“Embracing Change” In The County Championship : A “Diehard” Writes

The Cricketer magazine runs a regular feature called “The Soapbox : Go on, get it off your chest“, in which readers are invited to e-mail in with their opinions about county cricket.  This month’s contribution is from a young man who describes himself as being “23, York”.

His suggestion is that the current system of points-scoring in the County Championship is too complex and that it should be replaced by a system whereby four points are awarded for a win, none for a defeat and for a draw he has this to say

“I propose one point for a draw but with an additional point on offer for the team that gains a first-innings lead.”

There is something to be said for this proposal.  As he says “this would not affect the overall standings to any great degree“.  The final table usually results in the sides being arranged in the order of matches won, which is how it should be.  The problem, I think, with the proposal is that it offers insufficient incentive for County Captains, who are cautious beasts these days at the best of times, to risk defeat in pursuit of a win, the differential between the draw and the win being too small.

My difficulty with this piece lies in the final paragraph:

“It may go against what has gone before and, in a competition so steeped in tradition, this will probably upset a lot of diehards … maybe it is time for us to leave the old points system behind and embrace change.  The game is developing all the time; surely such a simple thing as point scoring can move forward as well.”

The bonus points system as we now know it (with numerous tweaks along the way) was first introduced in the 1969 season (coinciding with the introduction of overseas players, the John Player League and the reduction of the Championship).  Before that there had been any number of attempts to produce a scoring system that encouraged attractive cricket and achieved a fair reflection of the sides’ abilities and achievements in the final table.

According to Roy Webber’s ‘The County Cricket Championship’ (1958) there were fifteen changes in the rules between 1873 and 1957.  What all but a few of them had in common was the award of points for a first innings lead (sometimes kept if the side ultimately lost, sometimes lost).  The system being proposed is closest to that in force between 1911 and 1914 and again between 1924 and 1926, when the points awarded were five for a win, three for a first innings lead and one for a draw.  After that the authorities recognised the problem noted above (insufficient incentive to win) and increased the points awarded for a victory.

I appreciate that it might appear to a 23-year old that a system introduced 22 years before he was born had been in place for ever.  I do find it strange that he believes that somewhere out there there are “diehards” nursing a strong emotional attachment to bonus points (indeed, the more reactionary amongst us would be only too glad of a return to 1911).

The real pity of it is that he feels obliged to bolster his perfectly sound argument with this wearisome rhetoric of “embracing change” and “moving forward“.  (In the world of cricket this is often accompanied by railings against a ghostly “establishment”, as though dear old Gubby and Plum were still on the thrones at the MCC.)  I sometimes fear that there is a generation that has imbibed this kind of stuff with their mother’s milk and think that no argument is complete without some reference to“embracing change” and that with it no further argument is necessary.

In cricket, as in life, there is no “change”, only changes which should be embraced or pushed rudely away according to their merits.  And sometimes the changes to be embraced involve not “moving forward” but going backwards, perhaps – as the young man from York is unknowingly proposing – as far back as 1911.

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