The Relevance of County Cricket

I was reading this piece in The Telegraph from Simon Hughes yesterday putting the argument forward for allowing County Cricket’s finest to go and play in the Indian Premier League. Beneath this is a thinly veiled jab at County Cricket’s seemingly diminishing status in the cricketing world. In it, Hughes uses the sentence:

every season the County Championship seems less relevant to the world of cricket.

This caused much irritation on my Twitter timeline. After all, how could someone who got his living off CC say this, and in any case when was the last time he took the time to watch it anyway? His presence on the ITV4 couch covering IPL6 was not lost on those who were condemning this article.

I follow County Cricket, and always will for as long as I consider the game to be a part of my life. But I also watch the IPL. I don’t follow it, but merely watch it for the players and the fact that it is the only live cricket that I get to watch on television. I can see why the average County fan would vomit all over the concept of the IPL but in reality it really does pose very little threat to the County game, and any of the problems that it has was present before the IPL and will be present if the IPL had never been conceived. Having said this, I kind of tend to agree with Hughes’ argument that CC isn’t really relevant to the world of cricket -the key word there being “the world of cricket”. CC will always be relevant to English cricket. It has always produced decent cricketers for the national team and recently it has started churning out exceptional ones, but globally speaking it really doesn’t hold a candle to the IPL or even the CC of say a decade ago. Hughes rightly points out that once upon a time you could go to a County match and see the likes of Akram, Cairns and Stuart Law; not to mention Mushtaq Ahmed, Aravinda De Silva and Brian Lara. He makes the comparison between the IPL and CC in his era where once you could have witnessed a duel between say Sir Viv Richards and Imran Khan whereas to see such a contest these days between two equivalent players, the IPL is your best bet. In this way, the IPL is much more relevant to world cricket. The chances are that a young cricketer growing up in say, Jamaica is going to be dreaming about the IPL rather than donning the Red Rose of Lancashire or the Five Martlets of Sussex.

So this is the area of Simon Hughes’ argument that I agree with, but where I don’t agree with is the sense that County Cricket has to be relevant to world cricket. It really does not have to cater for other markets. As long as it remains true to the English game and the England national team then it does its job. With only one overseas player permitted per County, it ensures that young English talent will always get a chance and there it fulfills its remit and that should be enough to stop people judging it and making comments about its importance. Besides, there are a lot of overseas players who credit their time in England with improving their cricketing ability. Just the other day, Worcestershire’s overseas signing Thilan Samaraweera came out and said that he would have liked to come to CC earlier on in his career and says that had he done so he would have been “a much better cricketer” than he is at the moment.

The other point Hughes makes that seemingly misses the point is that even if the Counties let their players go to the IPL, most of them a)Wouldn’t get sold in the auciton and b)Would not get games. Luke Wright is criminally underused by the Pune Warriors and after a good IPL5 last year, Owais Shah has not got any games for Rajasthan this year. Imagine if County players got to go, how many of them would realistically get games? With such overseas talent in the IPL, you could perhaps see the likes of Alex Hales, Matt Prior and Jonny Bairstow getting games but would the ‘lesser known’ players do anything other than carry the drinks? Would James Hildreth get match time? I doubt it, given how many Australians and South Africans get sold and hardly feature. Ultimately with only 4 overseas players can be used and those overseas players are likely be top quality international stars. So with that in mind, I do not blame Counties for asking their players to stay at home, get cricket time, improve their technique here rather than carry towels and drink bottles of Pepsi for the cameras. But then again, I do not blame the players for wanting to go there and just take it all in in the first place.

In the end, going back to the article I did not understand the irateness caused on Twitter by it, mainly because in my opinion Simon Hughes was right in what he said, but that doesn’t in anyway detract from what is still a high quality product, run very professionally by the individual boards and that should be enough for all of us.

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