Jason Gillespie is widely respected as a coach and thinker in the cricket world, so when he comes up with a plan for a truncated county championship season it is sensible to give it due consideration.
Gillespie’s plan takes at face value the announcement late last week that space will be made in the truncated season for red-ball cricket. It is a variation on the “conference” system mooted as a possible new format for the Championship a couple of years ago.
The 18 first-class counties would be split into three groups of six who would play each other once
Points would be scored on the same basis as in a normal county championship season.
The winners of each group progress to the “finals”. The team with the most points from the regular season would go straight to the final while second and third would contest the other place in the final via a semi-final.
Gillespie’s suggestion is that the final is played at Lords. Here I strongly disagree. A four-day game played (presumably) late in the season at a neutral venue would be a huge damp squib. Even teams as well supported as Somerset would struggle to generate significant support on all four days. Better to give the first seed home advantage. There is no doubt that the atmosphere with a partisan home crowd, and probably a decent number of visiting supporters would be a much better accompaniment to the final.
Of course that pre-supposes mass gatherings would be allowed by the end of the summer!
There is a lot that appeals about this plan. For one it would mean competitive red-ball cricket rather than a few meaningless friendlies. It would also give teams who haven’t played each other in the Championship for a long time a chance to meet.
The limited number of games would also add to the importance of each fixture giving real focus to every match. It would generate, for cricket fans, interest in all the games, not just the ones involving their team.
The obvious downside is that five group games would mean some teams would only have two home games which creates a serious inequality in such a short tournament. This could however be used to “Seed” the division one teams by giving them three home games assuming they are equally split among the groups.
The other concern would be weather blighting the tournament. Perhaps a reserve day should be set aside for each round?
But the plan has merit and would be worth wider discussion and consideration.