Stephen Hubbard: “Will the franchises control how many games “their” players play before their season?”

The debate about the details of the format of The Hundred is, in my opinion, a distraction, and possibly a deliberate diversion, fascinating and hard-to-understand though the undecided format is.  It is control which is being sought, with independent minded counties being an inconvenient historical relic to a central board whose primary concern appears to be about their income.  Having said that, the ECB handouts to the counties are an essential income stream and several counties would be hard pressed to survive without them.

The disparate, and in some cases desperate, financial position of the counties is shown well here:  At the top is Surrey, who own a large ground well located in a huge and busy city, they turn over £27M; how their rivals and neighbours across the Thames must envy that county’s ownership of their own ground!  Even our own Somerset club, with ownership of their own facilities in tiny Taunton (only Chester-Le-Street is a smaller host to a county ground), can match Middlesex for turnover.  Do we not feel sorry for Derby, Northants and Leicester whose turnover is two-thirds of ours?   I was astonished that the counties were bought off in the vote about franchises but that is what happened. See:   When in straightened circumstances, should I blame the counties for accepting a guarantee?  Only six counties reported a profit (average 2014-16 and after receiving ECB money) and ten reported losses of over £2M before receiving anything from the ECB) according to the same report.

Of course, we all knew where the seven of the eight franchises would land; the six traditional Test match grounds were obvious choices, Cardiff was an obligation for the England and Wales Cricket Board, leaving just one option and eleven county grounds free. Bristol is too close to Cardiff, Canterbury, Hove and Chelmsford too close to the London franchises, Derby and Leicester are overshadowed by Trent Bridge, Taunton is a tiny town with a fairly small ground, Worcester might be considered remote, chilly Durham may have a large, international ground but are in the doghouse with the ECB (the controlling hand) and unfashionable Northampton whose ground is smaller even than ours, leaving Southampton where Rod Bransgrove has the comparatively new Rose Bowl.

But franchises are vulnerable beasts, ask Chennai Super Kings, Deccan Chargers or either of the Pune franchises.  Much closer to home, what will become of Western Storm when the new franchises have matching men’s and women’s teams?  Every indication is that the franchise will disappear, but it might be renamed and removed to another home; which amounts to much the same fate.  This must be really sad for the Stormtroopers organising team, who having created a team, an image and support may well have the rug pulled out from under them.  Will cricket lovers really swarm to new teams whose right to play is so vulnerable?

The ECB control the playing schedule and, with central contracts, they control some players (gone are the halcyon days when Botham, Garner and Richards would return to Taunton between international matches).  If they control the teams too, they will gain control over another 100 players.

On players, consider how the ECB and other country boards control their contracted players. Within the past few days Nottinghamshire have lost the services of Quinton de Kock, recalled by Cricket South Africa, reported here;  last season we at Somerset experienced the same situation when Fakhar Zaman was engaged but recalled almost mid-flight by the Pakistan Cricket Board.  Who will control the players at what time during the season?  Looking at the Kia Women’s Super League, the centrally contracted players and the initial tranche of overseas players were allocated to franchises; will the franchises control how many games “their” players play before their season?  International players are already semi-detached from their counties (however much Somerset supporters may miss Jos Buttler, how often does he play at Old Trafford?).  If they move seamlessly from international to franchise cricket does the county registration have any meaning, value or future?

Looking at another aspect, will those grounds blessed with a franchise will need more pitches on their square? They will, in theory, be holding at least an additional seven matches, albeit short ones, in a short period.  Will their demands for time for pitches to recover bend the regular domestic season out of shape or will there pitches just be more heavily used?  As all the franchise matches will be televised, the franchise pitches will have to be in line with camera positions; will other matches be played further to each side, distorting the size of the boundaries?

About me: 

I was born in Musgrove Park Hospital in the late 1950s and lived in Cheddon Road throughout my life in Taunton. I went to North Town Infants School, travelling by the 272 or 273 bus to Flook House.  Subsequently I went to Thone and Taunton School before moving to London when I went to university.

I used to sit on the grass on the boundary edge having always entered from the Priory Bridge gate; the Main Entrance was far too intimidating for a shy boy like me! I have really clear memories of the 1966 and 1967 seasons in particular (1968 was very disappointing).  A team with Roy Virgin, Graham Atkinson, Mervyn Kitchen, Bill Alley, Peter Robinson, Graham Burgess, captained by Colin Atkinson, Clayton kept wicket, Ken and Roy Palmer, Brian Langford, Fred Rumsey all appeared to be cemented into the team so are the names I remember.  That team finished third in the Championship in ‘66 and reached the final of the Gillette Cup next year, losing to Kent – I was devastated but Kent had a fine team then.

I have a number of player autographs, both Somerset players and visiting ones. My father’s GP surgery was that nearest to the ground, in Church Square, so many minor injuries arrived there.