Mark Ramprakash: Crazy scheduling a threat to Test standards

I hope people do not think I am over-egging this, but I am afraid cricket’s authorities in this country are aiding and abetting the demise of Test match cricket by their continued insistence that we should play County Championship and Twenty20 matches right on top of each other in our domestic game.
As a fierce supporter of county cricket, and of Test cricket as the ultimate form of our game, and as someone with a reasonable amount of experience to offer in this regard, I am very worried about the sort of match I found myself playing in for Surrey against Kent at the Kia Oval recently.
In terms of overall standards, it was very average – and on a blameless pitch. There were two extremely fine innings, by Rob Key of Kent which so nearly won the game for them, and by Zander de Bruyn for Surrey. Otherwise, the batting was well below what should be acceptable in first-class cricket and some of the bowling was no better. I was frustrated myself to score only 12 and 20 although I am rusty and have not played a great deal this season following my knee operation, but even with my experience I have also found this season disjointed and hard to get myself into rhythm batting-wise.
None of the young frontline batsmen who played in the match – such as Jason Roy, Rory Hamilton-Brown, Tom Maynard and Steven Davies for Surrey, and Joe Denly and Sam Northeast for Kent – scored many runs. Most of their dismissals were as a result of ill-judged strokes, but I have a lot of sympathy for young players desperately trying to get the balance right between the adrenalin-fuelled Twenty20 and needing patience and discipline for the four-day game.
There have been three rounds of Championship cricket forced into the last six weeks, which has mainly been the preserve of the Friends Life t20, and it is obvious to me that this scheduling is having a very harmful effect on the way players are performing on the field. I hope the administrators are listening to people like myself, because it’s not doing anyone any good at the moment.

Meanwhile, does it also undermine the credibility of county cricket that the England Test captain, Andrew Strauss, goes off to play for another county simply because he is searching for form? All England players should have the chance to play a Championship fixture in the lead-up to the first Test of a series anyway.
I understand fully the need for county clubs to make money from Twenty20, and county finances are currently under a lot of strain, but the domestic fixture list is so confused and damaging to our players at the moment that the English game’s authorities are effectively saying that practice – proper practice and preparation for different formats of the game – is not anywhere close to being a priority.
One of the things that has always bugged me about how English cricket is perceived from outside is the view that we don’t take preparation seriously at county level – that another game and another innings will be along shortly so why worry? I think player preparation at county clubs has actually improved during the latter part of my own career – but where are we going now with the fixture list we have had to endure for the past couple of years?
Middlesex and Kent started a Championship match a few weeks ago just over twelve hours after finishing a Twenty20 match under lights – on a different ground! We at Surrey ended a Championship fixture at Derby the day before we had to start – I repeat, start – our Twenty20 Cup campaign. Crazy.
But it is not just us and a few other counties. Everyone has been a victim of the current system and it has got to be sorted out. Sixteen Twenty20 games in so short a timespan is simply too many, and it is incredibly difficult even for very experienced players to switch from the four-day to the T20 format and then back again without any practice or preparation in between. For younger players, it is impossible and the adrenalin-fuelled approach now being carried over into four-day cricket is highly damaging to their development.
The Tiflex ball being used in Division Two of the County Championship is also a bone of contention for me – especially when in Division One and our home Test matches we are using Dukes balls – because they seem to swing more than Dukes and for longer, while at times I have found it inconsistent swing. In one-day cricket, meanwhile, the white balls don’t swing much at all – so batsmen can play totally differently.
It is the bottom line that worries me most, though. I’ll say it again: sixteen Twenty20s mixed in with County Championship cricket is seriously affecting the standard of our first-class domestic game, and that will in turn filter into our Test team. A lot of Championship matches have also been shunted back into April in the last few years, because of the fixture over-crowding.
If we get to the stage where the England Test team is underperforming, because those players being brought into it are not up to standard due to a below-par domestic game, where would that leave Test cricket in this country?
*Mark Ramprakash has played first-class cricket since 1987 and has scored 113 first-class hundreds.

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6 Responses to Mark Ramprakash: Crazy scheduling a threat to Test standards

  1. David says:

    I totally agree with your comments, Mark. The scheduling is bizarre to say the least. However, there is one other player in this fiasco who has not been mentioned, Sky Sports. They dictate the times of games to suit their viewing needs, not the needs of spectators.

    Today sees a mess of pantomime proportions being played out at Notts. The tickets are on sale today for our T20 quarter final against Somerset at TB. They went on sale to members at 9:30am without the date or time being confirmed. I rang the members ticket hot line and was told I could purchase our tickets, but the game may be played on Saturday, Sunday or Monday at any time between 2:00pm and 4:00pm!

    Now I may seem a bit fussy but I really would like to know when my county is playing an important game against very good opponents in the competition that is Notts’ only realistic chance of a trophy this season. I’m funny like that.

    I do not not blame the county or indeed the ticket office for this farce, but Sky Sports who are doing their best to take over cricket in the same way they have dictated to football fans when they may attend games to view their favourites.

    The whole scenario is utterly farcical.

  2. Jules says:

    How I agree with both Mark and Dave. It is fairly clear that too much T20 is bound to have a negative impact on both batting and bowling standards in the long term – I know of at least one player who has put his poor form in the County Championship down to playing too much T20. The only good thing to come from this version of the game is the catching and fielding.
    OK, so it brings people in – but for how long. I seem to remember when the Sunday League was introduced in 1969 it was played to full houses – but not any more.
    The other bug bear I have with T20 is the hideous “music” played for boundaries etc – just what is this meant to prove or signify – it’s just utter and shear nonsense. I dare say that Sky TV are behind this somewhere.
    There needs to be standardised playing hours – The 40 over competition should be played on Sundays only, with an occasional T20 game in midweek – a maximum of 10 per county per season. These games should not be baulked together as they currently are to allow a proper allocation of County Championship games throughout the summer.

  3. Tommo says:

    At Leicestershire some members complained about the lack of championship cricket in June and July, under their pressure the management then put pressure on the ECB to schedule championship matches in between the T20s. I enjoy all formats of the game and there is conflicting pressure, the players want to have groups of the same format to prepare properly but the spectators want games spread out so they can enjoy more of them. I know players wouldn’t like it but I would prefer T20 played throughout the season 8 home games spread out to make them more of an event rather than cram them all in.

  4. Dave says:

    Another related point that bothers me a lot is that for anyone who works Mon-Fri it’s virtually impossible to watch championship cricket. Surely some first class matches could be scheduled over weekends in June-August so those who want to can get along to watch them??

  5. JohnA says:

    Can someone please tell me what is the point of CB40? Its neither one nor t’other.

    I think they should organize the cricket season starting with a 50-over competition, then a T20 bashfest month AND THEN in the lazy days of late summer, 4 day cricket.

    Abandon CB40 altogether.

    The ECB could do no worse than allow county cricket to be televised for free.

  6. Tommo says:

    re JohnA’s points, they tried a 50 over competition at the start of the season a few years ago, no-one turned up to watch and whoever won the toss won the match, one-day cricket in April doesn’t work very well. I agree about 40 over cricket I would rather see a 50 over knock out played through the summer that way counties struggling would get knocked out and have more preperation time easing up the fixture list though the ceo’s hate knockout cricket because of uncertain revenues. 4 day cricket exclusively late in the year would put massive pressure on the fixture list, 64 days of cricket is a lot to fit into a couple of months!
    You say the ECB could no worse than televise championship cricket for free, I disagree entirely I think there are a lot worse things the ecb could do, Stanford being just the start.