Fixture list chaos is unacceptable: Sunni Upal

Working at Lord’s this season has opened my eyes to the number of catastrophic mistakes in the domestic cricket calendar. When you see how the thoughtlessness of the fixture list directly affects the spectator, it brings home the folly of the errors being made.

For example, take Middlesex v Surrey, the north v south London derby that generally draws the biggest crowds for both teams. Middlesex dominated and won within three days at Lord’s in April. Good news for their promotion hopes but a Wednesday start meant the match was over before the weekend.

Then, Sunday April 24 saw eight matches being played in the Clydesdale Bank 40 but the only match in the south of England was Hampshire v Warwickshire at the Rose Bowl. Sunday May 1 saw another eight matches from the same competition. This time, though, Middlesex, Surrey, Kent and Essex were all playing at home.

Tuesday May 17 brought Middlesex v Worcestershire at Lord’s in a floodlit CB40 match being shown by Sky Sports. Unfortunately, whether for TV purposes or in an attempt to get more people to attend by coming down after work, the match started at 3.40pm and drew only 549 paying spectators.

The ECB has made the decision to look into the structure of county cricket after this season, which meant the 1.45pm Sunday starts for the CB40 returned this year. It is hard to understand the logic behind starting so late. The plan was for parents to bring their children to an afternoon of entertainment but surely it would make more sense to start at 11am and finish around 5.30pm so that people can go home earlier and get ready for work or school the next day.

But, at number one in the ‘ECB-terrible-scheduling chart’ was the run of cricket that Middlesex were expected to play starting on Saturday June 18. That Saturday night saw the Panthers travel to Canterbury for a Twenty20 match against Kent starting at 7pm. Then, both teams started a four-day match at Lord’s the next day. Fortunately for Middlesex, they won well inside three days so had the best part of two days off before back-to-back Twenty20s at The Oval and Uxbridge.

Indeed, but for that early finish to the County Championship match at Lord’s, Middlesex were scheduled to play cricket on 14 out of 15 successive days from June 18 with, originally, only Saturday June 25 off. In that time, they faced the prospect of eight Championship days and six Twenty20 matches. Seriously, who in their right mind thought this was a good idea?

Giles Clarke, the ECB chairman, and his team really need to look into the domestic scheduling and give it a lot more thought. It is no secret that many counties are struggling financially at present and I think a large percentage of the blame goes to the ECB for that. Yes, they award annual redistribution payments from the centre, which are a crucial and large proportion of a county’s income, but not maximising the attendances for county cricket, due to scheduling issues, is unacceptable.

Ticket prices also have a lot to do with less-than-full grounds, even these days in domestic Twenty20. Tickets for a Test day at Lord’s, meanwhile, start at £65 and reach in excess of £100. If cricket is to attract youngsters to the game, the price an adult pays needs to be reduced so they aren’t put off. They need to be able to afford to attend the match AND take their children.

I’m lucky. I work at Lord’s and The Oval and get to see some cricket free of charge. I certainly wouldn’t want to spend what amounts to a full day’s wages, especially if I can watch the game on TV.

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