The independent voice of cricket


County cricket does not need fewer teams

by Cameron Ponsonby 5 minute read

Cameron Ponsonby argues that if anything is to be reduced in county cricket, it should be fixtures, not teams.

Derby County Football Club are on the brink of liquidation. Placed into administration in September, the club is forecasted to run out of cash in February and if no buyer emerges then that’s that. Kaput. Over. Finito. Goodbye Derby County Football Club. You always did bring a grimace to the people of the East Midlands.

Because the glory days of Derby being one of the biggest clubs in the country are long gone. Champions of England in 1972 and 1975, Derby have spent all but one of the last 18 years in England’s second tier. And during the one year they did decide to holiday out of it Robbie Savage and his gang of merry men achieved the lowest points total in Premier League history as they won just one game in 38 matches.

“Cooor, look at this!” Savage would announce upon arrival at every other ground in the country. “Lads, make sure you take those small shampoos back with yous, they don’t charge for those.”

Derby County. The Also Rams.

The point is that their demise wouldn’t be sad because the world of elite sport would shine that bit duller, but because of the loss to the people, fans and communities that have poured their hearts and souls into the club for decades and more. And that matters hugely.

Derby County don’t exist to produce players for England or to win the league and cup double. They exist to be Derby County and for everything that goes with that. Even if that does include giving managerial work experience to Frank Lampard, haha.

But no, seriously, it’s an irony because whilst almost all of this goes without saying, swap Derby County Football Club for Derbyshire County Cricket Club and the extending of moral warmth is swapped for the cold shoulder of elite performance.

Amongst the quad-annual post-mortem of England’s away Ashes defeat, the option of reducing the number of counties is pushed to the fore once more. Kevin Pietersen, with the scorecard of his 355 against Leicestershire tattooed on his face, travels from door to door in Surrey announcing, “Here, look how many runs I scored, these lot are shit”. Even Jonathan Agnew got in on the act recently, proposing that the red-ball game follows the lead of The Hundred and has a competition between the same new teams with the addition of two more.

Where the death of Derby County Football Club would be a tragedy, the death of Derbyshire County Cricket Club would be a controlled extermination. It is not enough for Derbyshire County Cricket Club to exist in order to serve its community. We need England players, trophies, success, profits.

The issue I take with the opinion of reducing the number of first-class teams, is that the sentence “the quality of cricket is currently too diluted with 18 counties”, is not the same as, “18 counties is too many”. At a time when the game’s number one priority is to grow the sport at a grassroots level, reducing the number of professional teams isn’t so much a failure of ambition but an absence of it. An under-performing professional game is a bottom up problem, not a top down one. The answer to, “we’re not filling up this glass enough”, shouldn’t be, “let’s get a smaller glass”, but instead, “we need more water”.

If anything is to be reduced, it should be the number of games. People are tired. Bowlers are tired, pitches are tired. Everyone’s exhausted but rather than let our players and pitches get some rest we’re sellotaping our eyes open and hammering the motorway to our next fixture. Two of the biggest and generally agreed upon problems facing the English game at the moment are that pitches aren’t good enough and that bowlers aren’t fast enough. Both are symptoms of overuse. Pitches would be better for fewer fixtures being played on them, and bowlers would be fresher also and capable of maintaining higher speeds.

The argument against this, of course, is cash. Fixtures create money and therefore administrators want and need more of them. But these people need to be saved from themselves. If cricket administrators were left in charge of the festive calendar, they’d see the success of Christmas and schedule one every week. Cash money. Oh I wish it could be Christmas everyday, when the Dukes ball is swinging and Dazza Stevens comes out to play. All this whilst being blindingly and wilfully oblivious to the fact that with every crammed in fixture the overall product is being devalued further and further. If you want to talk about quality being diluted, look at the number of fixtures, not teams.

My personal answer would be to have three divisions of six in a traditional league format. One up, one down and with second and fifth in their respective leagues playing off for promotion and relegation. The league operates as a league, and the white-ball cups, where everyone can still play everyone, operate as cups. This will allow you to keep the same number of teams whilst also having the benefit that over time the standard naturally filters to the top creating that concentration of talent so many desire. And arguably most importantly, you reduce the number of fixtures, allowing the players and pitches some much-needed rest. And who knows, hopefully one day, after 17 years outside the top tier, Derbyshire might earn a holiday in the big leagues. I’ve heard the free samples at The Oval are excellent.

Have Your Say

Become a Wisden member

  • Exclusive offers and competitions
  • Money-can’t-buy experiences
  • Join the Wisden community
  • Sign up for free
Latest magazine

Get the magazine

12 Issues for just £39.99