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Monday, August 23, 1999 Published at 20:11 GMT 21:11 UK

Sport: Cricket

Jonathan Agnew: "I didn't realise how bad it had got until The Oval collapse"
Sack England old guard, urges Agnew

By BBC Cricket Correspondent Jonathan Agnew

After witnessing the latest England debacle I have come to some fairly drastic conclusions about what needs to be done to rescue our game.

Agnew: Young blood the only way forward
They will be painful and will not bring success overnight but they are the only way forward.

First there is the immediate problem of our tour to South Africa - but just as importantly we need long-term changes to the sport at both county and national level.

[ image: Agnew: This is going to hurt....]
Agnew: This is going to hurt....
First the short-term. Until England's latest collapse at The Oval I thought there were enough good experienced players to combine them with three or four newcomers to give us a half-reasonable side.

Not any more.

The England old guard are shot.

Only Mike Atherton should be kept in the team, as vice-captain to Nasser Hussain.

[ image: Aggers: 40,000 a year is to much for county cricketers]
Aggers: 40,000 a year is to much for county cricketers
The rest should all be politely, or not, asked to step aside.

Alec Stewart, Graham Thorpe - even Mark Ramprakash who I have defended every step of the way until now - should all be relegated to the past. And I am not just talking about the players.

The ECB made a good start clearing out the hangers-on a fortnight ago but there are still too many people irrevocably tainted by failure who are still associated with England.

Gooch out

Graham Gooch has been a loyal servant to England as a player and a coach but he has been in the camp since 1989 and should now be removed.

The ECB should identify the crop of youngsters they believe are the core of the future England side and pick them for the tour to South Africa.

Hussain and Atherton should be given the job of nurturing them through at least the next two tests.

The English public will be only too willing to be patient if they perceive cricket's guardians have recognised the seriousness of the situation and are prepared to act decisively to remedy it.

Bring on the revolution

Too often in the past the changes have been peripheral. Now we need revolution.

After all, that is what New Zealand did. Three years ago they were in exactly the same state of depression we are in now.

Only two or three of the Kiwi side which we played then still remain - Cairns, Vettori and Fleming - most if not all the others have been developed in the last three years.

An England side full of youngsters may well get thrashed in South Africa - they are a good side - but that is not the time to judge them.

England face Zimbabwe next summer and that will be the time to get a good indication of how they are doing.

Wait until Windies

But we should not make any real assessments until we face the West Indies next summer.

And then the real changes can begin, changes to the whole domestic game.

The first thing that needs to be done is to scrap the impending two-tier system - which will see England's 18 counties split into two divisions.

We already have a county system which is becoming less competitive, not more so and I believe the two-tier system will blunt competition even further.

We will have a situation next year where all our top England players will be missing for seven test matches.

Second class

County cricket will be shorn of its best players for a large part of the season - and you can imagine what it will be like in the second division.

The English Cricket Board was right in their diagnosis of the causes of failure - but has chosen the wrong cures.

Instead of limiting the number of foreign players they should be increasing them.

At the moment counties are only allowed one overseas player. That should be immediately increased to two.

Foreign inspiration

In the 1980s we had the likes of Richard Hadlee and Clive Rice at Nottinghamshire and they inspired some fantastic cricket.

Reducing the number of foreigners was designed to encourage home-grown talent but it is not working. It is simply indirectly encouraging mediocrity among players who know they are unlikely to be punished with the chop.

When I was an established 30-year-old county cricketer with a young family playing in the 1980s, I earnt 13,000 in my last season.

Overpaid and over-rated

I was amazed to read this weekend that one young Yorkshire cricketer is earning upwards of 40,000.

County cricket is just too comfortable.

There is nothing wrong with the England game up until the Under 19 level.

But by the time they are 22 or 23 they have grown soft in the padded armchair of county cricket.

Evils of mediocrity

Professional footballers earn 1m a year but in football money is used to reward talent.

In English cricket, too often it is used to reward mediocrity.

County cricketers are paid handsomely, given sponsored Mercedes and feted as heroes before their achievements merit it.

A 22-year-old who already has a fast car and a 40,000 pay cheque is not going to be as driven as he might otherwise be.

The ECB have still not resolved the problem of finding a competitive domestic cricket system that does not bankrupt the counties. I believe the only way to do it is to introduce a higher level of competition above the counties.

Regional competition

We need some sort of regional level into which they feed their best players.

At the moment the quality is being spread too thinly. England's top 100 or so cricketers are spread out among 18 counties.

In the West Indies and Australia there are only half a dozen sides at the top domestic level and that means far more fierce competition on both counts.

Sadly, competition is a word the meaning of which some of our top cricketers learn only when it is too late.

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