October 2009
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John Stern: England need quality not quantity

October 14th, 2009 by John Stern in County cricket, England


At some point, you’d like to think people will listen. Yesterday on this site, the Sussex coach Mark Robinson voiced the concerns of most of his peers about the volume of county cricket. In this month’s Wisden Cricketer, Sean Morris, of the Professional Cricketers’ Association, urged a less-is-more attitude.

And in the London Evening Standard yesterday Andrew Strauss was saying exactly the same thing. In fact he went further, saying that we need overseas players because otherwise county cricket – with 18 teams – wouldn’t be strong enough and that actually fewer counties would be a good idea. Of course his diplomatic cop-out was “we have to work with what we’ve got”.

Why? Why do we have to work with what we’ve got? Whose interests are served by the status quo? The England team? No. County players? Yes in the sense that there are more jobs for professional cricketers in this country than anywhere else but not those with serious aspirations of self-improvement and pursuit of excellence. Spectators? Well, only those who are so undiscerning or blindly loyal that they don’t care who or what they are watching. And frankly that is a tiny number in the overall scheme of the game’s greater interests. Sky TV? Possibly although surely they would rather show less of a better product given the chance. And they certainly don’t want an ordinary England team of their hands. Sponsors? Yes up to a point in that the more competitions there are, the more opportunity there is for commercial partnerships but not if credibility is being stretched.

Assuming that the success of the national team is still the primary concern of cricket in England, then the game simply has to be leaner and meaner. The game exists in a vicious circle at the moment whereby excessive amounts of cricket are played in order to fund a county system that is bloated partly because it plays so many games.

The reason England play so many home matches is to fund the counties to pay the players who play too much or to pay for the grounds that they’ve been encouraged to build or rebuild.

We have reached a nonsensical situation that is in the interests of no one. Part of the reason that media interest in county cricket has dwindled is because it has become so convoluted and relentless that it appears to have lost its meaning.

But the primary consequence of wall-to-wall county cricket (not to mention internationals) is that England do not produce enough players of unique quality – spinners with zip and guile; bowlers of serious, frightening pace; batsmen of invention or explosiveness.

I’m not saying these players don’t exist but how many are there, really, who have learned their cricket in England or Wales?

John Stern is editor of The Wisden Cricketer

Posted in County cricket, England | 13 Comments »

13 Responses to “John Stern: England need quality not quantity”

  1.   Sam Collins says:

    In this month’s TWC, Mark Ramprakash, when asked how he would improve the county game, responds, “One radical idea, which I don’t see happening, is to create nine regional teams and pair counties together, so you could create a London side from Middlesex and Surrey, pair together Essex and Kent, while creating a Manchester side, a Birmingham side and so on. You would produce a strong competition, one in which you would have to perform at your best in every game.”

    To me this is the clearest way forward. Yet Ramprakash’s resignation is as revealing as it is depressing.

  2.   GoodCricketWicket says:

    The only people who benefit from the current status quo are the County executives who prefer to squeeze their members/spectators and players for every drop.

    Unfortunately, it is these same people who make the decisions regarding the structure of county cricket.

    Until this changes, nothing else will. Before the evolution, a revolution is required.

  3.   queenslander says:

    I have two questions I would like answers to if possible.

    1- if you all agree that county cricket needs reform, why don’t you actually do something? It is hypocritical to complain if you haven’t actually made an effort to correct something you think needs to be changed.

    2- why is chance to shine only aiming to get into 30% of state schools? Why not go for 100%?

  4.   John Stern says:

    1. If your first question is directed at me personally or us as a magazine/website then I’d argue that it is our job to challenge, complain, highlight, expose, hold to account etc. But you’re right, maybe we should take it further. I can feel a campaign coming on…

    If by “you all” you mean the people within the game then the simple answer is that the game is run by the counties for the counties and until such time as there is a sufficient quorum of independence and common sense that will never change - turkeys voting for Christmas etc. The ECB is apparently committed to retaining the status quo of an 18-county system. As GoodCricketWicket says, we need revolution not evolution.

    2. Chance to shine is a huge and expensive project. My understanding is that it’s a 10-year plan with the aim to increase the numbers of participating schools each year.

  5.   Paddy Briggs says:

    Strauss said ” Domestic cricket has to be about producing England players.”

    Indeed it does.

    So lets’s look at the income stream. I pay £100 for a ticket to watch England and £45 to Sky to watch England matches I can’t attend. A significnat % of that money the ECB diverts to the counties who couldn’t exist without this financial underpinning. The counties in turn divert a significant % of these receipts to hire Kolpakers and other overseas players who are not qualified to play for England. Totally and utterly bananas - and exactly the opposite of what England’s captain rightly says he wants!

  6.   Will Burns says:

    The biggest problem with professional sport in this country serving our National teams is one of the points made in this post; namely that there is too much opportunity for people to make a good living out of sport while not performing at elite level. Football, cricket, whatever - there are too many pros, too many teams and too many games.

  7.   queenslander says:

    Sorry John I didn’t actually mean TWC as such, rather, I was talking about guys like Mike Atherton, former players who I think could really make a difference in English cricket administration but who don’t seem to want to go there. If these guys want to change english cricket they have to take the counties on. There is no getting around it. Personally though I think it’ll take someone extraordinary to push these kinds of reforms through.

    PS I mentioned Chance to Shine because it strikes me that this is exactly the sort of thing the counties should be doing of their own volition. I mean if I was a county chairman I would want to be sure that everyone in the county had as many opportunities as possible to play cricket to the highest level they could. That would lead to the strongest county side possible wouldn’t it?

  8.   Tony Charles says:

    The vast majority of the revenue generated by cricket in England is from TV rights, gate monies, and sponsorship of International cricket. However, the ECB ie entirely under the control of the domestic counties who would all be bankrupt without the handout from international cricket revenues. Until this constitutional anomaly is resolved we shall continue to see County officials, and their ‘old fart’ committees, acting in their own interest rather than that of English cricket.
    A revolution is indeed what is required and only the media (TWC in particular) can initiate that.

  9.   JimboNotts says:

    “But you’re right, maybe we should take it further. I can feel a campaign coming on…”

    Too right. Maybe I’ve missed something, but despite quite a groundswell of opinion for first class reform over the past decade, this has never organised itself into a grassroots campaign to complement the criticisms of cricket journalists, former players, and almost everyone who’s looked at our game from abroad.

    I don’t agree that the media can orchestrate change, revolutionary or otherwise. The county chairmen, as we’ve seen over and over again, are immune from the commentariat because their control of the ECB and the game is constitutionally enshrined, rather than being reliant on business strength or popular support. You can’t smash a rulebook cabal with an op.ed. piece, I’m afraid.

    So what do we need?..

    A strategic campaign to pack out key county memberships and oust their committees in favour of reform candidates {hoping to break the status quo on the First Class Forum}?

    A lobby to convince the Government that the ECB/FC funding circle is anti-competitive and should be investigated?

    Or maybe even a boycott of international games {handing out fake tickets saying ‘ the first £30 of your ticket pays for the team you’re watching, the other £50 pays for 18 teams you’d never watch’}?

    I don’t know the answer, but should Wisden decide to lead a charge before it’s too late, I think you’d find lots of people ready to get involved.

  10.   Paddy Briggs says:


    You fall into the understandable trap of assuming that TWC is Wisden. It isn’t. The Wisden Cricketer has no connection with Wisden’s Cricketers’ Almanack other than sharing a name. TWC is a magazine owned by Sky Television. It has maintained an independent voice (well done!) but I can’t see it campaigning against the cosy closed shop which is ECB/Counties/News International.

    WISDEN is another matter but you need to direct your request to Scyld Berry as Editor of Wisden - not to anyone responsible for the TWC blog!

  11.   John Stern says:

    Paddy, with the greatest respect, regardless of whether JimboNotts thinks we’re the Almanack or not, I think TWC is more than capable of launching a campaign should we be so minded. To suggest otherwise is presumptious and not a little patronising!

  12.   JimboNotts says:

    Thanks for that Paddy. Always good to get the facts absolutely right - so I should, and will in future, ensure the use of TWC rather than Wisden as the shorthand.

    However, John Stern and Wis….(err, this magazine and website) seem to be the only people seriously talking about this problem. As others in this thread have said, who cares about motives and backgrounds and semantics? Anyone prepared to apply some pressure should be supported.

  13.   queenslander says:

    In 1948 Don Bradman said “English cricket is six day a week affair”. Still is.
    Counties still get away with a lot too. Think of us foreigners who get British passports and can be treated as local players; the irish; the kolpaks; the fact that counties simply cannot do without their ‘overseas’ players who come along to keep their eyes in during the 5 min. breaks in the international schedule. These players are then given all the responsibility. Nor is thereany significant reciprocity from other countries is there?
    Counties want to win trophies. Producing English players is of secondary importance. Their actions speak for themselves.

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