Charlie Randall writes about Bob Willis expressing his disapproval over the English county system in the October edition of Wisden Cricketer. I haven’t laid my hands on the magazine yet, so am going by what Charlie has reported.
Willis believes that county cricket is no place for ex-international players like Graeme Hick, Mark Ramprakash and Dominic Cork; so-called English players like Nic Pothas and Stuart Law; and the crowd of Kolpaks and overseas players.
Willis argues that these players clog up county cricket and this acts against the interest of the national side. Which may perhaps be true, but then the question begs: What is the role of the counties in English cricket?
Are they supposed to be feeders to the national team? Are they like local government departments, set up with the objective of fulfilling the national vision of building a consistently successful national team? In that case, are the counties non-profit organizations supported in funding and organization by the ECB? If so, they can perhaps be told to operate with allocated team members, transferable through a centralised decision-making.
Or are the counties expected to exist on their own? Like private enterprises, with an eye on profit and maximising available resources? With contribution to the national cause akin to a corporate planting trees and building traffic islands at busy intersections?
I do not claim an inside knowledge of the English county system, but I reckon that the latter of the two cases above is closer to the truth. And in such a case, as the man running a county, I would be well within my rights to choose whoever I can to maximise the returns to my county, wouldn’t I?
Sure, developing a national player would increase the fortunes of my county. But at what cost and risk? If I can get a not-so-expensive fading star and the odd Kolpak or overseas player at a throwaway price and produce the results, why shouldn’t I? If the argument is that my team is not performing, then it’s a different matter. But, and apologies for sounding brutal here, why should I care about the English national team? If Ottis Gibson delivers for me (and how he has for Durham this year!), how does it matter to me that he will never turn out in English national colours? If Graeme Hick still draws the crowds at Grace Road, why would I not take him on instead of betting on a newcomer of unproven stock? And if Adil Rashid looks shaky to me (and he does, in the odd game I’ve seen him in Yorkshire colours), why would I be constrained to hold on to him when I can get a good spinner from Asia at a much lower cost?
I have deliberately taken an extreme position, but so has Bob Willis. If he is arguing for a governmental organization, I am arguing for a free market private sector. And county cricket seems to be a bit of both – which is perhaps the nub of the problem.