Visiting captains will again be given the option of bowling first without a toss in both divisions of the Specsavers County Championship in 2017, after the ECB Board today ratified a recommendation from the Cricket Committee to retain the playing condition for a second year.
The regulation generated headlines, and some controversy, when it was announced last autumn, with the stated aim of encouraging home counties to produce better four-day pitches – within which was a goal of restoring the balance of matches to include spin, but a more general aim of reinforcing the Championship’s role in preparing players for the challenges of international cricket.
The Cricket Committee – which included Yorkshire’s director of cricket Martyn Moxon, Leicestershire’s chief executive Wasim Khan and David Leatherdale, the chief executive of the Professional Cricketers’ Association – decided that it had succeeded in those objectives after studying a range of data comparing the 2016 season with what had gone before.
Key statistics included:
- 85% of matches went into a fourth day, compared to 74% in 2015 – the 2016 figure was the highest percentage since 2009;
- The average score for the first innings of a match was 332, slightly up from 325 in 2015 and the highest in the last five years;
- The average score for the second innings of a match was 343, well up from 290 in 2015, and again the highest in the last five years;
- A total of 10,094 overs of spin, compared to 8,643 in 2015 – the highest since 2011;
- A total of 843 wickets taken by spin in 2016, up from 752 in 2015;
- Of these, 545 were in Division One, meaning spinners took almost 26% of all wickets;
- Warwickshire’s Jeetan Patel and Somerset’s Jack Leach were the leading wicket-takers in Division One, with 69 and 65 respectively – the first time since 2009 that spinners have occupied the top two positions;
- 50 out of 72 matches in Division One had a toss – meaning the visiting captain declined the option of bowling first without a toss;
- The figure for Division Two was 38 out of 70 (two matches were abandoned without a ball being bowled), producing a total of 88 out of 142 – 62%;
- 71 of the 142 matches in both divisions were drawn, discounting the two abandoned matches, meaning there was a positive result in the other 71 – whereas in 2015, there were 93 results and only 51 draws.
Peter Wright, the chairman of the Cricket Committee, said: “In many ways the statistics merely reinforced the feeling we had been picking up around the game throughout the summer, that the experiment was working in beginning to rebalance the game.
“As we stressed when we introduced the new options for visiting captains, this was not all about spin. We wanted matches to last longer, and to become more thorough preparation for international cricket.
“That meant better, four-day pitches, which would mean bowlers had to work harder to take wickets, and would encourage a greater variety of bowling, whether spin in its various forms, genuine pace or reverse swing from more abrasive pitches.
“The significant increase in the number of matches that went into a fourth day therefore has to be welcomed, and the fact that the majority of visiting captains declined the option of bowling first is also a step in the right direction – especially when the statistics include a fair few from the early weeks of the season, when captains may have been conditioned to want to bowl first.
“The increase in the number of draws will not be welcomed by everyone, but it is worth noting that a fair proportion of those matches were rain-affected, in some cases on the last day when they were building towards positive finishes. And a drawn match does not mean a boring one, as anyone who watched the televised game between Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire at Trent Bridge will recall.”
Peter Such, the ECB’s Lead Spin Coach who was a leading advocate for the experiment, added: “Even after one season, I think we can already see that the change to the toss regulation has had a positive impact on spin bowling – from the number of overs bowled, and wickets taken.
“More encouraging has been the positive influence that some spinners had on the outcome of matches - spin contributed strongly to a number of wins and a number of young spin bowlers had the opportunity to bowl and learn from those much-needed matchplay overs.
“A number of these spin bowlers will be heading overseas on the various programmes under our International Pathway this winter to continue their development.
“I’m delighted that this positive and brave initiative is going to continue - it will take a while longer for the true impact to be seen in terms of further advancing spin bowling within our game.”
ECB Cricket Committee members, 2016: Peter Wright (Chairman), Alan Fordham (ECB Head of Cricket Operations), Steve Garrett (First Class Umpires), David Leatherdale (Professional Cricketers’ Association Chief Executive), Martyn Moxon (Yorkshire Director of Cricket), Wasim Khan (Leicestershire Chief Executive), Daryl Mitchell (Worcestershire), Tom Harrison (ECB Chief Executive Officer), Andrew Strauss (Director, England Cricket).