Surrey end summer

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Well that came about abruptly. There we were settling in for a last couple of weeks of County Championship intrigue, only for Surrey to win the thing in 2.5 days.

First Hampshire lost to Kent.

“That session at the end of day one where we were bowled out in 18 overs or so was the difference in the end,” Hampshire captain James Vince told the BBC.

Yeah, you’re not wrong, Jim. Getting skittled in an hour really ain’t gonna help your cause.

Then Surrey beat Yorkshire by 10 wickets.

And that was that. Surrey win. Surrey are the County Champions.

This was Surrey’s eighth win of the season and while Hampshire have nine wins, they were also beaten three times, whereas Surrey are undefeated.

A proper review of the champions’ season should really only come after the final match and should also be done by someone else. Neverthless, it’s striking the extent to which they spread the workload around. Surrey have used 22 players this season. 12 players average over 40 with the bat and there have been 15 wicket-takers.

All that’s left to play for now is promotion and relegation. Probably. Because the format of the Championship in 2023 is only “likely” to be the same as this season. No-one seems quite sure yet.

And after that? Well…

It’s tempting at this point to pass comment on the recently announced proposals for the future format of the county season. Fortunately for you, we’ve been doing this cricket writing business for long enough to know better. Here’s what ‘proposal’ means in cricket.

At least we’re no longer in ‘draft proposals’ territory. If there’s one thing that’s less worthy of coverage than proposals, it’s draft proposals.

In other news, Kent have announced that the second day of next week’s final match at home to Somerset will be ‘Stevo Day’ at Canterbury. This is in honour of 46-year-old Darren Stevens, who, as we’re sure you’re aware, is leaving the club at the end of the season.

We’ve no idea what Stevo Day will entail. Presumably lots of reminiscing about playing GoldenEye on the N64 and stuff like that. Maybe the bars will serve Hooch.

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  1. It is true that quite a lot of ‘proposals’ go nowhere, but The Hundred arrived in more or less the ‘unthinkable’ form that in which it was proposed…

    I think there may prove to be a difference between the recommendations that require a two-thirds majority of counties to vote for them, and the others. With 17 or so ‘recommendations’ on the table there might prove to be a bit of committee-designed-horse trading.

    1. A lot of it is no different from the usual annual schedule shuffling and will presumably go though no problem. The issue is that half of those things have been pitched the way they have because of the mooted changes to the elements that may very well not go through. It’s designed as a package but there’s a high likelihood it will be compromised into incoherence.

      That’s what county cricket has historically done with these things. Taken key elements and used them in a way that doesn’t necessarily make sense.

  2. I don’t normally get over-excited about proposed changes to the county game, but there is one element of the Strauss recommendations that I find utterly bonkers – the notion of a six team first division with only one team going up and down from conferences each year. That idea will not leas to a more efficient feeder system into top grade first class cricket – it will ensure that most counties focus on producing short form cricketers and the first class game will go into further decline.

    I have no problem with three divisions of six, as long as each team plays more than 10 matches. The conference system used during the pandemic worked pretty well, I thought. Hopefully the ludicrous element of the Strauss proposals is a stalking horse to get the counties to accept something along those lines as a compromise. That would be a good outcome.

    The problem with putting forward ludicrous ideas as a stalking horse in these strange times is that the ludicrous idea sometimes wins the day: Brexit, Trump, Boris and the latest “mini budget that wasn’t a budget” being but four examples in the political world.

    Conferences of six teams each – yes please. More festival-style first-class cricket to get the long form game out beyond the 18 county grounds – yes yes yes. But only six counties in the first division with most of the rest feeling that they haven’t a hope of promotion any time soon if ever? Bonkers.

    1. We’d have thought play-offs would come into play with a six team first division. We know that’s sort of what they’re proposing to decide the one promotion/relegation spot, but maybe fifth place in the top flight could then play the loser or something like that.

    2. I think the division size is a secondary question to how many matches the schedulers intend to cram in. I very much dislike a “championship” league in which not every team plays each other home and away. I’d even settle for each team playing each other team exactly once: but playing some teams once and others twice is so imbalanced it’s plain insulting to the idea of it being a serious sporting trophy. Okay, I’ll admit the sporting integrity of the Championship is not necessarily the highest priority if it’s really seen as just a means to serve some higher purpose (e.g. Test talent conveyer-belt) but it does feel like it deserves more respect than that.

      If we’re really going to have ten matches per team, then divisions/conferences of six on a play-home-and-away basis make sense to me. A meaningful possibility for an extra match or two, aside from promotion play-offs, would be to hold “placement matches” at the end of the season like they do at ICC qualifying tournaments: in that context it works well by giving extra meaningful games to associate international teams who usually struggle for fixtures. A downside is I’m not sure how meaningful 3rd-vs-4th or 5th-vs-6th placement would be, and I’m not keen on 1st-vs-2nd being seen as a Super League style Championship decider. Perhaps a separate trophy? Another option would be a match or two of inter-league or inter-conference play, which could be designed to reintroduce some local derbies that otherwise wouldn’t happen.

      I also feel, regretfully, that if you go much beyond ten matches in a season, then inevitably the status and standard of the first-class matches is going to suffer by clashing with other things. I’m not sure what’s the optimal number of matches given commercial constraints and the small-p politics of getting agreement from the counties, but I think I’m not as bullish as Ged on the issue.

      Now for a side-issue that’s worth discussing in this context, tying together the themes of “balance” in the Championship, early finishes to the season if there’s a dominant team, and how well the structure of the first-class set-up works at producing England Test players. Are the players we want to gain experience actually playing (e.g. lots of young spinners who should be honing their craft but don’t play regularly enough or get enough overs when they do) and if so are they playing for the “right” team for their development (Surrey’s surplus of talent suggests some are missing out on game-time; we also know it can be a problem for young spinners if there’s a senior spinner in the same squad) or at the “right” level (we probably want the most likely-looking Test prospects to be playing in the highest division – and to be fair many of the more ambitious players migrate in that direction with an England call-up in mind – but for some up-and-coming players this can lead to not enough game-time if they end up in squad that’s too strong for them to compete in).

      This has been a big problem in the Irish domestic set-up, where Leinster have basically been the Irish Surrey – even more dominant than turn-of-the-millennium era Surrey – and talent is too rare to squander. As a result, Cricket Ireland have begun to level out the playing field of their domestic championship, by allocating a large core group of players between the teams, in addition to their use of locally-sourced players. While this reduces the local or regional character and identity of provincial teams, it has made the competition much more competitive and exciting: teams whose supporters previously would have had to grudgingly accept that for the next decade or so they had no chance of silverware became genuine contenders. Meanwhile, there’s been a better distribution of game-time for developing talent.

      England’s problems are different to Ireland’s but I think this kind of intervention has much more going for it than another perennial suggestion of giving teams that finish at the bottom of the pile first dibs in a national draft of young talent. Paying counties development money and encouraging inter-county loans of talented players currently stuck on the bench are ways of achieving similar ends more organically, but an active intervention that radically “flattens” the quality differences of county cricket would have implications for the set-up that’s desirable. You might aim for maximum equality and three equally-ranked conferences with lots of local-ish matches followed by inter-conference play-offs to decide final rankings; doing so mayspread talent too thinly. You might have two lower conferences and one higher division, or just two divisions, but with talent placement that makes sure the top tier features everyone who already looks an international contender, while promising future talents are getting maximum game-time in the second tier. Each tier could still be kept “flat” and competitive – that would mean any side has some hope of promotion, which would automatically bring an endowment of ECB-contracted talent so a financially weaker county that lucks out on promotion isn’t going to face immediate painful relegation, hopefully reducing the yo-yo effect.

      Just tossing some ideas in the air here really. I do think it’s worth thinking holistically about what we want the county system to actually achieve, and what steps could be taken to achieve that, rather than looking at scheduling in isolation.


    Excellent article on a topic that has often cropped up on this site (actually came up back on the old site), how come Bangladesh has so many left-arm orthodox spinners? And also something less remarked: why has their production line started to run dry?

    The anecdote about the original Enamul Haque dispatching rather direct bowling advice (“Are you stupid or something? He just told you to bowl like a spinner and you gave him a slow one?”) while umpiring is hilarious.

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