‘We have to think outside the box’ says Durham’s Bostock

Riverside Ground, Chester-le-Street

Innovation and optimism – two of the qualities that county cricket will need to survive one of toughest periods in its history.

And nothing is off the table.

That’s according to the Durham chief executive Tim Bostock who tells The CC that the 18 counties need to take a glass half full approach to ensuring that the 2020 season is written off as an anomaly rather than a complete and utter catastrophe.

Bostock, who took over his role from David Harker back in April 2018, went into the winter celebrating one of the most memorable seasons in the county’s recent history.

A successful hosting of the World Cup, coupled with an improved financial performance off the pitch, suggested that the next 12 months could be ones to savor for a county that was crowned champions three times between 2008 and 2013.

Now, in what should have been the opening weeks of the season, Bostock is still intent on taking the positives out of a situation that looks set to decimate the county calendar.

“Last year was a phenomenal year for English cricket and here we had three fantastic World Cupgames, every one sold out,” he says. “The weather was great, we had our best ever Twenty20 crowds, you had (Ben) Stokes, you had (Mark) Wood and you had (Liam) Plunkett, who is a Durham lad and Colly (Paul Collingwood) as coach (of England’s World Cup winning team). We were turning a corner ourselves and our young team was getting better and better.

“Financially we had really started to stabalise and we were looking towards growth again rather than fire-fighting. We were massively looking forward to this season as one where we were really going to kick-on ahead again.

“From that perspective, momentum has been lost. But you have to be positive and you have to hope that we get something out of the season. And there is still an opportunity to do that.”

You could have £5,000 on every game; winner takes all. You could create some real excitement. You could stream all those games as well. There are opportunities, and at times like this you have to think outside the box.

As a keen golfer, one of the great frustrations for Bostock during this period – aside from a lack of cricket – is the courses that lay dormant as the crisis continues to unfold.

And while a full-length County Championship is looking as long a shot as attempting the Road Hole at St Andrews with a cricket bat rather than a golf club, he’s confident that it’s far too early to write this campaign off completely.

“If we can get the Blast away in front of crowds then I think most counties would bite your hand off,” he says. “If you can manage to get a full Blast season and your Test matches and one-day internationals away then I think all the CEOs would ask where they can sign.

“A County Championship is improbable, unless we can start playing in July. It looks as though playing in front of crowds is the last thing that’s going to be opened up.

“But we would 100 per cent be in favour of something like a regional round-robin tournament. If you did something like that, to get some red ball cricket in, and to make it a bit more meaningful you could easily have prize money per game.

“You could have £5,000 on every game; winner takes all and nothing for the draw. You could create some real excitement. We could play Yorkshire for a winner takes all to really encourage exciting red ball cricket. You could stream all those games as well. There are opportunities, and at times like this you have to think outside the box.

“I know that the ECB are looking at all options very closely.”

If the financial situation at some counties is on a knife-edge, there are also legions of players who are facing a future as uncertain as the rest of the working population as the summer progresses.

“Let’s not forget that some of our players are in the last year of their contract,” says Bostock. “How the hell are they going to impress us and impress other counties? If we don’t sign them, then how are they going to persuade another county to sign them? They’re the ones that are really struggling. I really feel for them.

“They’ve only got one year left to impress – you’re talking about their bloody career here. This is huge for them.”

Watching the headlines roll in from around the world does little to improve the mood during lockdown, although the likes of Captain Tom Moore – the one-man fund-raising machine – continue to lift the spirits.

Bostock argues that those who follow domestic cricket are also among the most optimistic people in the nation. They have to be, he says.

“Cricket is a game where you have people sat in a seat for six hours, still thinking that they’re going to get to watch 20 minutes of play,” he says.

“It’s a game for optimists. Whether you’re a player or a fan you’re an optimist – you’re used to looking up at the weather and looking at the sky hoping that it’s going to clear. Even if the forecast says it’s going to rain for four days, you still have people hoping that that’s completely wrong and that the sun will come out eventually.”

That’s a quality that should sustain all cricket supporters this summer.