Red-ball competition to get green light
Counties ready to vote in favour of format for this season Up to six teams could drop out of championship in future
The shape of the men’s domestic cricket season will be announced today when the decision about which cricket is played along with the Twenty20 Blast is announced at a meeting of county chairmen. A tight vote in favour of playing a red-ball competition, running into October, is most likely.
The domestic season will begin on Aug 1. There is believed to be a narrow majority in favour of starting with red-ball cricket, rather than the Royal London One-Day Cup, but possibly not enough for the two-thirds majority – a 12-6 vote – required. All chairmen voted via questionnaires which were due back last night.
If the results reveal no two-thirds majority, some counties could change their positions to ensure a decision on the schedule can be ratified. The likeliest outcome is for a red-ball tournament culminating in a final at Lord’s in October, with the T20 Blast beginning on Aug 27. Both tournaments would be played in regional groups.
Yet, rather than just the domestic schedule for 2020, a bigger issue is the long-term future of counties playing first-class cricket. There is a growing belief that not all of the 18 will continue to play in the format in future.
“I’m not convinced there will be 18 counties playing championship cricket next year,” said Richard Gould, chief executive of Surrey. “If you’ve got counties that don’t want to play first-class cricket, then perhaps we’re better off not forcing them to.”
Another senior figure in the county game said that, while “oneoff tactical decisions” would be made about the 2020 schedule, it was doubtful that all the counties would play first-class cricket in future because of the financial pressures caused by Covid-19.
“I don’t think it’s escaped anybody’s mind – not just because of Covid, but even over the last couple of years – the whole viability of all 18 counties playing all the same formats,” the source said. “It’s very possible that there could be a complete change in operating model.
“The decisions that we’re having to go through over these next 24-48 hours – is this a microcosm of some of the bigger decisions that are going to be made further down the line in terms of what counties play, white ball and red ball?”
The debate about the number of first-class counties – 18 since Durham’s elevation in 1992 – is longrunning. Several counties’ desire to play only limited-overs formats this summer has exposed the divergent attitudes to first-class cricket. In recent years less fashionable counties have increasingly prioritised the T20 Blast and One-Day Cup.
Several officials suggested that the championship, which is a loss leader, could be streamlined in future to 12-15 sides. The counties who dropped out would continue playing in the T20 Blast and OneDay Cup.
“You may well get some saying it’s a much better model,” one county figure said. “It’ll ensure our long-term viability, we’ll still be able to produce England players and pack our grounds out for Blast and One-Day Cup.”
Any decision about stepping out of the first-class game would be hugely contentious. It would reduce the pool of potential England Test cricketers.
The end of the broadcasting deal in 2024 is viewed as the most likely time when counties may stop playing first-class cricket. A knock-on effect from Covid-19 is likely to be a reduction in broadcasting income.
The pandemic has exacerbated the financial strain on all counties, which will be even greater if the England and Wales Cricket Board reduces the finance it gives them in years to come. Smaller counties tend to receive a far higher proportion of their income from the ECB.
Counties are already making plans for sizeable decreases in their spending, which could include streamlined squads and fewer professional cricketers, overseas coaches and overseas players.
Safe hands: Hampshire’s Ollie Southon during a net session at Arundel yesterday in preparation for the season, which starts next month