Rod Bransgrove pictured during the Ageas Bowl Test against India in 2018 © Getty Images
Rod Bransgrove has warned against the “knee-jerk” reaction of adopting the format of the Bob Willis Trophy (BWT) beyond the 2020 season.
While Brangrove, the chairman of Hampshire and a former member of the ECB board, accepts the merits of the competition in the unique circumstances of this season, he is concerned by the prospect of a similar format being utilised in 2021 and, perhaps, beyond.
As things stand, the ECB are set to confirm a new-look County Championship programme for 2021. This will see the 18 teams split into three conferences – arranged not regionally, as in 2020, but on their finishing positions in 2019 – in which they will play 10 games. After the mid-season break for white-ball cricket, the Championship will then return in what they are hoping becomes known as ‘super September’, with the counties now split into three divisions. In those they will play four more games, before the top two in division one contest a final.
While that schedule is, at present, recommended only for 2021, there are whispers the format could be adopted permanently.
But Bransgrove, at least, is underwhelmed by the proposals. In an email to other county chairs which has been seen by ESPNcricinfo, he has questioned both the motives for the changes and the lack of consultation with which they have been made.
In particular, Bransgrove has reservations about incorporating a final into the County Championship schedule and questions the lack of consultation with spectators.
“The County Championship is a truly great competition and we are constantly being told that it is the competition that players most want to win,” Bransgrove wrote. “And why not? It is an endurance marathon comprising 14 matches and covering up to 56 days each of six hours or so.
“The competition is designed to iron out the huge anomalies that exist in this amazing game; the toss, overhead conditions, bad light, pitch conditions, weather interruptions, form, fitness, injury, official’s decisions, England call-ups, Lions call-ups. Any single one, or any combination, of these issues can conspire to impact hugely on the outcome of a one-off match but, over a symmetrical programme of 7 home and 7 away matches, these issues tend to balance out and the Champion is always the best team in the Competition.
Rod Bransgrove spells out his doubts about a one-off Championship final
“Why on Earth would anyone want to then force such a Champion to play a one-off, ‘winner takes all’ fixture against the top losing team with all the vagaries mentioned above? There is a reason that Test Matches are played in series!”
In addition, Bransgrove warned that the concept of a one-off final was a “sub-optimal, compromise solution”, whose apparent attractiveness could not be established without a degree of market research. The absence of spectators for 2020 meant that there had been “absolutely no customer feedback”, while he pointed to the failure of the ECB and Sky Sports to agree to a TV broadcast as further proof that the concept had been “spurned by the broadcasters”.
“The currently-approved County Championship was the basis upon which our Members (customers) all purchased their 2020 memberships,” he added, “and, in the main, these memberships are being rolled on to next year following the cancellation of this year’s competition. Do we have the right to gratuitously change this without even discussing it with our fee-paying customers and supporters?”
Bransgrove appears to blame the Professional Game Group (PGG) for the proposed changes. The PGG consists of a quartet of county chief executives – Rob Andrew (Sussex), Richard Gould (Surrey), Lisa Pursehouse (Nottinghamshire) and Tim Bostock (Durham) – who won widespread praise for driving through the staging of the BWT this year.
But Bransgrove feels they are exploiting the current situation to push through their own agendas and feels the episode has lacked the “consultative process” which should have prefaced such changes.
“Just over two years ago, the ECB embarked upon a major consultative process to review the Domestic Structure of our game,” he wrote. “There were strong views expressed all round but the robust process led ultimately to a structure which the County Chairs approved and committed to. We had just one season’s experience of the new structure before the catastrophic events of 2020 which resulted in a major part of this year’s cricket programme being obliterated.
“When the dust has settled on this very troubled season, the Counties need to debate calmly and openly whether or not they need to reconsider the Domestic Structure and the views of the small, but dedicated, customer base for the four-day format should be a major consideration. In my opinion, there is no case at present for a “knee-jerk” change to the Domestic Structure of domestic cricket in 2021.”
Bransgrove’s stance drew qualified support from Tom Abell, Somerset’s captain, who acknowledged that this year’s BWT final was the best that county cricket could hope for in the circumstances, but that the County Championship’s existing format remained his preference.
“In the immediate future, it’s obviously very special to be involved in a Lord’s final given the Covid situation,” Abell said. “It’s as good as we possibly could have had. But personally, I’m a big advocate of of the County Championship. Over the course of 14 or 16 games, the best team will often prevail and I think that’s the way it should be.”
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo