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County cricket - have standards dropped and, if so, why?
Discussion started by AGod , 05 August, 2020 07:24
County cricket - have standards dropped and, if so, why?
AGod 05 August, 2020 07:24
Perhaps I'm being unfair. But I'm afraid that I was struck by what seems to me to be a relative lack of quality players on the county circuit these days. This thought really struck me when I saw the scorecards for the first round of fixtures.

I know England have taken more players than usual out of the game at the moment - to run two international squads. And we are shorn of overseas players this year. But still, the quality of non-England players in the CC these days seems worse too? Is this the work of the ECB Sky deal of 2005? (I think it was that date?) Conventional wisdom would say that the two division system has concentrated all of the best players in CC1... but my view is that the overall standard of player in the competition is lower...... going through the list on a case by case basis, those counties in CC1 are not stronger than they were 25 years ago.. most, I believe are weaker..... and the same is true, IMO, of every CC2 county.

I went back 25 years to make a comparison. What do you folks think of the line-ups below and the relative quality of each? I've taken the first four, in alphabetical order, to start with.

Opening day line-ups:

Derbys 1995

K J Barnett Reece
A S Rollins Godleman
C J Adams Madsen
D J Cullinan (overseas) Du Plooy
T J G O'Gorman Critchley
D G Cork Hosein
P A J DeFreitas Hudson-Prentice
C M Wells McKiernan
A E Warner Cohen
K M Krikken Aitchison
D E Malcolm Conners

Verdict? Household names on the left... I think I've only even ever heard of the first three names in this modern Derbys team.


M A Roseberry Lees
W Larkins Dickson
J E Morris Steel
J A Daley Bedingham
Manor Prabhakar (overseas) Harte
M Saxelby Burnham
C W Scott Eckersley
J Wood Coughlin
J Boiling Raine
S J E Brown Potts
M M Betts Rushworth

Verdict? Today's batting line-up is unequivocally weaker. I suppose, perhaps. the modern side is about equal to the old side in bowling?


G A Gooch Browne
P J Prichard Cook
J J B Lewis Westley
D M Cousins Chopra
N Hussain Khushi
D D J Robinson Ten Doeschate
R C Irani Wheater
R J Rollins Harmer
M C Ilott S Cook
N F Williams Porter
P M Such Quinn

Verdict? I suppose, here, we have roughly comparable strength?


S P James Selman
H MOrris Hemphrey
D L Hemp Carlson
M P Maynard Cooke
P A Cottey Root
A Dale Douthwaite
R D B Croft Wagg
S D Thomas Bull
N M Kendrick De Lange
C P Metson R Smith
S L Watkin Hogan

Verdict? Other than in the spin department, the modern bowling doesn't look bad by comparison. But the batting? If these 12 gentlemen were all in the same club, the six on the right would form the Glamorgan second XI, without doubt. Something tells me that the line-up on the left would have been most unlikely to have folded twice and lost by 289 runs at Taunton over the past two days!?

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 05/08/2020 07:29 by AGod.

Re: County cricket - have standards dropped and, if so, why?
Bagpuss 05 August, 2020 10:46
As you say, there are players away with England. Two whole teams plus quite a few extra squad members so 30+ compared to the usual 13 for a Test series in any other year. And there are no overseas players (and a few Kolpaks like Morne and Big Vern who haven't come). This adds up to an average of nearly 3 players per county missing, the majority of whom would be considered 'international' quality players.

It is interesting you have chosen 1995 as your comparison year. I'm sure because, as is the way with any brain wired for cricket, it is a nice, roundish number. A quarter of a century ago.

If course back then there were no England central contracts. I'm not going to start a discussion on the pros and cons of the central contract; my personal opinion is that in balance they have been A Good Thing for the England team (I would put good money, nay my house, on the fact that, in an alternative non-contracted sliding doors world Anderson and Broad wouldn't have close on 1100 Test wickets between them).

With no central contracts players returned to their county before the post-Test-victory champagne spray had dried on their skin to turn out the next day for a cup match. Plus the international schedule was far less congested - no back to back Tests, no T20Is, probably fewer ODIs. More opportunity to see England players in their County sides.

And of course I jest. There wasn't a great deal of post Test victory champagne being sprayed from England balconies in the 90s. Not against Australia or the Windies that's for sure. Which meant the selectors became somewhat profligate in their activity. There were a lot of county players back in 1995 who could be described as "internationals". If my counting is correct England used 59 different players in Tests between 1990 and 1995. Compare this to 20 years later; from 2010 to 2015 42 players appeared. And eight of these were players trying to fill just two spots; the opening bat to replace Andrew Strauss, and the spinning role of Graeme Swann. 42 players to play more Tests in a year than their 59 counterparts would have played in the 90s.

And my final argument. The broadcasting behemoth. Back in the day we could watch county cricket on the BBC throughout the season. Sunday league every week through the summer with bonus cup matches every couple of weeks or so. Compare to today when for a short out-of-football-season block you get T20 blast matches (mainly in the evening which is either 'peak viewing' or 'peak clashes with family time' depending on your situation. You get a few 50 over matches. A token championship match if you're lucky. You don't get much opportunity to assess the quality of county championship sides, particularly now county squads will have a proportion of specialist white and red ball players.

It has also struck me whilst writing this that my own cricket watching has become far more focused on my own county. 30, 40 years or more ago we had more county cricket to watch on TV, the JPL on Sunday, the B&H and the Gillette Cup. But we were at the whim of the scheduler. What they broadcast was what you watched. Cricket fans watched because it was cricket, not because it was 'their' team. I was just as happy sitting down to watch Glamorgan take on Derbyshire at Chesterfield (how I loved that crooked spire) as I was seeing Somerset play at Grace Road. And the BBC seemed much more equal in their visits to the county grounds than the current rights holder; you were as likely to see a backdrop of Worcester cathedral as the Oval gasholder.
The commentators used to give occasional updates from around the grounds and then later you could bring up the Ceefax page to keep an eye on Somerset but your attention was on whatever county teams the BBC were presenting to yo on that day. My knowledge of players from other counties came from watching them, not from looking at scorecards (and certainly not from wondering if they were out of contract at the end of the season and if we should try to sign them; players moving counties was far less common).

Nowadays whilst there is less opportunity to watch county cricket on the telly box live streaming means we can choose to be at whatever match we please. And of course, that match tends to be the match my county is playing. My appreciation and knowledge of Somerset players has increased manyfold. My appreciation and knowledge of other county squads has fallen off the proverbial - particularly those Northern CC2 counties we don't play in any format. How long since we played Leicestershire. Derbyshire. Durham even (How I miss you, Durham and Chester le Street).

In summary, whilst I'm not disagreeing with you about a decline in quality of county cricket, I think comparing teams of 1995 to 2000 is not so much comparing apples to oranges a apples to a tin of baked beans. And writing this has made me yearn for the 80s and the joy watching any cricket brought.

Re: County cricket - have standards dropped and, if so, why?
AGod 05 August, 2020 12:23
Thanks, Bagpuss, great thoughts.

Viz Central Contracts .... my belief is that it has benefited England in one sense - in the sense of established players - such as Jimmy and Broad, whom you cited. However, I believe that the control that England have over players has reduced the "any given day," calibre of the fare on show... and this hits England when they have to find new players to step up from the County scene. The default response is then, of course, to blame the county game..... but I think the England system is, itself, a cause of this difficulty.

And I can't help thinking, looking through my Wisdens that many of the current CC2 counties are populated now by batsmen - especially batsmen - that would have been second XI players 25 years ago.... I suspect that the gradual move away from cricket in all put public schools has gradually diluted the pool of players entering the game.... plus the financial pull of things like football, relative to cricket, has increased exponentially - and so, probably, some potential cricket stars of the future have been lost - very early in the process - to pursuing dreams of being a professional footballer where - even as a very average Div One player, once can earn a couple of grand per week - so 100K per year.

Re: County cricket - have standards dropped and, if so, why?
Bagpuss 05 August, 2020 13:00
Football has always been in competition with cricket for talented young athletes to join the profession, although in the past the seasons for both were shorter than they are so a few managed to play both as professionals. Of course the riches on offer nowadays for wendyball have increased somewhat exponentially at the highest level but the rewards for cricket has also improved with now better pay, 12 month contracts and, dare I say, the advent of T20 leagues.

Nowadays though you are competing with a host of other sports which, whilst they may not make you rich enough to retire when age catches up with you, will provide a living competing in the sport you love without having to rely on family wealth, a benevolent sponsor or a myriad of out if season and part time jobs to keep a roof over your head and food on the table. Rugby of both codes, tennis, basketball, golf and even those sports thought of in the past as Olympic an amateur like athletics and hockey, if you are good enough you can be paid. And in these days where those youngsters most likely to play cricket at school are outside the state education system, they are likely to have the opportunity to participate in all these sports and more. We are fortunate maybe to be getting the players we do!

Re: County cricket - have standards dropped and, if so, why?
Somerset LaLaLa 05 August, 2020 14:28
A good question and looking back to the 1970’s and 1980’s would give you a flourish of overseas legendary figures, some of whom that could make a world XI. The domestic competitions were stronger. Batters patience and shot selection were better imo. Fitness levels, skills and strength are probably improved now, as is the fielding. I think this all tends towards the emphasis on the shortest form of the game. Slow scorers who can bat out a game are not favoured by the counties any more

Re: County cricket - have standards dropped and, if so, why?
Grockle 05 August, 2020 15:36
Certainly patience levels have decreased but I think that is across the world with the huge onset of white ball cricket.

in the longer game it works occasionaly but batsmen are out more often and for less.

Jos Buttler case in point. immense talent but conscious of the need to 'get on with it' but doesn't have the skill to wait often enough. Azam has patience but thoss who wait are critisised as 'slow' Sibley? Compton?


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