County set must adapt for the good of England

Cricket's County Championship has become a rather miserable Aunt Sally. There are those who want to plant a stick of dynamite or two under the whole blessed structure. Then there are others who, reverberating with moral indignation, want to rebuild every brick of the edifice so that the old dinosaur can creakily resume its place in the cast of Jurassic Park.

English cricket seems permanently to be involved in a tug-of-war between the avant-garde revolutionaries and the stately old reactionaries. The latter become apoplectic when Michael Atherton and Nasser Hussain doubt its effectiveness – even though they are the guys who have spent many years at the coalface.

Surely to goodness, the present ongoing inability of England to field a side which can shake a stick at the best teams around means that the engine needs more than just fine-tuning. The reality is that, while England was the only country to play professional cricket, the system of 17 first-class counties served us pretty well. The rest of the world then turned professional and left us far behind.

The surest way of ensuring that cricket retains its popularity in this country must be to produce a successful England side and everything should be geared to that end. It can only be counter-productive to try and hang onto a system which brings with it a congenial way of life, but is conspicuously failing to deliver the goods as far as England's fortunes are concerned – we last beat Australia in 1986-87.

The Aussies' system is an object lesson in planning a path of accessibility for everyone with true talent. They are, of course, helped by their admirable climate which is ideal for the development of young cricketers. However, for the best, the freeway forward is in place.

The journey starts with school or junior club cricket, which will lead onto Grade or District cricket and ever upwards to the state side and finally into a baggy dark green Australian cap. There is the celebrated Academy, too, which has been so successful in smoothing down any serious rough edges.

There is a formidable concentration of excellence in the six state sides who contest the Pura Milk Cup, which is what commercial progress has done to the old Sheffield Shield. A quick look around England at the Australians on the county circuit who are unable to get into the Australian side – but who would probably walk into England's – underlines the strength of their production lines.

In the last few years, England's cricket has taken a few nervous steps forward under the guidance of Lord MacLaurin, who has then been consistently pulled back by the First-Class Forum. This body has had the power of the veto over any executive suggestions, although this is finally being put right. His first attempt at reform came in that famous document 'Raising the Standard' which appeared in 1997 but was thrown out by the counties.

A year later, when nothing had improved, MacLaurin tried again and won. By 2000, the Championship had been divided up into two divisions of nine counties each, with promotion or relegation for six counties. A belated start had been made to the crucial job of trying to concentrate excellence at the top.

So far we have not gone far enough, although a great deal has been done by the ECB in the lower levels of the game. The logical conclusion to what has already begun is that there should be three divisions of six counties each, with one side being promoted and relegated each season. An official transfer system should also be put in place to ensure that the best players rise through to the top. Then players in the lower divisions would be paid less than those in the top flight and human nature would lend a helping hand.

The lower divisions would effectively become feeder leagues and, as happens now, the financing of the counties would remain a prior charge on the overall income generated by the ECB. There would also be half a dozen regional games between sides representing their quarter of the country which would also be played over four days.

Life in the Third Division may not have a great appeal for those counties at the bottom, but then nor does it have much glamour for football clubs like Leyton Orient, who muddle along at Brisbane Road, or Bristol Rovers, who do likewise at the Memorial Stadium. But each still has its core of diehard supporters who do not like to miss a game.

In the fullness of time, one or two counties may disappear – there must be a chance of this happening anyway. Sad though that would be, if the end product is a seriously competitive England side, the game as a whole will not suffer. If children run around the place wanting to be, say, Ian Bell – a class performer whose turn will soon come – and not just "Becks", cricket will have turned a corner.

The old farts will scream in horror, not to say blind fury, at these suggestions, but I, for one, would like to feel that at some stage in what is left of my lifetime there will be just a chance that England might beat Australia. If that end requires desperate measures and a little bit of devil's advocacy, so be it.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
News
i100(More than you think)
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Arts and Entertainment
John Hurt will voice Prince Bolkonsky in Radio 4's War and Peace
radioRadio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up