So after months of round-table discussions, votes and debate, the 2012 County season has been decided upon. Nearly. While the One-Day competition (likely to remain as a 40 over effort) is yet to recieve a shape, we now know that the twenty20 has been reduced from 16 to 10 pool matches, but the holy grail of the County Championship is untouched with two divisions and sixteen games a side.
Deciding upon the format has been a touchy subject, as there are a number of issues to juggle. More games (specifically more T20 games) means more people coming through the gate, and as such, more money for the counties. In the week when plenty of counties have announced big losses over the past year, reducing the T20 group stage is a big decision. T20 cricket is where the money is, and the counties tried to cash in with the elongated competition, hoping to recreate the success of the IPL in the county game. However, the vast amount of games that needed to be played just lent itself to overkill, and apathy from the crowds, which in many places were down on the year before. Players were tired, fans were bored, and while the golden goose hadn't been killed, the eggs that it produced certainly lacked the sheen of the much loved twenty20 Cup.
While the T20 competition won't be raking in as much money as the IPL (it won't do that without a TV company willing to show 3 games a day) the 2012 effort will certainly go someway towards getting more people cumatively through the gates, as well as massively increasing the quality of cricket (which was low last year due to the very tired and demotivated players).
The big news is that the County Championship is untouched, with two divisions of nine each playing 16 games. While attendances will be low for CC games, they'd be low whether counties played 16 games, 160 games, or 1.6 games (don't ask how they could play that many). But ultimately, County Cricket is the breeding ground for international cricketers, and the ECB needs to decide whether the County structure is to be used as a money-making exercise, or as a place where test quality players can be created. Luckily, they've gone for the right option, which is for a solid County Championship. While this may not please smaller counties hoping to maximise their incomes, with prudent management they should be OK, and the financial packages offered by the ECB will go someway to appease them.
The county structure will never suit everyone, as there are far too many counties who all want different things to please. However, this announcement from the ECB shows their commitment to the County Championship, which rightly has been given precedence above the money-spinning T20. While the T20 can bring in the big bucks, the County Championship has to be the pinnacle of English cricket, so as such, the ECB have made the right decision. Eventually.