CRICKET: Lutters Lines (August 20)

I HAVE a discussion every cricket season with whoever can be bothered to listen, and it's about the County Championship.

It's a decent competition and there's quite a lot of revenue to be gained by counties through it, although it's a well-known fact that most counties are kept afloat by a large grant from the ECB each year.

The trouble is that the gulf between the County Championship and Test cricket, its international equivalent, is enormous.

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A player who scores thousands of runs or takes hundreds of wickets in county cricket can be made to look very ordinary indeed on the international stage. I can give various examples with the bat from Sussex alone: Chris Adams, Alan Wells, Ian Ward and the list goes on.

It's the same with the ball.

So what could be done '“ we, in clubs, are constantly told that the whole system is structured to lead those with the talents up to the England team, but if the gap between county and England is so big, then this isn't quite going to work.

Okay, so there's England Lions (formerly England A), but they don't play that many games each year.

England currently lie in fifth position in the ICC Test rankings, behind India, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Australia. So what makes them better Test nations than us?

There is a clue in their domestic competitions:

India '“ a tough one this as there's lots of different first-class competitions (nine according to cricinfo), but the Corporate Trophy contains 16 teams.

South Africa '“ there are six provinces in the Supersport Series.

Sri Lanka '“ they have 12 teams in their Premier League Tournament.

Australia '“ they have six teams in the Sheffield Shield.

England '“ there are 18 counties, and talk of getting Scotland and Ireland in to make 20!

You should notice that every nation that is better than England has less domestic teams than England.

The only Test playing nation who have more domestic teams is Pakistan (22 in two divisions of 11), and let's be honest, on current form, they are not a role model.

I have said for years that if the England cricket team are to become the best in the world the domestic game needs restructuring.

There should be six regions (three first-class counties in each region? Just a thought as 18 is divisible by 6) and the best English players from those counties get selected to play for their region, and each county ground hosts games on a rotational basis, meaning that there is no loss of revenue.

The county championship can carry on in its current form, and counties will be able to have smaller squads and play young, talented locals, as Sussex are currently doing. You have to make the better players play against each other in order to tighten their game and make the step up to Test cricket less dramatic.

It will never happen as the county chairmen would have to vote it in, and it would be like turkeys voting to celebrate Christmas on a weekly basis, but unless something happens England will languish in mid-table of the ICC rankings for ever more.

There's also the fear of the unknown '“ the fear of change has held most sports back at some point in history. Take football and goal-line technology as an example.


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