Yorkshire CCC’s Ben Coad unconvinced as points fail to add up to County Championship prize

YORKSHIRE pace bowler Ben Coad has enjoyed the new County Championship conference system but said that he preferred the previous format of two divisions with promotion and relegation.

Saturday, 18th September 2021, 7:21 am
NOT TO BE: Ben Coad of Yorkshire celebrates tacking the wicket of Warwickshire's Sam Hain at Headingley last week. Picture by Paul Currie/SWpix.com

The 18 first-class counties were split into three conferences of six this year with each team playing the other five in its conference home and away (10 games each).

Following a break for The Hundred and the Royal London Cup, the Championship then resumed with a new divisional section in which the 18 counties were rearranged once more, with the top-two from each conference going into Division One, the third and fourth-placed sides into Division Two and the fifth and sixth-placed teams into Division Three.

Clubs then played a further four fixtures (the final round of games takes place next week), avoiding their opponents from the conference stage and instead playing the other four sides in their division home or away.

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Yorkshire's Ben Coad Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

The Division One winner is crowned champions and will play the Division One runner-up for the Bob Willis Trophy later this month.

Clubs in Divisions Two and Three, meanwhile, ergo two-thirds of the counties, effectively have only prize money to play for.

As with practically everything to do with cricket these days, ranging from the so-called simplicity of The Hundred to the schedule per se, the situation is complicated and may or may not require the average spectator to possess a degree in astrophysics or some such barometer of their intellectual capabilities to understand the complexities at work.

Suffice to say that Coad, 27, preferred things how they were, with two divisions and the time-honoured system of promotion and relegation.

“It’s been alright,” said Coad of the new format, with Yorkshire one of the six clubs who won through to Division One after finishing second in their conference.

“I preferred the two leagues, and I think when you’re playing the top-10 or top-eight or whatever, week-in, week-out, you feel almost like you’ve warranted the trophy more at the end of the season.

“And then in this second group (divisional phase), you see a lot of result pitches prepared because everybody needs to try and win, and I just don’t feel like it’s that great in terms of the cricket.

“It can be a bit pot-luck who wins because you can just have a weird session where you bowl someone out for 50 and then the game’s over, whereas if you have to do it over the full four days, then that’s where the biggest skill comes into it, the patience game and so on.”

The points system is, for many, the biggest problem. Teams did not start the divisional stage on a level playing field but rather having carried forward points from the conference phase based on the results of the two games against the team with whom they advanced.

In other words, Yorkshire qualified from their conference along with Lancashire, who finished one point above them in first position. But because Lancashire took a combined 33 points from the two Roses games compared to Yorkshire’s nine, and with the points carried forward then halved in yet another torturous twist, it meant that Lancashire started Division One in third place on 16.5 points and Yorkshire bottom on 4.5 points.

“I’d probably like this (system) if there was a different way of us coming into this second group (divisional stage),” said Coad. “If we all started on zero, if we all started with the same number of points, then I don’t think we’d have the same sort of pitches that we’ve been having these last few weeks.

“Everyone would be on a level playing field and then you’ve just got to be the best team for those four games to win the group (division), rather than being, say, a full win already ahead of other teams and then those teams having to fight just to try and claw that back.

“In our case, we had to try and win at least three out of four without losing and unfortunately we didn’t quite manage to get over the line against Hampshire and then (after beating Somerset) we lost to Warwickshire.”

Defeat to Warwickshire at Headingley on Wednesday ended Yorkshire’s title challenge ahead of their final match at Trent Bridge starting on Tuesday against a Nottinghamshire team who could still win the crown if things go their way.

The fourth-placed hosts are 10.5 points ahead of fifth-placed Yorkshire and 6.5 points behind leaders Hampshire, who take on Lancashire (who, in turn, are four points behind them) at Liverpool.

In the other match, second-placed Warwickshire (3.5 points behind the leaders) face rock-bottom Somerset at Edgbaston and, in theory, are the favourites heading into the final round of games.

“The other thing about the other league (two divisions) is that teams are still fighting against relegation as well, so there’s competition at both ends,” added Coad.

“Somerset, for example, don’t really have anything to play for now and they could play a younger side next week just to try some people out, which might make it easier for Warwickshire to win the league.

“It’s been exciting (the conference system). It’s been good to be a part of it and I have enjoyed it. But I prefer the two leagues, the Division One and Division Two.”