Angus Fraser: Morgan Report is a recipe for more cash but fewer England-standard cricketers
In the First Division, where the best team is determined, there must be equality
It would be reassuring if, in the not too distant future, the occasional decision affecting the structure of domestic cricket in England and Wales was made for cricketing, not financial, reasons.
The most contentious part of the Morgan Report, compiled by David Morgan, the former chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, which was discussed by the first-class counties and the ECB at Lord's yesterday, was that the Championship be reduced from a 16- to a 14-match competition and the group stages of the Twenty20 Cup be increased from 10 to 14 games. It is a move that will undoubtedly increase the coffers of many county clubs, which will allow them to pay their players more. But paying a county cricketer more does not necessarily mean he will be better at his job and I believe there will be a cost. If the trend continues – and there will be several county accountants who would prefer 16 Twenty20 Group Stage matches to 14 – Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower's successors will find it increasingly hard to replace the current Test team with players of a similar quality.
In the minds of the ECB the principal role of a county is to produce England cricketers and, judging by recent performances of the England side, a two-division, 16-game tournament is doing a reasonably good job. It therefore surprises me that first-class cricket – the breeding ground of high quality international cricketers – is making way for Twenty20 cricket.
Should the ECB decide to implement the Morgan Report in time for the 2014 season, which we should find out in the next couple of weeks, it would in many ways be following the example recently set by the International Cricket Council, which indefinitely postponed the planned World Test Championship in favour of the Champions Trophy, a limited-over competition. The ICC's move was, unsurprisingly, motivated by money rather than the long-term interests of the game.
There are some fine current cricketers but finding another Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara or Shane Warne must be a priority of the ICC. There will always be the odd exception – Eoin Morgan of England and David Warner of Australia – but the overwhelming majority of the game's top players have and will be products of first-class cricket. It's while batting for five hours and bowling 24 overs in a day that players learn and develop.
An obsession with limited-over cricket, and in particular Twenty20, I believe played a role in Australia's alarming fall from the top of the world Test rankings. Before the introduction of Australia's Big Bash there could only be 66 players playing first-class cricket at any one time Down Under. Yet, in the 2011 Indian Premier League auction, 72 Australian domestic cricketers made themselves available. That gives you an indication of their priorities.
Given a blank piece of paper the vast majority of county cricketers and coaches would produce a domestic game containing fewer days play. But very few want to trade in first-class for Twenty20 cricket. The County Championship may not be the sexiest tournament in sport but it is the competition that produces high quality cricketers. Its role is appreciated and respected by all those who play and follow the game. Members of counties prefer it to Twenty20 and in a recent poll in The Cricketer magazine 80 per cent of the players interviewed believe it to be the most important domestic competition.
If a 14-match first-class season is to be introduced then I believe the First Division should be reduced from nine to eight teams and the Second Division increased to 10. The Morgan Report proposes that the size of each division will remain the same with each team playing six randomly picked teams twice – home and away – and two teams once.
If the integrity of the tournament is to be compromised then it should only be the Second Division that is affected. In the First Division, where the best domestic team is determined, there must be equality, and to achieve that each of the eight teams must play each other home and away. In the Second Division five teams could play each other twice and the other four once. The division winners gain automatic promotion and the second-placed side go into a play-off match against the side that finished seventh in Division One.
The proposal to change CB40 matches from 40 to 50 overs has been made with the England team in mind. It does seem strange for domestic cricket not to mirror the international game but since returning to Middlesex I have found the 40-over match a better game. The later starting time seems to produce more energised players.
Getting all 18 counties to agree on a proposal is nigh-on impossible and, if the structure is to change, somebody had to take control; but the success of cricket should not be judged on the size of the game's turnover but the quality of cricketer playing each over.
Angus Fraser is the Managing Director of Cricket for Middlesex.
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