Last month, I took a quick glance over the ECB Performance Review commissioned by Andrew Strauss. Whilst a lot of was deliberately vague and didn’t really address some of the broader issues impacting the domestic game (ie. The Hundred), some of the thoughts on the One Day Cup did catch my eye.
There were three ideas proposed. Make the group stage shorter, play more knockout cricket, and move the tournament to April. Each of these looks a good idea (though the latter would mean playing The Hundred and the County Championship simultaneously, which may or may not be a better compromise…).
The trouble with having 18 First-Class counties is that it doesn’t lead itself well to an effective tournament design. Eighteen teams can be divided into two group of 9, which leads to long group stages, or three groups of six, which results in awkward repechage conditions to arrive at a knockout stage.
Perhaps the solution is to increase the number of teams in the One Day Cup to 20. This of course means finding new teams, but that shouldn’t be hard to do. Previous editions of the One Day Cup have included invitational teams from Ireland, Scotland, The Netherlands, and a Minor County Select XI known as the Unicorns. Any two of these would be ideal to bring the total up to an easier-to-work-with number.
Or we could get more creative – ahead of their next World Cup campaign, why not give England U19s some extra high-level match practice in the One Day Cup? Or include the South Asian Cricket Academy (SACA), whose purpose is to break down the barriers preventing British South Asians from reaching professional cricket and have been frequently beating County 2nd XIs despite a tiny budget?
(N.B. we’re up to 24 teams if all these suggestions were included, which is also an easy to work with number, but we’ll stick with 20 for now. Basically, there are options.)
With 20 teams, we can now divide the teams into four groups of five. This would mean a single round-robin in each group providing four games per team, before moving to the knockouts. A double round robin would mean 8 games, which is no shorter than what we have now.
But eliminating teams after four games is not going to help players develop their skills in the 50 over game, and is not going to provide a representative picture for selectors. Therefore, we need to get creative without the knockouts.
Let’s not eliminate any team, but instead, sort them into brackets at the end of the group stage. The top two in each of the 4 groups would advance to the quarterfinals for the cup. The quarterfinals would be played, with the winners advancing to the semi-finals as normal. The losing quarterfinalists would play in playoffs for 5th through 8th place. A third-place playoff would be contested between the two losing semifinalists.
The same could be repeated for the teams finishing 3rd and 4th in their groups, leading to a playoff bracket contesting 9th through 16th places, and perhaps the awarding of a Plate Trophy. The teams finishing 5th in their group could play for 17th through 20th place through knockouts or a round-robin, providing a further two or three games.
This means every team plays three ‘knockout’ games each, for a total of 7 games per team per season. Every team would also have a finishing position between 1st and 20th, which could be incentivised by prize money to encourage teams to keep playing to win, even if they are out of the running for a trophy.
This therefore fits the brief – a shorter tournament, with fewer group stage games and more knockouts, applying stakes to every game. With every team getting seven matches each, this gives opportunity for players to make their case to selectors, but doesn’t create a draw out tournament.
What say, Andrew Strauss?