Mick Newell has urged the English game to resist the temptation to restructure the County Championship into conferences.
Newell, director of cricket at Nottinghamshire (and, for now at least, an England selector), has instead pleaded for the ECB to persist with promotion and relegation and suggested the reorganisation into conferences would only allow mediocre sides to “hide” in mid-table without the scrutiny that relegation can bring.
His comments come just as the ECB announced a working party, chaired by Wasim Khan, charged with looking into the future structure of the domestic game. And while no conclusions have yet been reached, it is clear the popularity of the conference idea is growing among coaches at the first-class counties.
They argue that it would lessen the urge to make short-term decisions – such as preferring Kolpak registrations over opportunities for young players – and reinvigorate the competition by providing all teams involved an opportunity to win the trophy at the start of the season.
But Newell, at least, is not convinced. As a coach that twice led Nottinghamshire to the County Championship trophy (in 2005 and 2010) and also oversaw relegation (in 2006, 2016), he feels the meritocratic element of two divisions – and the drama the battle that promotion and relegation brings – is an integral part of the domestic structure.
“I love two-divisional cricket,” Newell said. “We’ve been relegated and it hurts. I don’t know why it hurts so much as there’s no financial penalty, but it makes you look at what you do. People either lose their jobs, or they change jobs – as I did – and players have to look at themselves, too.
“The popularity of the conference idea is definitely growing. But I’m not a fan. In a conference system, we can all just hide in the middle and be like, ‘oh, we were twelfth’. To me that’s not good enough.”
Newell also revived the idea of playing a couple of rounds of Championship games overseas. With many counties spending their pre-season in the UAE, South Africa or the Caribbean, he believes there is an opportunity to play some games in March in conditions that might encourage spin or fast bowling. He accepted, however, that the idea had all but gone in terms of being implemented.
“A few years ago there was talk of taking a couple of rounds overseas,” he said. “I think, for lots of reasons, that’s a bloomin’ good idea. If we’ve only got time and space for 14 rounds of Championship matches here, why don’t we play two abroad and go back to 16? That’s a method of getting more games in the space available. But that idea seems to have gone.
“I’m all for playing abroad. I don’t know about this year, but generally 12 to 13 counties are going abroad in March anyway. Why don’t we play proper cricket instead of knockabouts against each-other?
“We went to Barbados for six years in a row and one year there were six teams there. We’re all spending the money in one way or another already and there’s more money coming into the game. Let’s make sure we target some of that money in making sure four-day cricket so important.
“But the idea has gone. We’re moving towards a conference system. I’ve made my thoughts known but I’m in a minority.”
Newell also welcomed the ECB’s proposals for a new 100-ball competition in 2020. “It’s certainly grabbed people’s attention,” he said. “It’s an idea that will spark a lot of debate and I want people to talk about cricket.
“My worry is that cricket isn’t relevant to people, isn’t interesting to people. We need to get more people interested in more types of cricket. So, from that perspective, I think it’s a good idea.”