David Morgan, a former chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board and International Cricket Council, ignored a sizeable county lobby for the 40-over game when he concluded that English first-class cricket must provide grounding in 50-over cricket for the sake of the national side. “I am convinced that there are no substantive commercial benefits evident from a 40-over format in comparison with the 50-over format, which is the standard for international one-day cricket,” he said. “I have therefore concluded that the board should adopt the 50-over format from 2014.”
To address the counties’ gathering financial fears, Morgan also proposes a modest tightening of the team salary cap, which stands at £1.9m for 2012. Leading English-qualified county players who are not in the England side can expect to earn more than £100,000 a year. However, there is a meek acceptance of England’s domination of the cricketing summer, so all-consuming that one-day internationals are staged the night before domestic one-day finals, and England sponsors and players persistently disrupt the buildups to big county events.
As expected, Morgan’s interim proposals are long on compromise and short on radicalism, will now go back to the counties for further analysis. He envisages a maximum reduction of 12 days’ cricket per county in 2014 compared to 2011, so addressing demands for an overblown fixture list to be reduced. But that brings an unsatisfying compromise in the four-day championship, which would be cut from 16 matches to 14, with the counties remaining in two groups of nine and merely a shrug of the shoulders at the fact that they would no longer play everybody twice.
Disappointingly for many, a Championship split of eight teams in Division One and 10 teams in Division Two, which would allow the top section to retain total credibility, has not been proposed. There is still time to consider it. Morgan also proposes a trimming from 12 group matches to 10 in the longest one‑day game and a reduction from 16 matches to 14 in Friends Life t20. Knockout stages in the one-day competitions would begin at the quarter-final stage.
A more swingeing reduction in t20, which will be involved only 10 group matches next summer, would be largely but not entirely reversed, symptomatic of Morgan’s pragmatic search for a compromise between the counties after an extensive consultation involving more than 300 people, including players, coaches and administrators, past and present, spectators and the media.
Among his most popular conclusions will be that t20 cricket should be played in mid-season on Thursdays, Fridays, or Saturdays, with each county given a regular night for its home matches. “The volume of domestic cricket has previously made it impossible to schedule consistent start dates, and I believe that spectators, players, and administrators alike would welcome the certainty which a predictable program would provide,” he said.
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Yet under the Morgan proposals, the four-day game remains the most itinerant of competitions. To accommodate the one-day game and maximize weekend cricket, it begins on Friday in the early season, switches to Sunday in mid-season before finally coming to rest with a Monday start as the competition reaches its climax. For reasons ill-explained but probably linked to the end of the TV deal in 2013, the whole shebang, if accepted, is not scheduled until 2014. As one observer aptly observed: “What do we want? Gradual change. When do we want it? In due course.cricket