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 Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Tim Wig­more

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

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