I had an exchange of messages on Twitter the other evening with Michael Vaughan (yes, that one) after the former England skipper and now broadcaster came up with the suggestion that we should play a couple of county matches abroad at the start of the season. This will help our players better prepare for overseas tours, even if it ignores the fact that the ones most likely to tour are on central contracts and unlikely to play.
I wasn't impressed, and said so. He retweeted my response and acolytes were quick to come to his defence. 'What ideas have you got?' was the standard reply, which I was happy to give - and to expand on now.
I fail to see how funding overseas matches in April and May for eighteen counties - or even the ones in the top tier - will improve our overseas fortunes in November and December. Ignoring for a minute the fact that members pay a membership to watch their side and few have the money to travel abroad to do so, it remains a crackpot idea of considerable cost, which would far outweigh its benefits.
Peakfan's step one to improving things - pick the right people. I like watching James Vince bat, as he is an aesthetic delight, but his chances of sustained success on hard, bouncy tracks with an array of quicks probing off stump were always slim. Mason Crane is a talented young bowler, but played less four-day cricket last year than Matt Critchley, so why Adil Rashid was omitted for wickets where he has enjoyed success is beyond me. So too is that we picked an array of right arm fast medium bowlers that made up an attack of 'Stepford Wives' proportions. Then we pick Gary Ballance, barely see him on the pitch and decide he's not up to a subsequent tour of New Zealand. How? They got at least one of those decisions wrong, for sure.
Second - allow all touring teams a proper warm up. It is no surprise that most international series are won by the home team, because visitors turn up out of season and accordingly under-cooked. Teams come here, play two or three matches against second elevens and subsequently get rolled over in Test matches. On this tour, England's batsmen and bowlers alike struggled for rhythm, because all the nets in the world won't make up for time in the middle.
In 1970-71, when Ray Illingworth led England to the Ashes, there were EIGHT warm-up matches before the first Test, three against state sides. The players were ready and a more even tour was a consequence. I'm not saying we need to return to such lengths, but surely five or six good standard matches pre-series might make for a fair competition, as well as generating money?
Third - sort the county schedule. The usual detractors have said that there are too many counties, which is never an issue when England win, of course. Cut the county game down to six sides and see us rule the world, say some. I don't follow the rationale that choosing your best eleven from seventy players is better than selecting from two to three hundred of comparable standard.
With half the county schedule played on low, slow early season wickets, is it any wonder we struggle on hard and fast tracks? The only time we play on such wickets is probably the T20, when they are going at pretty much everything and getting out as England's players did consistently on this tour.
Ah, but no one watches county cricket anyway. Of course they don't, because to do so you either need to be retired, not working or taking annual holidays. As I have written before, outside of the polar days of early season, Derbyshire has TWO weekend championship days of home cricket all summer.
There are 26 weekends between the first one in April and the last in September. For what it is worth, I would make county cricket three divisions of six teams, each playing the others home and away. So that's ten weekends, Friday to Monday sorted. Then start the summer with a fifty over competition with two leagues of nine, playing Saturday, Wednesday, Sunday, Wednesday, Saturday, Wednesday, Sunday, Wednesday, Saturday. The four top teams in each league play quarter finals, then the rest follows on.
That is seven to eight weeks at the start of the summer for the league and knockouts, then you start the four-day game in late May or early June. Play them all Friday to Monday, maximising the crowd and accessibility. Stick the T20 in somewhere in the middle, playing Friday nights and Sunday, then finish with the second half of the championship.
There would even be time to include more warm-up games for touring sides and an end of season five day north v south, to look at potential tourists. It would make for greater intensity, with most sides retaining an interest in promotion or relegation throughout and being unable to coast. Every game would be important, better preparing players for the challenge of international cricket.
Lastly, give our former stalwart Steffan Jones a senior bowling role in English cricket. His assertion that we are moulding bowlers who pass gym tests but continually break down makes great sense. Ask the old-timers and they will tell you that they got fit by bowling, not bench pressing their own body weight. If a few people listened to him, we might find an English quickie again who can match verbals with venom.
Enjoy, as I did, Steffan's paper on 'The demise of the anti-fragile bowler'
Finally today, I am pleased to see that Tom Taylor is back in the county game with a contract at Leicestershire. His talent is obvious, but so is Derbyshire's desire for more immediate success than his slow development afforded.
While there has been no official statement to the effect, my guess is that the club wants a leaner playing staff and space within that for the talent moving through the academy to gain earlier exposure to second team cricket.
If we don't think that the likes of Taylor, Rob Hemmings, perhaps in turn Ben Cotton and Tom Milnes will make it, then we need to allow others the opportunity to do so. It is tough, but that is professional sport for you. Let's see if young lads who are dominating in age group cricket can learn to do so at the next level, rather than becoming blase about their talent and wasting crucial development time.
Other counties are bringing through young players who are producing regularly in their early twenties, while ours are generally several years older. Hopefully the work of Mal Loye and senior players with the academy boys may seem them ready sooner.
There's only one way to find that out.