County Championship 2022 – Gareth Batty warns against ‘celebrity cricket’ as county restructuring looms over Surrey’s ti


On the day Surrey secured their 21st County Championship, head coach Gareth Batty urged the ECB to ensure the proposed changes to the domestic structure were for the better and not just to facilitate what he called “celebrity cricket”.

Thursday morning saw the publishing of the men’s High-Performance Review, led by Andrew Strauss, which suggested a new-look red-ball structure with a top division of six teams, among 17 recommendations put forward. Around five hours later, Surrey had beaten Yorkshire by ten wickets to confirm themselves as winners of what could be the penultimate season of a 10-team Division One.

The restructuring of the County Championship and changes to the T20 Blast are the only two of the 17 proposals that can be voted on and will require a two-thirds majority in a ballot of the 18 counties. Any changes agreed upon would only come into effect from 2024 onwards.

Batty, in his first season as head coach, while appreciating the desire to look at the current set-up, is wary of alterations to the domestic game that may be done to create more space for the Hundred and franchise competitions. The proposed restructuring would reduce the number of top-flight first-class fixtures from 14 to 10, which he believes will cause English cricket to lose a unique point of difference.

“I think it would diminish the emotion a little bit,” he said of the proposed cuts. “Because it’s built up for so long, and over that period of time there are lots of different emotions, and [they] end up being one big one once you get over the line, like today.

“I think we’ve got to be very careful that we don’t lose too many games,” he added. “That’s our one positive, that we play an amount of cricket. Our England players hopefully don’t play that much, so they are fresh to play for England, but ultimately county cricket is here to serve an England team. We don’t want to miss any players by playing less and less and less, and getting it the wrong way round. A lot of Aussies, a lot of overseas players, want to come here and play cricket, because they don’t get as much.

“I just hope that we’re doing it for the greater good of the game, not to keep celebrity cricket alive. I want it to be for the greater good of cricket.”

Batty’s sentiments were echoed by Surrey’s captain, Rory Burns, fresh from marshalling a second successful Championship campaign in five seasons.

“I personally think it would be too short. I don’t think there would be enough games to get the required result and integrity into a County Championship season,” Burns said. “All the scheduling stuff, and fixtures and those sorts of thing, it is a fine balance. County Cricket is essentially for the betterment of the England Test team and the England side, so yeah, I agree it needs to be looked at. But 10 is too few.”

For now, though, Surrey can celebrate manoeuvring successfully through a schedule that had none of its usual rhythm. Burns noted the oddity of having to bide his time for these final four games of the season following the break in July as the Hundred took over the schedule for August. But they have maintained consistency throughout, and travel to Lancashire next week with an unbeaten record to secure.

In another season, the use of 22 players in the Championship would have a feel of disarray. But with the odd injury and England call-ups, opportunities have been shared around the players, including youngsters like 19-year-old Tom Lawes who performed well through the Yorkshire match with four first-innings wickets and a valuable 15 not out.

With one game of the season remaining, 12 Surrey players currently boast a batting average of 40 or higher while six are under 30 with the ball. Batty was particularly effusive about the collective buy-in, even from England players such as Ollie Pope and Ben Foakes, who returned to play these last two games. Pope’s 136, which allowed Surrey to post 333 and ultimately force Yorkshire to follow-on, set up this victory.

“The numbers tell a pretty good story,” Batty said. “That we have, I believe, a wonderful squad and a squad for a good few years.

“I think that’s been the key bit of the season,” Burns added, having moved his average for the season up to 40.15 after finishing unbeaten on 30 off 16 deliveries in Surrey’s 55-run chase. “Every time we’ve needed someone to step up, someone has put their hand up and produced a performance for us. It’s a pretty special thing

“The way we’ve gone about it, using 22 guys, we highlighted that at the start of the year that there were going to be opportunities for people and it’s about taking them when we need them. We’ve done that. Roll on next year – it’ll be more of the same, hopefully.”

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo



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