London: Geoffrey Boycott has said he fears English domestic first-class country cricket could die within 20 years.
After England’s recent 4-0 Ashes series loss in Australia, many pundits accused the governing England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) of marginalising four-day County Championship matches, which are supposed to prepare players for Tests, by scheduling fixtures at the start and end of the summer rather than at the height of a season where Twenty20 fixtures now predominate.
Boycott, an outstanding opening batsman for both Yorkshire and England, said the standard of the county game had declined significantly since he retired more than 30 years ago.
“I haven’t played county cricket since 1986. But when I have seen county cricket –- and I was on the board at Yorkshire for seven years until 2011, and then I did the presidency until 2013, so I saw a lot — I do think the standard is poorer,” Boycott, who witnessed England’s Ashes debacle in his role as a television commentator, told the Cricketer magazine.
“Since more international cricket was introduced – since seven Tests came in (to an English season in 2000 rather than five or six), and 10 ODIs (one-day internationals), and two T20Is… international players have not played for their counties as much, and that must have lessened the standard,” the 77-year-old insisted.
Apart from England players’ increased international commitments, leading overseas cricketers can now play in lucrative Twenty20 franchise tournaments such as the Indian Premier League that clash with a county season which once had a free-run in attracting the sport’s most talented players.
Boycott, recalling a career that saw him score more than 8,000 runs in 108 Tests, including 22 centuries, while at the same time churning out hundreds for Yorkshire, said: “When I played, we had 17 counties, 16 home and away matches, 32 three-day matches.
– ‘Great overseas players’ –
“I only missed, at the most, 10. So any England player like me played two-thirds of his cricket for his county, so the county game stayed strong,” explained Boycott, a superb defensive batsman who scored 151 first-class centuries in a 22-year career.
“Because there was also not so much international cricket, each county had two truly great overseas players, Joel Garner and Viv Richards were at Somerset; Nottinghamshire had Richard Hadlee and Clive Rice; Hampshire had Malcolm Marshall, Barry Richards and Gordon Greenidge,” said Boycott, with Yorkshire the exception at the time as they maintained a policy, since abandoned, of picking only Yorkshire-born players.
“The England players were playing, and the overseas players were top-notch.
“Of course there is the odd class one (overseas player), like Kumar Sangakkara at Surrey (the Sri Lanka great was in prolific run-scoring form for The Oval-based side last season before retiring from the first-class game), but 17 counties used to have two each like that.
“James Vince (the Hampshire and England batsman who struggled to convert promising starts in Australia into major scores) would not have faced someone as good as Marshall in the nets…
“On top of that, the ECB relegated (four-day) county cricket to right at the beginning of the season, in April, and right at the end, and gives the prime time to T20, so they are saying to everyone, it’s not important. Is it any wonder the standard is poorer?”
Boycott warned: “I don’t see what chance county cricket has got –- eventually you can’t see it surviving. It might be after I have gone, 20, 30 years, I don’t know.”