I’m all for sharing knowledge between sports. Some roles, such as fitness and conditioning coaches, are broadly transferable, and you cannot ignore those who have achieved success at the highest level.

LOCOG used the brains of Rugby World Cup winner Sir Clive Woodward in and around the London Olympics, and Gloucester Rugby now have another key cog in that wheel, Andy Hunt, on their board at Kingsholm.

For 5 years, and after a successful career with Tesco where he was Chairman for more than a decade, Lord Ian MacLaurin was Chairman at the England and Wales Cricket Board.

I interviewed MacLaurin once, shortly after his appointment. As a cricket enthusiast, but ultimately an outsider, he was able to look at the structure with a fresh pair of eyes and without any pre-conceptions.

Now aged 76, and in the wake of the Ashes, he has suggested streamlining the county game, with the 18 teams consolidated into 12. In his retirement he appears to have forgotten the brand loyalty he drove so hard to achieve in the retail sector.

You only have to look at the shambles domestic rugby in Wales is in to realise the trouble ratlonalising the landscape can bring.

He is right that if you were starting from scratch 18 professional sides might be too many but you wouldn’t have 92 teams in the Football League either, yet the latter survive largely through central sponsorship, the generousity of directors and the loyalty of supporters who identify with their club. While the Wales national rugby team prospers, the four regions, with talent draining elsewhere, do not.

Across Offa’s Dyke, the Aviva Premiership does has 12 teams. Perhaps this is the model MacLaurin was looking at. The key here, though, was taking a game that had been ostensibly amateur and, in 1995, making it “open” in an instant. At a stroke, rugby was professional and clubs needed men with serious money to make the numbers work.

Those that couldn’t find them slid down the pyramid.
Traditionally strong sides like Coventry, Moseley, Nottingham, and Orrell floundered. Saracens is the best example of how one man – Nigel Wray – has transformed a modest London team into a force at home and in Europe. Developments at Exeter and Worcester cannot be ignored either.

Unfortunately cricket does not have the opportunity to start with a blank sheet of paper. Neither has it historically attracted the heavyweight entrepeneur with deep pockets.

MacLaurin claims some of the cricket is “pretty average” and that no-one (sic) watches the four day game, but there is no comparison in terms of time invested by spectators between football, rugby and championship cricket.

T20, where the parallels are greater, continues to deliver a significant slice of a team’s revenue, along with central support from the ECB.

From April we have a more structured domestic season, albeit one where the centrally contracted England players make no more than cameo appearances.

If the best youngsters are to develop into international cricketers, the incentives provided by the ECB to play young English players must remain. These may ultimately gravitate to the richer clubs, but develop a crop together with good coaching, and even those counties with small memberships can challenge for honours.

Under MacLaurin’s watch as ECB Chairman, the County Championship was split in 2000 into two divisions – a decision that has increased the number of meaningful matches later in the season. In cricket terms, it was a fast,straight yorker. The concept of a 12 team competition, bordering on a franchise set-up, is four wides down the leg side.

Photogragh : Copyright http://www.thegrocer.co.uk


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