What a terrific advert for county cricket this year’s County Championship has been. For the second successive year the title was not decided until the very last session of the season and none of the promotion or relegation issues were decided until the final round of matches.
One of the main ideas of two-division cricket was to increase competitiveness and reduce the number of dead rubbers towards the end of the season. The fact that there was only one match in the first division – Nottinghamshire v Sussex – and one in the second division – Kent v Glamorgan – which had no bearing on the title or promotion and relegation in the final round of matches speaks volumes for how exciting the Championship was again this year.
By increasing competitiveness since two divisions were introduced in 2000, the County Championship has played an important part in improving the fortunes of the England Test side.
Central contracts have also been a factor but players serve their apprenticeship and learn their skills in county cricket before they find themselves at a stage in their careers when they might earn a central contract.
County cricket can be proud of the part it has played in helping to produce a successful England Test team. This year we have also seen a number of talented young players who have made their mark in county cricket being blooded in England’s one-day team.
The England management has developed a strategy of resting senior players – Kevin Pietersen for the recent one-day series against India for example – to manage the amount of cricket they play.
That ensures that players are in the best possible shape but it has also created opportunities for the likes of Jonathan Bairstow, Ben Stokes, James Taylor, Alex Hales and Scott Borthwick to come in and sample international cricket for the first time either in one-day or T20 internationals.
It was good to see Bairstow come in and play such a brilliant knock on his debut in Cardiff and for Hales to play so well in the first of the T20s against the West Indies at The Oval last week.
The fact that those players have stepped up and made an impression so quickly is another indication of the health of English cricket and the part that county cricket is playing in England’s continued success.
From the perspective of the Professional Cricketers’ Association there are no major issues to be resolved as we start looking ahead to next season, which suggests that the PCA and ECB are working closely together for the betterment of English cricket.
There will be fewer matches in the Friends Life t20 next season, a decision which has the support of the PCA as we were in favour of a shorter format.
The ECB has decided to end the experiment of Tiflex balls in Division Two of the County Championship next season. Instead one type of ball, Dukes, will be used in both divisions. This is something that the majority of players, in a survey conducted by the PCA, called for.
*Vikram Solanki, the Worcestershire and former England batsman, is chairman of the Professional Cricketers’ Association