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

Grantham Cricket Club
Grantham Cricket Club
©CWM

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

Following up on the feedback from my recent article, i have updated the content and illustrated some of the stats for ease of viewing and understanding the thinking behind - 'Time for a Change'.

The world of cricket, like all sports, has the challenge of organising itself to survive Covid-19 and making sure it can flourish and thrive beyond it. 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 must also 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 continue 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.

A Restructure for the Good of UK Cricket

The Current Funding Structure for UK Cricket - Bar Chart

The Current Funding Structure for UK Cricket - Bar Chart
©Ian Mihill

The Current Funding Structure for UK Cricket - Table

The Current Funding Structure for UK Cricket - Table
©Ian Mihill

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 (Minor Counties in old money) in divisions 1, 2 and 3. 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 T20 games leading to a big national final and an FA cup style competition should also be included to provide much needed national interest at a local level. The Hundred competition 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 Hundred to provide a truly global perspective could be a very good option in these difficult financial times.

If all 40 Counties each had 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! Groundbreaking! And you will have to play for an ECB premier league club to play for your county (which is currently the case for 8 out of 11 players).

Improving the Current Funding Structure

As always, the key is how we finance this model.

Currently a National County (Minor County) plays approximately 26 days of cricket and gets an annual grant of approximately £51,000.

Currently the ECB Premier League Clubs play between 20 and 40 first team matches per season depending on Sunday Cricket and receive no grants at all. These are the clubs that provide all the facilities for cricket throughout the UK (including some National County games) and the facilities and required administration for Allstars and the new Dynamos, and rely on many hours from volunteers to make it all happen.

At the top of the structure we would have 10 first division Premier League clubs who currently 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 Hundred 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 aspiring 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 £1.02m 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 with zero financial support!

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 simply 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 opportunities to so many more?

So, if we are to maximise the value of the total funds available then the distribution of these funds must change. The first class Premier League elite will have their second teams and junior sections and women’s sections. 10 elite clubs have 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.

The Current Funding Structure for UK Cricket

Redistribution of First Class - Tier 2 Funding - Pie Chart

Redistribution of First Class - Tier 2 Funding - Pie Chart
©Ian Mihill

 

Assumptions

1 First-Tier First Class squads have 30 players and 30 juniors

2 Second-Tier First Class squads have 30 players and 30 juniors

3 Minor/National Counties have squads of 18 players

4 ECB Premier League Clubs have 3 Saturday teams and 3 junior teams and an average of 80 playing members

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 (Minor Counties) get £1.02m shared over say a squad of 18 players so £2,833 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 UK of ZERO!

Supporting our Cricket Roots with a new Funding Structure

Perhaps the £24m spent on 8 second-tier first class (division 2) clubs should be reallocated as follows:

 Proposed Funding Restructure for UK Cricket  - Bar Chart

Proposed Funding Restructure for UK Cricket - Bar Chart
©Ian Mihill

1. £12m going to the 30 Clubs in divisions 2, 3 and 4 so £400,000 each. (That includes the second tier first class teams, the national county teams with the inclusion of Isle of Wight and Huntingdonshire)

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 others 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. The distribution of funds look like this:

 Redistribution of First Class - Tier 2 Funding - Pie Chart

Redistribution of First Class - Tier 2 Funding - Pie Chart
©Ian Mihill

So, under this new structure for example, Cornwall County Cricket Club would receive the following funding:

1.         Their existing £51,000

2.         £400,000 for men’s cricket

3.         £200,000 for women’s cricket

4.         £15,000 to the 10 ECB premier league clubs.

In total, Cornwall Country Cricket Club would receive £801,000 to run and develop men and women’s cricket in Cornwall. This would provide a massive boost to cricket in Cornwall and could be replicated across the country.

I am sure that many people will have different ways of allocating the funds. But the reality is that if you volunteer to 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. This is NOT to be spent on the overseas player or players fees. We need pitches, covers, umpires, scorers and someone to make the tea. We have to provide a safe environment for our juniors. The paper flow for the ECB’s Clubmark accreditation is not insignificant. 400 clubs rely on an army of volunteers. Ask any club about the joys of annual DBS checks, annual Clubmark submissions, organising fixtures, sorting junior training and updating scores on Play Cricket to name just a few.

Any funding that 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.

In addition, 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.

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 those at the top of cricket actually thought about the clubs that support it and that will grow 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, 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 our cricket tree 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, do not just protect the vested interests of the few, and remember that the more people who can play and watch this wonderful game the better.

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