planning the domestic calendar of English men is a desperately difficult business. You juggle the interests of red and white ball games across four competitions, 26 teams and around 30 venues, while trying to accommodate international action.
But, by all accounts, the 2021 season – in terms of timing and format – has been a dog dinner.
The LV = Insurance County Championship has been seen to be played in two games, each very distinct from one another, at opposite ends of the summer. He saw the Vitality Blast group stage played in June, its quarter-finals in August and its final day in mid-September. We saw the Royal London One-Day Cup relegated to the Hundreds (the centerpiece around which everything was built), and its final played on a Thursday.
We already know a little more about the summer of 2022, and a little more has been leaked about the ongoing discussions on how the championship works. What we know:
• The Vitality Blast will end with the day of the final on July 16
• England’s men’s calendar, unless an additional test against India is scheduled
• These two elements tell us that the Hundred will have to be played between July 17 (after the end of the Blast) and August 14, last weekend, England do not have a test match this month. Sky, after all, won’t be broadcasting a Men’s Test and Finals weekend on the same day. That gives the Hundreds a window of four weeks, which is a lot of time.
Using that information, this article is an attempt to come up with a better way forward for the domestic game in 2021 and beyond.
The proposed schedule – approximately
• April: RLODC group stage
• From May 1 to mid-June: 7 first rounds of CC and KO RLODC
• from mid-June to July 18: Vitality Blast
• July 18-August 14: Les Cent; The Bob Willis Trophy
• From August 15: last 7 rounds of CC
• June: Tests vs New Zealand
• July: Limited Overs against India and South Africa
• August: Tests against South Africa
What is the Bob Willis Trophy?
Le Cent – like it or not – is here to stay. With him, at least 100 of the best white ball cricketers in the county game in the height of summer.
This means that any white ball competition played in this slot – like the Royal London this year – lacks quality and sees red ball specialists twiddling their thumbs or playing like square pegs in round holes. It also means that the next generation of ODI players from England are not playing cricket at 50, which is a concern beyond the 2027 World Cup. It is more damaging for, say, Will Jacks or Tom Banton of miss a 50 point cricket than another red ball cricket.
So why not play red ball cricket at this time? Well, because the County Championship – still the most loved competition for players and fans – would be compromised by weakened teams.
The solution is a first class competition that is not part of the county championship. What if we called it the Bob Willis Trophy? Currently, the season finale between the County Champions and their closest challengers is a waste of time not worth its name.
Instead, we should move it to the four weeks below the hundred in midsummer and have fun with the format. The matches could last three or four days, depending on how you wanted to divide the 18 counties.
The 2020 edition of the tournament looks like a pretty good starting point, with three pools of six, and the two top-rated teams in the competition advancing to the final. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing. In four weeks, each team would have time to play five three-day games, with a four-day final perhaps straddling the Hundred Finals weekend.
The playing conditions could also be modified. Given that it is being played in the middle of summer, we could take a look at some of the current shortcomings of the county game. So, for example, teams could be offered extra points for taking wickets with effect (or even preparing surfaces suitable for effects) and, like the BWT of 2020, the first innings could be capped at 120 overs – with incentives to reach this stage, especially if the races flow with a good lick. Alternatively, we could award big bonuses for wins in rounds. The Kookaburra ball could be used.
A happy by-product would be if the English test specialists – say Rory Burns or Jimmy Anderson – needed red ball cricket to warm up for the test matches in the second half of the summer, there would be plenty of it. available.
Another advantage is that the preferred format for county members is first class cricket. While the Hundred is on, give them what they want. Outgrounds would be the perfect hosts.
Why move the Royal London One-Day Cup?
Placing the BWT under the hundred means that the RLODC must move. The last time this unloved tournament was played properly, in 2019, it started in April and ended in June.
While white ball cricket and April may not seem like a perfect match, there are cricket-related reasons that warrant an early start. The quality of white balls at bat across England is far superior to that of red balls. This means that if the conditions are slightly favorable for bowlers, the scales are a little balanced.
Besdies, hybrid pitches and Kookaburra’s white ball should mean conditions aren’t as favorable for bowlers anyway. In 2019, the opening day of the campaign (April 17) saw five of the six teams beat at the near post scores of over 310. Two days later there were scores of 417, 366 and 358. In In total, there were 46 scores over 300 in 77 games.
Each team could play in eight group stage matches, which can be completed by the end of April. KOs could be played the first three weekends in May (after the league games in the week), with the final – back to Lord’s – on the last Saturday in May, before the first test begins.
This tournament could also provide guidance for the selection of England’s white balls later in the summer.
So what about the county championship?
For now, there is a 14-game championship left. There is just enough time to do it. Seven (or eight) games can be played in the first game at the start of summer, while August and September can have seven (or six) more games to end the season.
This means that with the exception of April and a one month block for the Vitality Blast, there is a first class cricket regime (with each county playing at least 18 matches) throughout the summer. . When England plays tests, first class cricket is played before and alongside it.
In the years to come, is it the right format if a Bob Willis Four / Five Game Trophy also exists? My personal preference would be for a 12-game championship – maybe played in three divisions of seven teams, with promotion and relegation (two up, two down). The third division could be made up of a first class team from Ireland, Scotland, a “Young England” team made up of players not part of the counties first team plans, or perhaps the main national county in the previous year. He wouldn’t necessarily need to be fully professional.
This tournament, if required, can start on Friday evening while the championship is played Sunday through Wednesday in June, but would have its own one-month window, allowing teams access to decent foreign players after the IPL and before the Hundred.