Why a new 50+ competition – and fewer molly-coddling coaches
This is part three of our manifesto to save English red ball cricket. Michael Vaughan kicked off the manifesto on Wednesday with his article calling for five-day County Championship games and an expanded top tier while chief cricket correspondent Nick Hoult called for an overhaul of central contracts on Thursday.
A new competition and a wider form of first-class cricket based on modern realities, not the old Victorian structure, would combine tradition and innovation in a pyramid that would improve England’s red-and-white ball teams.
This new competition, each April, would be a sort of 50-over FA Cup, bringing together cricketers from across the country and fostering the belief that we are all pulling in the same direction: 32 teams made up of the 18 first-class counties and the 14 strongest, formerly minor national counties.
Eight regional groups of four teams – for example, Cornwall, Devon, Gloucestershire and Somerset in the South West – would play three games each, with the top two teams advancing to the knockout stage of the last 16, and all games except the final to be completed by May. (There is no evidence that injuries would increase in April in a competition over 50.)
Talent identification would be a big part of this competition. England’s greatest batsmen and bowlers, Sir Jack Hobbs and Syd Barnes, came from ‘minor counties’; just like two of today’s greatest talents, Ben Stokes and Liam Livingstone. Almost everyone, if they were promising enough, would have access to this big stage.
The first-class competition would consist of two divisions, designed to raise the standard of red balling in England. This would acknowledge the reality that some of the existing 18 counties will never have the resources to be able to consistently compete with those with proving grounds.
A 12-county Premier Division, producing nearly every English player, would play 11 four-day games before the second week of September. Cricket has to be intense and skillful enough that batsmen sometimes face off against two specialist spinners, or bouncer wars, scenarios that never happen in the Championship now.
A second division would consist of the other six counties and 10 domestic counties, divided into three regions and played twice each, i.e. 10 three-day matches of 110 overs per day. Spinners will therefore bowl at least half the day, and grow.
The amount of training would vary between the two divisions. Gone are the days of every youngster joining a county being told exactly how to bat and bowl by former pros, mimicking the regimental sergeant majors of their national service days. Modern youth won’t be told what to do, even when they knock off the stump.
There could be 12 very good batting, bowling and outfield coaches to go around the Premier League: coaches who are sounding boards for the best players in the country, who want to rule the game for themselves.
But learning to strike today, and keeping it completely separate from power strikes, has become an almost impossible task. Tom Lammonby was the top scorer in the first class of the covid-restricted 2020 season, with three centuries in six games for Somerset. Think of a smooth Sir Alastair Cook. Since then, Lammonby has learned to hit any ball in or out of the border for Hobart Hurricane and Karachi Kings as well as Somerset, not to mention Manchester Originals in the Hundred – and has made a first-class century.