to this structure of our domestic game.