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Rob Key: Does County Cricket make England’s batting hopefuls worse?


I

am hearing a lot about the domestic schedule this summer and particularly the lack of red-ball cricket in high summer being the reason for England’s Test batting order being awfully weak, with the honourable exception of Joe Root.

I agree, to some extent, the schedule is a problem. But I think there is a bigger question here: after years of poor decision-making in the county system, are England batters actually worse for playing Championship cricket?

Bear with me. Firstly, England’s batsmen came into the series against New Zealand in June with seven or eight Championship matches under their belts. And nearly all of them looked hopelessly out of nick. Even Root looked out of form (which he never does), and has admitted it was actually ODI cricket that helped him find his touch for this series.

Secondly, look at the state of England’s batting line-up. For two years, they have invested in players like Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley and Ollie Pope, and now none of them are in the side. Only Rory Burns remains, and his position is becoming less certain.

Instead, they are turning to players who have not played any Championship cricket, and are finding they shape up better for it. Jonny Bairstow is looking good, so too Moeen Ali and Jos Buttler at Lord’s.

I think playing Championship cricket can actually have a detrimental effect. Based purely on county form in recent years, Sibley and Rory Burns are the right opening pair for England. But look what happens when they get to Test level: 37 per cent of their partnerships have not made it beyond the second over. They have shared nine ducks this year. Their techniques get picked apart by bowlers as quickly as they do by pundits.

So at the moment I’m not sure it actually matters what format is played in domestic cricket in July, or around the Test matches, because Championship cricket won’t help anyway.

It is time the ECB listened to players such as Root and Alastair Cook — the last two world-class batters we have produced — who say that county pitches are not good enough.

For too long, Championship cricket has rewarded the trundler, and the wrong type of cricket. The players who thrive are seamers whose age (forties) and bowling speed (sixties) are far too close together. It does not resemble Test cricket in the slightest.


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