On the Front Foot: Bid to shake up county game is just the same old story

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The Independent Online

Grounds to Play was launched on Thursday. This is the new five-year plan for cricket, and it says the intention is to "give talented cricketers the opportunity to progress seamlessly through club and non-first-class representative county cricket to the first-class game". And to "establish a three-conference County Championship with an enhanced prize-money structure to increase competitiveness and intensity and raise interest levels". Honourable objectives, and what a game it will be when they are met. Oh, sorry, that is a mistake. Those key proposals are not from the latest strategic plan but from Raising the Standard, the blueprint from 14 years ago. This year's document is much different. It says it wants "to increase the pace of integration between first-class counties, minor counties, county boards to ensure a consistent pathway from youth to senior county level". And "we will ensure prize money in the LV County Championship reflects that it is the premier competition". So in 14 years things have pretty much stayed the same. What Grounds to Play does not add but is actually taking place is the consideration of a three-conference structure as a desperate attempt to "reduce the number of domestic first-class matches to create a better balance between match-play, recuperation and preparation". That last quotation is from Raising the Standard of 1996 as well. Much energy and many funds have been poured into making the game part of young lives. But attempts at reforming the county structure have been piecemeal and hotchpotch.

Internet matches hit early snag

Two understated developments merit support. There is a project to create a minimum of eight specialist indoor cricket centres across the country by 2013. If these are properly funded and sized, the game here will be transformed because it will be playable at all times. The other unsung but potentially important embellishment is the launch of a daily highlights video package of Championship matches. It could be a huge internet hit. Unfortunately the big day, the first of the new season on Friday, was greeted with this message: "We are experiencing technical issues with the video feed of highlights into our Flash video players on-site at present."

Play-off to decide best in Tests?

Official news is still awaited of what the International Cricket Council are doing to reinvigorate Test cricket. The new ECB strategic plan gives the latest hint. It says they will "champion a play-off match for the Test championship with the ICC". That will mean in effect a neutral Test match in England every two years to decide the world's best team. The jury is out and may be away for some time.

For England's Sake, be lucky

Good luck to David Saker, England's new fast-bowling coach. He has a hard act to follow after Troy Cooley and Ottis Gibson (and nowhere near as exotic a name). Saker has been successful with Victoria but according to Greg Shipperd, who hired him, Saker is "less of a technical coach and more of a tactical coach, with some pretty definite ideas and, at times, alternative ideas too. He provides an interesting balance to the norm that is taught around the place, but at the same time he has the ability to judge individuals on their particular need". Should be interesting on the technical front if front arms are dropping and front feet overstepping all over the place.