Hampshire chairman Rod Bransgrove claims Zak Crawley, Ollie Pope and Co have gone backwards in Tests

EXCLUSIVE: Blame England coaches, NOT the county game! Zak Crawley, Ollie Pope and Co have gone BACKWARDS since their Test careers began, insists Hampshire chairman… who calls for a three-division Championship to improve standards

  • The County Championship is under scrutiny amid England’s nightmare Ashes
  • Hampshire chairman Rod Bransgrove has fiercely defended the county game
  • He says players like Zak Crawley and Ollie Pope have ‘dropped off’ with England
  • England’s batsman were torn apart by Australia’s bowling attacking in the series 

Rod Bransgrove has laid the blame for England’s Ashes disaster squarely at the door of the ECB and the batting coaches who oversaw the tour.

Hampshire’s chairman believes the county game should not be the scapegoat for the calamity and that it handed England a group of outstanding batsmen who have gone downhill within the international set-up.

Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Agnew have called for the dismantling of the County Championship in response to England’s failings Down Under, but Bransgrove believes there is no chance of that happening. Instead, he thinks the ECB need to look closer to home.

Hampshire chairman Rod Bransgrove (left) says the blame for England’s Ashes disaster in Australia is with the ECB, in defence of the County Championship schedule

‘It’s always pretty much the same — a few heads roll, there’s a new plan for English cricket, a review of the domestic game and we end up doing all the same stuff again,’ he told Sportsmail.

‘The real truth is that some of the players that domestic cricket has produced for England, including the likes of Zak Crawley, Joe Root and Ollie Pope, all these people started well when we first passed them to England. In fact, some of them spectacularly so.

‘Their performances have dropped off since they’ve been with England. I don’t think it’s fair to blame the county game for that because most of them won’t be allowed to play county cricket. Something is going wrong in the machine above domestic cricket.

‘When you fail at something, you try to find a reason which isn’t you — you always try to find some external reason why you couldn’t perform at your optimum level.’

There have been calls for coach Chris Silverwood’s head, Ashley Giles, managing director of the England team, is under pressure and the future of Root as captain will also be discussed. 

But the main focus has been on the domestic game and whether it is capable of producing high- quality batsmen. The very existence of the 18 first class counties is also up for debate.

Bransgrove referred to Zak Crawley as evidence players have 'dropped off' in the England fold

Bransgrove referred to Zak Crawley as evidence players have ‘dropped off’ in the England fold

‘The ECB have a lot on their plate right now,’ said Bransgrove. ‘The first thing is, there’s not even a question of whether there should be 18 counties because the 18 counties predominantly own the ECB. The 18 counties produce all the wealth for the ECB by providing players and grounds.

‘The issue isn’t whether there should be fewer counties, that’s a fallacy. The issue is, should all counties have exactly the same opportunity as each other at the beginning of every year, regardless of how they performed the previous year?

‘Or can we start to accept a true meritocracy in the game and create a structure which provides us with good England red-ball cricketers and sees the best play the best at the top end?

‘I would like to see three divisions of six teams in the County Championship, all playing 10 matches a year, five at home and five away — that’s perfectly enough to find England players and make the games important and serious.

‘You have one team up and one team down from each division. If you play too much then the games don’t become important any more.

Bransgrove also claimed that Ollie Pope's level has drifted since he has been in Test cricket

Bransgrove also claimed that Ollie Pope’s level has drifted since he has been in Test cricket

‘Slot them around the Test matches too, so players can play county cricket to get ready for international cricket. They’re not going to get ready for an Ashes tour by playing in the nets.

‘Imagine Scunthorpe saying they want the same chance to win the Premier League as Manchester City. You can say, “OK, but it’s going to take you a good few years from where you are now”.

‘The great thing about football is that they have accepted that meritocracy counts. Everyone fits in their order and everyone is there fighting for promotion and for relegation.’

After going down without so much as a whimper in Australia, the battle for cricket’s domestic future is well and truly on.

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