How the counties fought back to win cricket’s civil war

Then there are those in the other corner, who believe cutting red-ball cricket will weaken it, and worry a reduction in cricket will see clubs go out of business.

Added to this is a determined group of county members who forced their clubs to hold EGMs at the end of the season and pledge to not support any reduction in the amount of red-ball cricket without the agreement of their membership.

There are only around 70,000 members across 18 clubs – the exact figure is a closely guarded secret – and even fewer who are members of the County Cricket Members Group which has galvanized behind this issue.

‘It is not the tail wagging the dog but the fleas on the tail wagging the dog’

“I think there is a very good chance that what was recommended by Strauss would have gone through if there had not been pushback from members,” said Alan Higham of the CCMG, who has campaigned for members to have more say in the running of their clubs.

“It was a big wake up call for county supporters to stand up. It jolted the bigger counties. I just hope the ECB now realizes that doing things in isolated management teams, and running everything from the centre, is sub-optimal. They could achieve far more by bringing people together.”

But this resistance has frustrated those involved in the review. “It is not the tail wagging the dog but the fleas on the tail wagging the dog,” said one exasperated source. “We now have complete inertia through spineless chairs and a handful of members. Are the chairmen going to ask their members if Christmas is still on December 25?”

The game is changing quickly, and the bigger threat for counties is not the changes advocated by its governing body but developments around the world.

Strauss warned the current schedule damages high performances and it will lead players choosing between the treadmill of 14 championship matches or saving themselves for franchise leagues. Will Smeed became the first young player to throw his lot in exclusively with white-ball cricket recently. Others are expected to follow.

‘Those defending the status quo are killing it’

A new T20 league starts in the UAE in January and is offering salaries of £300,000 tax free. South Africa launches its T20 league at the same time creating tension in the market and a fight for English talent. Major League Cricket announced last week it will start in the United States in June 2023, offering another payday for white-ball cricketers.

“Look, those defending the status quo do not realize they are killing it,” says a county insider, (many are reluctant to go on the record because of the sensitivity of the issue).

“We are going to have third-tier players playing county cricket. The top tier are centrally contracted and you write off ever seeing them. Now we will have a second tier of players who build their schedule around T20 leagues, the Blast and the Hundred and will make themselves unavailable for most red-ball games. People just do not understand this.”

Strauss recommended a 10-game championship split between a top tier of six and two conferences of six teams. His report also called for a reduction from 14 to 10 Blast matches but did not analyze the effect of the Hundred on the schedule.

The review argued England play too much cricket at county level leaving players little time to work on specific skills and for groundsman to prepare good quality pitches that mirror those in Test cricket.

Officials at the ECB involved in high performance are understood to be very frustrated by the reluctance of counties to embrace change but ultimately accept it is their right to decide the level of cricket they play.

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