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Do we have too much County Cricket?

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County cricket grounds need to be more packed during matchesAfter a long, cold winter groundsmen all around the country are this week making their final preparations for another hectic and demanding county season. Pre-season matches against Universities and the like started last week and this signifies the beginning of a gruelling six months for each and every person employed by counties across England.

The question that every Head Groundsman must be asking himself, especially those who also stage International cricket, is: Can I produce enough good pitches? Staff have to prepare early season pitches that are good enough to withstand four days of Championship cricket as well as thinking ahead to the beginning of the Twenty20 cricket schedule. This is an almighty challenge in the modern climate.

Every season the county schedule seems to become more clogged with fixtures and it has been increasingly worse of late with the booming popularity of Twenty20 cricket. Have the counties and the ECB taken it too far? There’s certainly an argument that they have. It’s all well and good trying to make as much money as possible from Twenty20 cricket but even Twenty20 crowds seem to be in decline with the vast amount of the shorter format that is available every year.

For example, take Somerset who play at Taunton which is a relatively small capacity ground in the South West of England. There’s no bustling, vibrant city life surrounding them and hence no overly big population to fill up their ground every week. Admittedly without Twenty20 cricket, the club would find it harder to survive but at the back end of the season the club were offering tickets to juniors for only £1. This must say something about the way even Twenty20 cricket is declining. When the Twenty20 season starts in June, the club has to deal with 6 home games as well as a women’s Twenty20 international also. This, added to the 11 days of cricket that must be played in the previous month of May makes for a lot of time and money being spent on pitches and getting the ground ready.

The situation is yet worse for Counties which hold International games as well as their own domestic cricket. This summer, Warwickshire’s Birmingham home, Edgbaston is home to a Test Match encounter between England and World Cup winners, India plus Twenty20 finals day, both of which are happening in August. The cost of putting on an international match is huge and as the Counties aren’t making any money on their domestic cricket, they are relying more and more on International fixtures and pay-outs from the ECB.

Forget the ground staff and think about the player’s workload. Some ill-informed people like to think that being a professional cricketer is only a summer job but in the modern era it is more than just April until September. Most, if not all counties take their squads on pre-season tours. The 2011 Caribbean T20 saw Hampshire and Somerset compete and other squads go on trips to places like Dubai to get some warm weather cricket under their belts. The Preseason friendly schedule which starts earlier and earlier every year involves every county. Most counties match up against one of the MCC Universities such as Loughborough or Oxford and these games are held at the end of March when most amateur cricketers are just dusting off their kit for indoor nets.

It’s no wonder these players are getting injured constantly, owing it to ‘burnout’ as it is most commonly known. The amount of travelling involved for County pro’s these days is huge. One day a team could be playing a limited overs match and at the end of the game have to jump on a coach for four or five hours just in time to check into a hotel for the night so they can play a four day championship match. Every attempt is made to try and fit practice sessions in between these game days and added to the hours on the road this leads to disruption of private lives and unhappy cricketers.

This is linked the criticism of England’s International schedule last winter. The Players have only just returned from the World Cup and they are straight away thrown into County fixtures and preparation for the season. Does it ever stop? For someone like Shazhad or Collingwood, who are unlikely to feature in England’s Test plans for this summer, it must be a overwhelmingly scary prospect to be brought back straight into a county season after 6 months away from home. No matter how much you love the game, too much cricket can destroy that love.

It’s obvious that the introduction of Twenty20 cricket is to blame for the overload. The shortened format has made lots of money in a very short space of time and there’s no way it should be curtailed. However, efforts to increase the number of group matches have made it almost impossible to squeeze every fixture in before the end of the season.

If the ECB were sensible, they’d do something about it. In recent weeks there have been discussions about next year’s schedule but unfortunately, this season is to stay the same. The Counties need less cricket, we aren’t as lucky as some countries that have good weather all year round. Less Twenty20 would mean bigger demand for tickets and packed grounds and would hopefully increase the number of people going to One Day cricket and Championship games.

A rejuvenation of cricket is needed again. We thought we were getting this when Twenty20 was introduced and to a certain extent we did but the ECB and the counties have to be careful they don’t over do it and kill off County Cricket. The Player’s need less cricket, the ground staff need less cricket. Ultimately this would provide better profits for Counties also.

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