(Photo: Getty Images)
By Roderick Easdale
FORMER Governor of the Bank of England and President of Worcestershire CCC, Mervyn King has warned that ‘The Hundred’ competition risks reducing the talent pool of players coming into the game.
To prevent this, he wants each franchise to be given a strong local element “so that, for example, the Birmingham-based one would bid for its overseas players and then draw their remaining players from Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Derbyshire or wherever.”
He sees commercial advantage to this, as people in Worcester-shire and Derbyshire would have a connection to one of the new sides when all the franchises are having to create their own identity and supporter base. But he also views local recruitment as protecting the county academies, many of which could wither otherwise due to The Hundred.
“Say you are a Worcestershire player and get bought by the Southampton-based franchise. As you are already spending a great chunk of the season in another part of the country, the rational lifestyle decision would be to join the county in which the franchise ground is situated.”
“My county Worcestershire basically has ten of their former academy players and an overseas player who turn out for us. People currently come to this academy as it is well organised and Worcestershire gives first team opportunities to those who have come through their academy.”
If franchises recruit by an auction then “you are not going to give the same opportunities to youngsters as there are now,” he believes, “as other counties won’t have the incentive to maintain their academies, nor will people have a good incentive to go to these academies.
“Many England Test players have come through academies which are not in the big cities or at the favoured counties,” he adds. But he sees this route to the England side being lost if players are not given a good reason to join or remain with the non-franchised counties, especially as players joining a franchised county may well “do better there in the championship, as they will know the conditions and are likely to have better facilities for practising and playing. The danger is that these franchise grounds will hoover up the best players for county cricket as well.”
The franchises will be based at eight of the nine recent test match grounds, with Durham losing out – another blow to the county which the ECB’s predecessor had told could only join the county championship if it built a ground capable to hosting test cricket.
Lord King has sympathy for Durham. “But if you have franchises based in Leeds and Manchester do you really want one in Durham as well? The ECB made a serious mistake in encouraging Durham and Cardiff to be test-match grounds when it was never going to be viable. Southampton is somewhat different as there they have built their facilities in such a way there is a good catchment area.”
“Spectators want high-quality facilities and grounds need the guarantee of test matches into the future to be able to afford the investment in the facilities and so I cannot see the case for more than six test-match grounds – and we already had them: two in the South, two in the Midlands and two in the North.”
“There is some responsibility among the ECB to find a way through this as it was they who encouraged Durham to become a test-match ground. Some of the aspirations were too optimistic in the commercial sense. Durham have done a tremendous job building a county team and providing players for England.
“But what hasn’t been a success story there or anywhere is getting a large numbers of people to pay money to watch a four-day game and having test matches in Durham in the early part of the season when the weather is at its most risky made absolutely no sense at all.”
Lord King, together with Duncan Fearnley and Mark Nicholas, founded Chance to Shine to bring cricket into state schools. So far about four million children have come through the programme, about one half of them girls. He seems well qualified then to judge how well The Hundred will appeal to its target demographic. He believes it can succeed.
“Partly it will be atmosphere and hype but the way to maximise people identifying with the franchises is to have a local element.”