Structure tinkering, compromise and snubbing

Collective frustration has cloaked the county scene this week following the delay on deciding a domestic structure for 2011. Although the majority remain in favour of the current volume of 16 Twenty20 group games – 11 clubs signed off a letter to the ECB to that effect – the make-up of next season’s fixture list will not be known until mid-November at the earliest, which means marketing drives and player recruitments have been put on hold around the shires. Despite the uncertainty, the 2010 treble bridesmaids Somerset released new membership packages based on retention of the status quo just hours after the ECB board confirmed a seven-week deferral on the calendar. The Taunton hierarchy remain positive that the decision will come down in favour of the smaller counties who have made good from 20-over revenue streams. Their eight home games in 2010 grossed more than 50,000 supporters, making them one of the success stories as general domestic crowds rose 40% on 2009. So a reduction in fixtures would be seen as a serious blow to their current growth pattern. “Our gate receipts have more than doubled over the past two years,” said chief executive Richard Gould. “The one driver for that is Twenty20 cricket. Now that we are starting to wean ourselves off central hand-outs raised by Team England it would be a retrograde step for us non-Test match ground counties to be told our opportunities to pull in our own money will be reduced. We have been told there would be compensation for next year if that is the case but what about the year after and the year after that? Getting as many supporters in as possible is crucial to the future health of the game and it is an ongoing process.” Intriguingly, ECB market research showed that more than one in four people who watched Twenty20 matches last summer were new to the game. Essex, like Somerset, proved standard bearers in packing their county headquarters for Twenty20 and estimate each game to be worth £80,000-120,000. Their season pass deals do not include entry to 20-over contests but they are one of the counties whose winter recruitment drive has been put on hold. Moves for seasoned pros Owais Shah and Darren Stevens will only happen once their financial landscape becomes clearer.

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The most sensible compromise in reducing the amount of limited-overs cricket would arguably be to scale down the Clydesdale Bank 40 but the ECB are reluctant to upset a new sponsor, it is understood, while the Netherlands (theoretically susceptible along with the Unicorns in any fixture reduction) have only completed one season of a three-year deal. And let’s face it, ditching the Dutch less than 18 months after they beat England would be poor form indeed.

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Graeme Swann this week served up a snub of his own to the International Cricket Council after being overlooked initially for the world cricketer of the year award. Shortlisted players are invited to attend the ceremony but England spinner Swann’s next foreign destination is Morocco, for a well-deserved holiday, rather than Bangalore this Wednesday.

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