More points to prove
In the first of a three-part Championship special our experts assess the state of English cricket.
Last Updated: 05/04/10 2:26pm
Bigger, sharper, brighter - the message is clear: cricket has never been better on Sky Sports!
skysports.com's experts will be here throughout the season to give you the low down on what should be a cracking summer of coverage that includes matches in High Definition.
They'll have their work cut out though, because as well as showing all of England's home Tests, one-day internationals and Twenty20 matches, Sky Sports will broadcast at least 69 county cricket fixtures live - our biggest summer yet!
Throw in the World Twenty20, England's one-day international series against Australia and Pakistan's 'home' series against Australia and it should be a scorcher.
But first things first! As a new English domestic season dawns, skysports.com caught up with Nasser Hussain, Bob Willis, David 'Bumble' Lloyd, Nick Knight and Paul Allott to get their thoughts on the season ahead.
In the first of our three-part special, we get their thoughts on the state of the domestic game...
skysports.com: Championship victories were rather few and far between last season. With 16 points now on offer for a win rather than 14, can we expect to see more positive cricket?
Bumble: I'm a big believer in getting rewarded for winning matches. The danger is that the home teams might prepare pitches to suit themselves so watch out the pitch inspectors!
Nasser: I agree with Bumble but would have liked to see the number of batting points raised from five to six because I don't think enough double hundreds are scored in our game at either county or international level. Giving batsmen an extra incentive might help the young lads coming through to focus on scoring big first-innings runs.
Bob: Bonus points are always the thorny issue. Personally, I think they are a complete waste of time because the system doesn't mirror the Test match environment. The purpose of four-day cricket is surely to produce Test match cricketers. However, the men in suits think bonus points enhance the excitement of the four-day game.
Nick: This is not meant to be a negative comment in any way but I'm glad points are still on offer for a draw, all be it one less than in previous years. I think there is a bit more resilience in English cricket these days. Although it's imperative you try to win a game, if you can't get into that position it is so important that you don't lose so there should be some encouragement for battling to the bitter end.
Paul: On a broader scale I can't see anyone challenging Durham with their strength in depth so this points change will probably play into their hands. They won more games than anyone else last season and it looks as though they will this time around. Having said that, if they do win more games than anyone else they are going to win anyway!
skysports.com: Given how much the cricketing landscape has changed in recent years, tweaking the points system does not seem too revolutionary! Does the Championship need more radical change?
Bob: I'd like to see a three-division County Championship with six teams in each playing 10 meaningful games a season. I fear, however, that the previously-mentioned gentleman in suits are conjuring up a dreaded three-tier conference structure for 2011. That would allow them to reduce the number of matches from 16 to 12 so they can cram in even more Twenty20 games and adjust the season so guys can play in the IPL and Champions League. But the thought of Durham playing Glamorgan and Leicestershire seems to defeat the whole object of what we are trying to achieve.
Bumble: My ideal world is slightly different from Bob's! I'd have two divisions of 10 teams playing nine games each over the season. That would mean inviting Scotland and Ireland (pictured, above) to take part. One team plays at home one season, then the following year you turn it around. I don't think I'm alone in thinking we are still playing far too much cricket. We have a chief executive's fixture list at present!
Nasser: I definitely want to see the amount of cricket reduced but I also want to watch competitive cricket. I'm not a fan of having a three-division conference system with the top three and best-placed runner-up going through to semi-finals. I prefer a promotion and demotion system.
Paul: The overall mix is right this season in terms of the number of competitions - in other words the Championship, Twenty20 and a 40-over competition. If that's what the counties want, that's fine. There is still too much cricket though and the ECB are in danger of killing the goose that laid the golden egg in terms of the amount of Twenty20 cricket that's on offer and the overall number of days cricket we have. These days players have almost as little time off as they did when I finished playing 20-odd years ago. That isn't progress as far as I'm concerned.Bumble: Everybody is moving away from 50-over cricket; around the world we are seeing a trend of moving to 40 and 45 overs. I don't feel too strongly on that either way but I do feel we missed a massive trick by not setting up an EPL in this country - but again that's all to do with chief executives.
skysports.com: The ECB has tightened its eligibility rules to reduce the number of overseas and Kolpak players in county cricket. Does this add to our game or detract from it?
Paul: I'm a firm believer in trying to get as many English-qualified players playing for counties as possible, so I applaud this move. I don't have a problem per se with players coming from outside the UK to qualify - it's always happened and I don't see why it should be any different these days.
Bumble: This has to be good for home-grown talent. Why not make it dead simple though, and say you have to include nine England-qualified players in your team? The other two can be from Timbuktu as far as I am concerned!
Nick: Overseas players should be your star players: end of story. The best-of-the-best bring a lot to the dressing room and the players around them. I don't see the point of including average overseas players at the expense of good youngsters who could be promoted from the second XI. I'm not in favour of developing emerging cricketers from other countries and sending them back as improved players.
Nasser: I am not against selecting two high-quality, international overseas players per side - one for two or three months of a season and one for the rest. What I don't like is turning up at a ground and seeing eight or nine 'foreign' players in a side. I like the system at Essex where the cricket committee sit down and try to play a certain number of home-grown players. That surely has got to be the right way otherwise what is the point of all these cricket academies?
Bob: Will the day come when a county takes the field without an overseas player? I hope so! When I played in the Warwickshire Championship-winning side of 1972 (pictured, above) we had four West Indian overseas players - Rohan Kanhai, Alvin Kallicharran, Derek Murray and Lance Gibbs. For years Hampshire had Gordon Greenidge and Barry Richards. The argument always was that this would improve the standard of the England players. In fact, I don't think it has improved the standard at all. Take Hampshire as an example. If you remove Robin and Chris Smith (who learnt their cricket in South Africa) from the side, the only Test player the county produced for England was Paul Terry - and he played twice. That to me is irrefutable evidence that the overseas player system does not work.
Cap in hand
skysports.com: How effective can a salary cap of £1.8m be in curbing what appears to be a growing financial divide between the richest and poorest counties in our game?
Paul: Salary caps are all well and good but the ingenuity of organisations to get around them is well-documented. I'm not a great fan of capping salaries - I think all that does is encourage mediocrity across the board.
Nasser: My message is simple: reward good players. I have no problem paying Mark Ramprakash, Graeme Hick or Mushtaq Ahmed good money for what they've done over the last decade. However, there are a few cricketers out there at present who being paid beyond what they have actually delivered and it puts them under pressure. It's a double-edged sword really - enjoy it while you can, but make sure you deliver.
Bob: One has sympathy for the smaller counties because we either see them posting a loss or miniscule profit whereas a county like Surrey, who have been appalling on the field for two or three seasons now, have a whacking big profit because they host Ashes Test matches. I'm afraid that's the way of the world.
Nick: I'm going to be quite hard-nosed on this. As the years go by I think division one will become a very, very competitive division and division two will be more for emerging players. I'm not against that happening, to be honest. I do feel sorry for the clubs that don't have the means, of course I do. But in terms of developing a better England team we have to see the better English players playing against each other more often to aid their development.
Bumble: The one thing I'd add is that one of the reasons we've had so many Kolpak players in our game is because of salary caps in other parts of the world.
Watch out for the next instalment in our preview series when our experts will reveal their tips for the division two title - and plenty more besides...!
Don't forget - this season matches will be screened live online via Sky Player, which is available via skysports.com, plus Sky Mobile TV which is available on selected 3G networks.