The Tinkermen

Anyone who has spent time working in British higher education will know the feeling of being in a state of permanent reorganisation. For senior management it seems that there exists no problem where the answer is not to restructure some part of the institution. Speak to the befuddled employees and one of three theories will usually emerge as to why this is the case:

  1. There is a belief that regular change in itself is a good thing.* It stops organisations growing stale within the status quo, encourages new networks to form and unleashes innovation.
  2. Management can influence very little on a day-to-day basis and grow frustrated at their lack of involvement. A *rubs hands* reorganisation however, puts them right back in the action. It’s where they get to justify their titles and salaries. They can feel like and appear do be doing something.
  3. A search for the magic bullet. Unless you’re Oxbridge, education is usually not a profitable business and institutions feel under constant threat. Each restructure brings the promise that this time it will be the thing to put everything on a firm footing for the long term. Of course, it never is.

Which brings us to the ECB and Cricket in England and Wales, another organisation who can rarely resist the temptation to have a bit of a re-jig.

In the thirty seasons 1991-2021 (we’re going to pass by the anomaly of the 2020 COVID-19-affected season), the ECB, with the consent of the Counties, changed the way at least one of the main men’s professional domestic tournmanents were constituted 17 times. Things were left unchanged in 13 years. Twice the status quo was allowed to prevail for three years in a row (2007-2009 and 2011-2013), whereas unbroken periods of change were clocked at five and eight years (1992-1996 & 1999-2006). A handy table is provided below. Though we are only looking at changes in numbers of teams, overs (in one day forms), and divisional or knockout formats; this doesn’t take in to account tinkering with County Championship bonus points, toss regulations or the shunting about of each of the competitions to various parts of the season or days of the week.

So, we’ve had 60, 55, 50, 45, 40, 20 overs (and one hundred balls); competitions containing minor counties, county boards and international teams – as many as 60 teams involved at any one point; one division, two divisions, regional groups, round robins and knockouts. As Vic and Bob once said, they couldn’t let it lie.

It hasn’t all been fiddling around the edges, of course. Three times in this period the ECB has brought out the heavy machinery and made more substantial renovations. In 2000 the County Championship moved to two divisions for the first time in its, then, 110 year history, hot on the heels of the introduction of central contracts for international male cricketers. In 2003, the T20 revolution began, initially at the expense of the 50 over cup, which would return later in place of its 40 over cousin. And in 2021 The Hundred splashed down, consigning the reprieved domestic 50 over competition to a mostly midweek day-time ‘development’ exercise.

Before anyone starts shouting – this is not a call to preserve any one of the many status quo in amber. Change can be good. At times it is necessary both to protect and to grow. But when it is constant, one suspects that there has been either a lack of clarity concerning the basis on which the change was made or a lack of confidence in the decisions. Or both. When a change has been made based on well thought-out and argued reasons, surely the sensible thing is to give it time to breathe, to settle down and, most importantly, to give the paying audience a chance to become familiar with it all.

Which brings us back to the beginning. Why the constant change? Do the cricketing authorities see it as a good thing in itself, do they feel pressure to be seen to be doing something at every turn, or has it all been a fruitless search for the magic bullet that will see cricket safe and secure for the next hundred years?

One suspects the latest upheaval falls into the magic bullet category. A brand new form of the game, a new tournament and a new big bucks TV deal. It needs to work because, if it doesn’t, you can’t just turn round and repeat the trick with the next great idea.

The whole period of change upon change has seemed so ad hoc. This may be fanciful but what is needed is an open, measured conversation about and decisions on what is wanted from and needed by the various domestic forms of the game – and some honesty about that – and settling on a structure and calendar that allows it to happen. Then a period of calm might be appreciated by all. Though, given the track record, it seems unlikely.

County ChampionshipOne Day (1)One Day (2)One Day (3)
199117 Teams, One Division, 22 matches per teamNatWest Trophy, 32 Teams, 60 Overs, KnockoutBenson & Hedges Cup, 20 Teams, 55 Overs, Groups & KnockoutRefuge Assurance League, 17 Teams, 40 Overs, One Division
199218 Teams, One Division, 22 matches per teamNatWest Trophy, 32 Teams, 60 Overs, KnockoutBenson & Hedges Cup, 21 Teams, 55 Overs, Groups & KnockoutSunday League, 18 Teams, 40 Overs, One Division
199318 Teams, One Division, 17 matches per teamNatWest Trophy, 32 Teams, 60 Overs, KnockoutBenson & Hedges Cup, 21 Teams, 55 Overs, KnockoutAXA Equity & Law League, 18 Teams, 50 Overs, One Division
199418 Teams, One Division, 17 matches per teamNatWest Trophy, 32 Teams, 60 Overs, KnockoutBenson & Hedges Cup, 22 Teams, 55 Overs, KnockoutAXA Equity & Law League, 18 Teams, 40 Overs, One Division
199518 Teams, One Division, 17 matches per teamNatWest Trophy, 32 Teams, 60 Overs, KnockoutBenson & Hedges Cup, 22 Teams, 55 Overs, Groups & KnockoutAXA Equity & Law League, 18 Teams, 40 Overs, One Division
199618 Teams, One Division, 17 matches per teamNatWest Trophy, 32 Teams, 60 Overs, KnockoutBenson & Hedges Cup, 22 Teams, 50 Overs, Groups & KnockoutAXA Equity & Law League, 18 Teams, 40 Overs, One Division
199718 Teams, One Division, 17 matches per teamNatWest Trophy, 32 Teams, 60 Overs, KnockoutBenson & Hedges Cup, 22 Teams, 50 Overs, Groups & KnockoutAXA Life League, 18 Teams, 40 Overs, One Division
199818 Teams, One Division, 17 matches per teamNatWest Trophy, 32 Teams, 60 Overs, KnockoutBenson & Hedges Cup, 22 Teams, 50 Overs, Groups & KnockoutAXA League, 18 Teams, 40 Overs, One Division
199918 Teams, One Division, 17 matches per teamNatWest Trophy, 60 Teams, 50 Overs, KnockoutBenson & Hedges Super Cup, 8 Teams, 50 Overs, KnockoutCGU National League, 18 Teams, 45 Overs, Two Divisions
200018 Teams, Two Divisons of Nine, 16 matches per teamNatWest Trophy, 60 Teams, 50 Overs, KnockoutBenson & Hedges Cup, 18 Teams, 50 Overs, Groups & KnockoutNorwich Union National League, 18 Teams, 45 Overs, Two Divisions
200118 Teams, Two Divisons of Nine, 16 matches per teamCheltenham & Gloucester Trophy, 56 Teams, 50 Overs, KnockoutBenson & Hedges Cup, 18 Teams, 50 Overs, Groups & KnockoutNorwich Union League, 18 Teams, 45 Overs, Two Divisions
200218 Teams, Two Divisons of Nine, 16 matches per teamCheltenham & Gloucester Trophy, 60 Teams, 50 Overs, KnockoutBenson & Hedges Cup, 18 Teams, 50 Overs, Groups & KnockoutNorwich Union League, 18 Teams, 45 Overs, Two Divisions
200318 Teams, Two Divisons of Nine, 16 matches per teamCheltenham & Gloucester Trophy, 54 Teams, 50 Overs, KnockoutTwenty20 Cup, 18 Teams, 20 Overs, Groups & KnockoutECB National League, 19 Teams, 45 Overs, Two Divisions
200418 Teams, Two Divisons of Nine, 16 matches per teamCheltenham & Gloucester Trophy, 42 Teams, 50 Overs, KnockoutTwenty20 Cup, 18 Teams, 20 Overs, Groups & KnockoutTotesport League, 19 Teams, 45 Overs, Two Divisions
200518 Teams, Two Divisons of Nine, 16 matches per teamCheltenham & Gloucester Trophy, 32 Teams, 50 Overs, KnockoutTwenty20 Cup, 18 Teams, 20 Overs, Groups & KnockoutTotesport League, 19 Teams, 45 Overs, Two Divisions
200618 Teams, Two Divisons of Nine, 16 matches per teamCheltenham & Gloucester Trophy, 20 Teams, 50 Overs, Groups & KnockoutTwenty20 Cup, 18 Teams, 20 Overs, Groups & KnockoutNatWest Pro 40, 18 Teams, 40 Overs, Two Divisions
200718 Teams, Two Divisons of Nine, 16 matches per teamFriends Provident Trophy, 20 Teams, 50 Overs, Groups & KnockoutTwenty20 Cup, 18 Teams, 20 Overs, Groups & KnockoutNatWest Pro 40, 18 Teams, 40 Overs, Two Divisions
200818 Teams, Two Divisons of Nine, 16 matches per teamFriends Provident Trophy, 20 Teams, 50 Overs, Groups & KnockoutTwenty20 Cup, 18 Teams, 20 Overs, Groups & KnockoutNatWest Pro 40, 18 Teams, 40 Overs, Two Divisions
200918 Teams, Two Divisons of Nine, 16 matches per teamFriends Provident Trophy, 20 Teams, 50 Overs, Groups & KnockoutTwenty20 Cup, 18 Teams, 20 Overs, Groups & KnockoutNatWest Pro 40, 18 Teams, 40 Overs, Two Divisions
201018 Teams, Two Divisons of Nine, 16 matches per teamClydesdale Bank 40, 21 Teams, 40 Overs, Groups & KnockoutFriends Provident T20, 18 Teams, 20 Overs, Groups & Knockout
201118 Teams, Two Divisons of Nine, 16 matches per teamClydesdale Bank 40, 21 Teams, 40 Overs, Groups & KnockoutFriends Life T20, 18 Teams, 20 Overs, Groups & Knockout
201218 Teams, Two Divisons of Nine, 16 matches per teamClydesdale Bank 40, 21 Teams, 40 Overs, Groups & KnockoutFriends Life T20, 18 Teams, 20 Overs, Groups & Knockout
201318 Teams, Two Divisons of Nine, 16 matches per teamYorkshire Bank 40, 21 Teams, 40 Overs, Groups & KnockoutFriends Life T20, 18 Teams, 20 Overs, Groups & Knockout
201418 Teams, Two Divisons of Nine, 16 matches per teamRoyal London One-Day Cup, 18 Teams, 50 Overs, Groups & KnockoutNatWest T20 Blast, 18 Teams, 20 Overs, Groups & Knockout
201518 Teams, Two Divisons of Nine, 16 matches per teamRoyal London One-Day Cup, 18 Teams, 50 Overs, Groups & KnockoutNatWest T20 Blast, 18 Teams, 20 Overs, Groups & Knockout
201618 Teams, Two Divisons of Nine, 16 matches per teamRoyal London One-Day Cup, 18 Teams, 50 Overs, Groups & KnockoutNatWest T20 Blast, 18 Teams, 20 Overs, Groups & Knockout
201718 Teams, Two Divisons of Eight & 10, 14 matches per teamRoyal London One-Day Cup, 18 Teams, 50 Overs, Groups & KnockoutNatWest T20 Blast, 18 Teams, 20 Overs, Groups & Knockout
201818 Teams, Two Divisons of Eight & 10, 14 matches per teamRoyal London One-Day Cup, 18 Teams, 50 Overs, Groups & KnockoutVitality Blast, 18 Teams, 20 Overs, Groups & Knockout
201918 Teams, Two Divisons of Eight & 10, 14 matches per teamRoyal London One-Day Cup, 18 Teams, 50 Overs, Groups & KnockoutVitality Blast, 18 Teams, 20 Overs, Groups & Knockout
2020Bob Willis Trophy, Three groups of sixCancelledVitality Blast, 18 Teams, 20 Overs, Groups & Knockout
2021Three groups of six plus Bob Willis TrophyRoyal London One-Day Cup, 18 Teams, 50 Overs, Groups & KnockoutVitality Blast, 18 Teams, 20 Overs, Groups & KnockoutThe Hundred, Eight Teams, 100 Balls, League & Knockout

* In the unlikely event that you’re intersted, see Vermeulen, Freek; Puranam, Phanish; Gulati, Ranjay. Change for Change’s Sake. Harvard Business Review. Jun 2010, Vol. 88 Issue 6, p70-76

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