A very obvious argument against tinkering with county cricket

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This is not an argument in favour of the status quo. This is not an argument to say never change things. It is just to point out that if you change every single county cricket competition, every single year, there are consequences.

The format of county cricket has been tinkered with for as long as there’s been county cricket. Sometimes it gets a bit of a run and stays roughly the same for a year or two. Other times there’s an ‘overhaul’ and more radical change. These are the various competitions and their respective formats this year.

The people who come up with all of this spend an awful lot of time thinking about it because cramming all the different county cricket competitions into a summer and ensuring it’s all balanced and fair is quite the task. Those circles won’t square themselves.

And tell you who spends an awful lot of time unravelling the ins and outs of the new formatting they draw up to achieve this? Almost no-one.

Sports fans want to know who’s playing and who’s best. They don’t especially care about conferences, divisions, groups and bonus points. They’ll slowly and reluctantly get to grips with all of that stuff only so that they can better track what they’re really interested in. It’s a means to an end. It’s not something you willingly devote time to.

Every year that a competition is changed, there’s a lag while everybody works out what’s going on. New formatting works like an enthusiasm diffuser, dissipating fans’ lust for the game.

Here’s an example.

Let’s say you’re sort of interested in county cricket and you’ve seen that the season’s started but you didn’t really follow the first round of matches. First thing Monday morning, where do you start? Maybe take a look at the table?

Maybe take a look at the table on the BBC website, because the BBC website is a big, major place where people who are fairly interested in a sport can be confident of finding solid, reliable sports reportage.

Here is the County Championship table on the BBC website.

That’s what you get. And, to be clear, that’s all you get.

You get Group 1 – because Group 1 is the best group, right? Groups 2 and 3 – which are in fact of exactly equal importance because these are groups, not divisions – don’t get a look-in.

In short, the BBC is not yet up to speed with how this year’s County Championship works because they changed it again.

Maybe they changed it for the better. Maybe there are very good reasons why it had to be changed. Maybe this is the perfect County Championship format they’ll stick with forever now.

Hopefully that’s the case. Hopefully there’s no more chopping and changing in the coming years because each time you tinker, you make it just that little bit harder for everyone to get a handle on what’s going on with your sport.

And honestly, cricket is not a sport that needs to make things harder for people.

16 comments

  1. I really like this new format.

    Atherton proposed something along these lines about a decade ago. It took a pandemic and a resulting short term fix to make people realise that something along these lines is a very sensible format while we have 18 counties in the first class competition.

    It’s actually the first major change since the switch to two divisions around the turn of the century. Everything else has been a tinkering rather than a major change.

    The eight & ten team divisions did my head in; it was purely a device to try and solve the problem that 18 is not one of those numbers where you can divide to by two and then divide that result by two. Who knew?

    I can live with a major change every 20 years and occasional tinkering, if that tinkering makes sense (which the eight and ten team divisions thing did not).

    So to my mind it is the BBC you should be berating for presenting the tables badly; not the ECB for coming up with an improved tournament that might well keep more people interested all summer.

    1. Maybe the problem is organisations with three-letter acronyms. It’s probably all the fault of the KLF, IMF, IBM, MFI and MI5.

    2. We think it’s a proper better format too, but disagree this is the only major change in recent years. It may be the biggest change to the Championship format, but there have been plenty of changes to the other competitions and to when Championship matches are played.

    3. The BBC Sport team actually have quite a lot of custom software written for their cricket website, things like the live scorecards and county averages (I’m not sure if they have automatically updating tables like the football does). Every time competitions get messed about with, that imposes quite a maintenance burden on the developers. It’s clearly going to take a bit of work to make live scorecards Hundred-friendly for example. The changes to the County Championship aren’t so drastic so it’s a shame the BBC haven’t managed to sort it out. But as His Maj points out, there are consequences to jiggering about with stuff in terms of ease of following or reporting.

    4. If cricket.com.au can correctly report the tables for the County Championship then the Beeb should able to.

  2. I’ve been in America for too long. I’m fine with having divisions like this. And it’s nice to lose to some different teams for a change (even if said teams feel the need to cheat even when they’re 400 odd up and making us follow on).

    Maybe have playoffs instead of this cup, plate, bowl thing. How about a repechage round?

    What I’d do is split the teams in two, give half of them a rule that lets bowlers out of batting, and then when teams from the two different halves play each other, decide whether or not the bowlers have to bat based on which league the home team is from.

  3. The BBC sport website has been a basket case for a while. If you visit the Football section for the first time, and click on Tables you are presented with the Premier League Table and a completely empty drop down box, which is entirely on message for the brand. If you type in “Hull”, it will take you to the correct league, where Hull City reside. Back at Cricket Tables, type in Kent and it shows Group 1 again. This, I think, confirms that only group 1 teams exist on the website.

    Looking at the ECB website it says “The competition’s structure is unique for 2021 only”, so the BBC may never get round to it. If the tables had gone grey, at least we’d have known someone cared.

  4. I can’t believe the shortsightedness of The Hundred in dropping the word ‘wickets’ in favour of the baseball-style ‘outs’.

    You might think I’m saying this because I think changing cricket to something else that people who don’t like cricket might like is not the way to make those people like cricket.

    But no, I’m coming at this purely from a commercial angle. Just think of all the Star Wars tie-in opportunities that are now impossible. The sport is in danger of losing the Ewok-loving demographic entirely.

    1. Maybe I’m mistaken but I think they’re changing a dismissal/wicket/he’s out/she’s out to “an out”, and I guess by extension to the meaning of partnership/stand/pair (“they put on a century for the fifth out”) while retaining “wicket” for the stumps’n’bails, and presumably also for the pitch itself (“tricky wicket to bat on”). So the word will survive albeit only in certain incarnations. I do get that terminology with multiple conflicting meanings is potentially confusing, but any English speaker regularly comes across hundreds of such words, and I reckon it’s a weird choice to prioritise given that even the most casual of cricket fans knows what it means for the bowler to get three wickets.

      If you’re going to start rejigging the most basic and well-known terminology just because, like most naturally evolved language, it’s illogical and confusing, then you might as well replace “runs” by “points” while you’re at it. I mean you can have four runs that is run or also that is not run, clearly no casual viewer’s brain can withstand such confusion before changing channels.

      In fact if it really is true that non-cricket-fans will switch off when confronted with basic terminology, goodness knows how they’ll cope with cricket’s heavier duty stuff – are the commentators going to have to be banned from describing fielding positions or calling deliveries as a googly/yorker etc? I think there’s a risk if they mess with the terminology too much in order to simplify things for very casual viewers who might never watch it in the first place, that they’ll end up turning off the moderately casual viewers who might have watched but decide it doesn’t seem like proper cricket and anyway why has everything been given a new name?

      1. I am very much looking forward to watching* what happens when The Hundred games are interrupted by rain. The Skips-Discos-Wotsits Method?

        *not watching

  5. Looking at the upcoming broadcasting on BBC Sports Extra it seems a shame that coverage of the County fixtures is stopped at 3pm in favour of the IPL.

      1. The word “died” has a great deal of potential confusion and sometimes distress associated with it.

        The word “died” in the sentence, “Ged’s joke just died” has a different meaning from the same word in the sentence, “Prince Philip just died”.

        Better surely to say, “Prince Philip is out”.

  6. The whole point of mucking about with the Championship was to avoid one of the problems of the 90s, ie player burnout. The 90s were a simpler time and there was a pattern to the season. Tests always began on a Thursday and were always spaced at two-week intervals. But in the intervening nine days between each Test an England player might play in a B&H or NatWest match, a County Championship match and a Sunday League game. The England side only met the day before the Test.

    To avoid all this all sorts of reforms were put forward, ironically enough about three-quarters of them by Bob Willis: divisions, conferences, cutting the Championship to 10 games a side, even turning the county game amateur.

    The one that perhaps made most sense was the one brought in in 2000: central contracts and the England management being able to pull Test players out of the county game.

    Which then begs the question of why – from 2000 onwards – the Championship has had to be mucked about with every season. As well as the pattern of the season: should the T20 be in mid-May or the height of the summer holidays? Should one-day games be played over a series of Saturdays and Sundays, or concentrated into two or three weeks?

    1. There are so many opposing views from the very many groups that together comprise professional cricket in England and Wales.

      The ECB has consequently become a home for compulsive tinkerers.

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