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Cricket: A Time for Change…

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An open letter from Ian Mihill (Chairman, Grantham Cricket Club)

Time for a Change: Improved funding, National competitions, Common Rules and more support for Women’s Cricket

by - Ian Mihill… read more

The world of cricket, like all sports, has the challenge of organising itself to survive the current Corona world we live in and making sure it can flourish and thrive going forward. It has a wonderful opportunity to reorganise itself and produce a model that is fit for purpose for all levels of cricket as we look forward to a post-Corona world.

The world class cricketers England needs require structure and competition at the highest level in domestic cricket to prepare them as well as possible. This structure has to be financially sustainable and attractive to all. The game also must continue to be universally accessible and grass root cricket clubs are absolutely key to this. Cricket in schools, apart from the elite, is almost dead and the role of cricket clubs is absolutely vital to keep growing cricketers. These roots need nourishing. Without roots nothing will survive. Those at the top of the game responsible for its structure must recognise this and react accordingly.

To enable this I would propose a restructuring of the game and its finances as follows:

At the top of the structure would be a Premier League of 10 counties which would consist of those offering the largest infrastructure and having capability for hosting international matches. This league would represent the elite of the game. They could play each other in all formats of the game including the four day County Championship; the breeding ground for the Test Match arena and the 50 over format.

Below the Premiership would be all the remaining first class counties and the National Counties. There are currently 20 National Counties and if you add these to the remaining eight First Class counties plus Huntingdonshire and the Isle of Wight you have 30 teams. These would be able to provide 3 leagues of 10 who would all play each other in Three Day and 50 over matches which would provide 36 days of cricket. If we retain one place for promotion and relegation for each league so that aspiration is not removed we can provide a truly national cricket framework.

All 40 counties should play in regional 2020 games leading to a big national final and an FA cup style cup competition should also be included to provide much needed national interest at a local level. The 100 would obviously be retained as a central part of the Cricket calendar after all the excellent work done to create this new spectacle.  The recent comments about franchising teams for the 100 to provide a global perspective could be a very good option in these difficult financial times.

If all 40 Counties each have an ECB Premier League of 10 clubs this will provide a national infrastructure of 400 ECB affiliated cricket clubs. It would also be quite astonishing if they could all play league cricket under the same rules! Ground breaking!

However, the key is how we finance this model.

Currently a National County (a Minor County in old money) plays approximately 26 days of cricket and gets an annual grant of approximately £52,000.

Currently the ECB Premier League Clubs play between 20 and 40 first team matches per season depending on Sunday Cricket and gets no grant at all. These are the clubs that provide all the facilities for cricket throughout the land and the facilities for Allstars and the new Dynamos, and the many hours of volunteers and administration  to make junior cricket happen.

400 ECB Premier League Cricket Clubs that get NO money. Nothing! Zero. People will say that we have boards but we don’t need boards and clubs. It is completely ridiculous for a national game with limited resources to have two structures at local level. Change it.

At the top of the structure we have the Premier League clubs who get a payment of £2m from the ECB from central funds and now will receive an extra £1m as the carrot for agreeing to the new 100 competition so £3m per annum plus international cricket revenues. These Premier League clubs share all the Test Match grounds and receive all the attendant income from that. They should be our centres of excellence and every aspirational young cricketer would hope to play for one of these teams, both men and women. This would include Lords, The Oval, Trent Bridge, Edgbaston, Old Trafford, Headingly, Cardiff, The Rose Bowl and Durham. The 10th place would be for one other county on a competitive basis.

We then come to the problem. We have a further 8 Counties that are currently First Class that get the same £3m each and this enormous pot of £24m supports 8 teams. 

This compares with the current £1.2m supporting 20 Minor Counties and the huge sum of zero supporting 400 clubs in the ECB Premier Leagues.

Last year Grantham Cricket Club had 100 senior matches, 8 Ladies matches and 50 Junior matches. 158 matches. If we are roughly common to the other 400 ECB clubs we have made available 60,000 cricket matches for Zero! Zero!

The other major issue is women’s cricket which is so critical to the development of the game and which is starved of funding and structure. Today all those women who hoped to play in the 100 have absolutely no structures or funding to fall back on. This is just plain WRONG! The women’s game needs support. More support. Now. Why can’t they aim to have the same league structures as the men and give the chance to so many more?

So if we are to maximise the value of the total funds available then the distribution of these funds has to be changed. The Premier League elite will have their second teams and junior sections and women’s sections. 10 elite clubs has to be enough and these clubs have a major responsibility to the game to make best use of these very scarce resources.

Over the next say three years we need to have a parachute payment system that enables a financial restructure of this wonderful game which gives the whole national structure a chance to prosper.

Perhaps the £24m spent on 8 clubs should be spent as follows:

1. £12m going to the Clubs in divisions 2 to 4 so £400,000 each.

2. An additional £6m for the development of the women’s game with grants made available to all clubs providing a women’s cricket structure. If this were divided amongst the 30 counties in divisions two, three and four this would be £200,000 each per annum. I am sure the likes of Charlotte Edwards and the women at the top of the game could find a positive way to utilise such resources.

3. £6m to the 400 ECB Premier League Clubs at £15,000 each.

Remember these funds are NOT new funds. We are just reallocating existing funds.

On the assumption that these 8 second tier First Class clubs have a first team squad of 30 and 30 Juniors we have £24m supporting 480 cricketers. This amazingly is £50,000 per cricketer.

The 20 National Counties get £1.2m shared over say a squad of 15 players so £4,000 per cricketer.

The 400 ECB Premier League Clubs, assuming three teams on Saturday and three junior squads, say 80 playing members as a minimum with ten teams per league means that the ECB provide direct funding to support 32,000 cricketers throughout the land of ZERO! ZERO! ZERO!

I am sure that many people will have different ways of allocating the funds. But the reality is that if you umpire junior games, coach juniors, paint fences, chair meetings, fill in forms, make cheese and pickle sandwiches and everything else that goes with running a cricket club you have a right to be heard!

Every ECB Premier League Club would get an annual grant of £15,000 instead of nothing. Every league could play under the same rules. A National Competition for the winners of each ECB Premier League would provide another National Competition and real interest.

Cricket is not a normal game or a pastime and is well served by many lovers of the game well after retirement. So this £15,000 is not to spend on the overseas player or players fees. We need pitches, covers, umpires, scorers and someone to make the tea. We have to safeguard our juniors and be safe. The paper flow for Clubmark is not insignificant. 400 clubs have an army of volunteers. Ask any club about the joys of annual DBS checks, updating PlayCricket, organising fixtures, sorting junior training and producing a nuclear inspection Clubmark submission while updating scores on play cricket to name just a few.

Any funding that the these clubs receive would be hugely helpful and very well utilised and help protect the very roots that are at the heart of the game.

As an ECB Premier League Club Chairman for the last 7 years I have developed an understanding of how these clubs work and how much time and effort key individuals put into the club and the game. We have a wonderful set of members and volunteers who love their cricket. Cricket is the greatest game in the world, so please look after its roots .Every once in a while it would be hugely appreciated if the people at the top of cricket actually thought about the clubs that support it that will produce the generations of cricketers that fill the stadiums and the teams going forward.

The other matter I believe to be essential to protect our game is free to air viewing. This takes the game to the whole nation not just the lucky few. Please find a way to give all cricket fans viewing access. This will safeguard the future of the game as much as anything and provide real access for both the men’s and women’s game which is available to and understood by all. Why can’t we find a way of providing a national free for all cricket channel and if it needs some advertising then so be it. We have 67m people in this great country of ours and we need as many people as possible to watch it.

Watching Joe Root and Ben Stokes and Heather Knight win test matches and World Cups is amazing. Watching your son or daughter taking their first wicket or catch or scoring their first 50 is probably more important. We must make sure that the opportunity for this joy is preserved and protected for us all. Without Clubs as roots the cricket trees will die.

So please:

1. Restructure the top leagues

2. Spread the jam more evenly

3. Support the ladies game  properly so it has a future

4. Make sure we can all watch cricket

5. Support the roots of the game so it does not die.

 

So for once be brave and bold and remember that the more people who can play and watch this wonderful game the better and not just protect the vested interests of the few.

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