Cricket: MacLaurin regrets ignoring his instincts in battle for two divisions

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Lord MacLaurin has admitted he made a mistake in his failed attempt to create a two-division County Championship.

It could all have been so different if the head of English cricket had not surrendered his wicket so easily, says Nick Duxbury.

The linseed and leather brigade should have been straining at the leash this winter in anticipation of a new two division County Championship come the first rays of summer. Instead, what the players and the public will get is the same, tired, old format,

Why? Because as Lord MacLaurin, the former big bird among the frozen turkeys at Tesco, said yesterday, he let the ostrich-like county chairman have their way.

It all began so well. MacLaurin, the chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, was determined to turn English cricket into a more competitive force both domestically and internationally through two divisions.

For that he had the support of the players, sponsors, broadcasters and a public desperate to see cricket brought into the modern age complete with the prospect of cut and thrust promotion/relegation fights.

But MacLaurin lost a vote at September's meeting of the First Class Forum, who decided the Championship would remain unchanged, although they did adopt a two division one-day league.

It now transpires that what MacLaurin should have done is padded up and gone in waving a bat above his head. "Maybe in retrospect we didn't go about it in the best possible way, but you can always be wise after the event," MacLaurin said on Radio Five Live

"I did one fundamental thing wrong - when we presented Raising the Standard we produced the three-conference style which the County chairmen didn't like. All the research I did told me that a two-division County Championship was the one that everybody wanted. The sponsors, the broadcasters and the players all wanted it, but 14 out of the 18 County chairmen said they didn't and wouldn't have it under any circumstances.

"We then produced the three-conference system and they didn't like that either. If I had been true to my business instinct, which I should have been in retrospect, I would have put the two-division County Championship in the original document. We would have had the argument before rather than later and who knows what the outcome might have been?"

MacLaurin, who as chairman of Tesco probably did not have to fight for his shopping trolley on a Friday night, will now redouble his efforts to make the chairman see the light and abandon their own self interests. "In Tesco I didn't have to persuade that many people really - only the consensus of the board," he said. "Cricket is different."

MacLaurin's main motivation for championing two divisions is his concern about cricket's income.

"With a two division Championship you have something you can sell to sponsors - the television companies are interested, you have promotion and relegation and you have all the local excitement," he said.

"Not a lot of people watch county cricket, but it's the bedrock of producing Test players. If our players aren't playing really competitive cricket right the way through the season then I think their performance at Test level is suffering a bit - the players tell me that.

"I have to persuade the chairmen that their financial position is fully protected"

Each county receives pounds 1m a year from Lord's and there is a "misconception" that counties in the second division would lose their pot of gold.

"The counties are the centre of excellence for our cricket and our cricketing future," said MacLaurin, as he began the fightback from 1-0 down in the series.

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