This year’s thrilling County Championship season managed to present one final surprise even after the last over had been bowled and Middlesex crowned worthy winners of a hugely competitive championship. With Hampshire seemingly relegated to Division Two of the County Championship, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) announced that their place would be taken by Durham in exchange for the North East county receiving a financial rescue package from the ECB following years of commercial struggle.
Durham were also forced to accept a series of heavy points penalties for next year’s competitions, effectively meaning they will spend at least two seasons in England’s second tier as well as severely limiting their chances to progress in next year’s cup competitions. In addition, they had their right to host England Test matches rescinded, yet another financial blow to a club in need of every penny.
While the ECB and the likes of former England captain turned pundit Michael Vaughan have described it as “a warning” to other counties, the scale of the punishment imposed has left many commentators and those involved with Durham questioning the severity of the sanctions and whether they are really fair. Durham captain Paul Collingwood has called the sanctions as “a kick in the teeth.”
Even a biased observer would have to remark upon the apparent hypocrisy of the ECB with much of Durham’s trouble stemming from their efforts to make their Riverside ground a Test venue, a move heavily pushed by the ECB hierarchy. If the Board want to encourage the spread of cricket throughout England, rather than heavily limiting international cricket matches to the south, then surely they should take some responsibility when this leads clubs like Durham into financial difficulty?
Likewise, the development of cricket across the North East should surely be a priority for the ECB, especially given both the popularity of the sport in the region and the plethora of English-qualified talent emerging at Durham? The likes of Ben Stokes and Mark Wood have shown their value to the English international set-up already and Keaton Jennings and Scott Borthwick have developed into potential England players while plying their trade at the Riverside. Alongside these current and potential future internationals, Durham also have a host of promising young players working their way up through the club’s youth and Second XI teams.
Looking at how much Durham can potentially contribute to thriving England international squads over the next few years, the fact that they have contrived to limit the amount and the standard of cricket they will have the opportunity to play seems more and more like somebody at the ECB has turned a gun on their own foot and pulled the trigger. Once again it would seem that the ECB have turned their focus to the southern counties at the expense of the rest of English cricket and particularly at the expense of the national squads who are potentially going to miss out on the development of the next Ben Stokes, Mark Wood, Paul Collingwood or Steve Harmison.
If the ECB truly believes that its mission is to facilitate the growth of cricket across the length and breadth of England at both an elite and grassroots level, and simulataneously give fans the chance to see high quality cricket at an affordable price, then their decision over how to sanction Durham defies sense. In Durham, the ECB have a county where interest in cricket is enormous; player development is increasingly productive and has the potential to turn out at least four more international quality players, and where there was genuine opportunity to develop the game.
Instead of seizing this chance, they have done their best to cripple Durham’s progress and consign them to a lengthy rebuilding process. Someone, somewhere should hang their head in shame.
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