So it’s back. Twenty20, T20 call it what you will. We’re supposed to call it ‘The Blast’ – which is either the optimistically hyperbolic description of the excitement it brings, or the expletive uttered in certain quarters upon the format’s return to the summer game. I for one, for a long time belonged in the latter club, however recently I have been persuaded of its merits. The light bulb moment was when someone (I forget who) said T20 isn’t cricket, it’s entertainment based on the game but a million miles from proper cricket (or words to that effect). Alas, we live in an age where for the younger generation instant gratification rules and attention spans are shorter, and for many others, there is too much demand on time to devote a lot to watching proper cricket. T20 addresses these issues.
Either way, you won’t escape it, and whatever you think about T20 we might as well recognize that it is now pivotal to the future of the county game and test cricket. Introduced in 2003 by the ECB to generate interest among young people in cricket and re-generate sponsorship income, like so many sports invented by this country the rest of the world, well India and Australia mainly, grabbed it and turned it into a national phenomenon, supported by massive broadcasting rights. The revenues generated by the IPL and Big Bash (an even sillier name than ‘Blast’ but an accurate descriptor of the cricket) are such that arguably it is propping up domestic and especially test cricket in those countries. Whilst interest and attendance at test matches in England have been high as crowds in other test playing nations continued to dwindle to almost invisibility in some cases, there have been recent signs that this might not be the case forever. Hence, the ECB are scrabbling around throughout this summer in recognition ‘that something must be done’ and have turned their finest minds (no laughing at the back) to revamping T20 which is seen as the saviour of the county championship and longer term test cricket.
Colin Graves, Chairman of the ECB cheesed off the counties and quite probably NatWest by describing, on the eve of the competition, that the Blast was ‘mediocre’ compared to the IPL and Big Bash. To be fair, I think he was taken out of context a bit and if one looks at the bigger picture it’s easy to see why. There seems to be a view in some quarters that all we have to do in the UK is replicate the IPL or Big Bash, but of course, anyone with half a brain should see it ain’t that simple.
Both the IPL and Big Bash comprise a competition played between 8 teams or, and beware if you are of a delicate disposition, as I’m about to use the ‘F’ word – franchises. Australia’s eight comprise six cities from each of the six States. Similarly, the IPL comprises eight teams from eight major cities spread right across India. Both exist in vast countries so captive support for each team is relatively easy. Games are played in big stadia, even the smallest team in the Big Bash – Hobart – plays in a ground that holds 19,500. And because there are few teams, live screening of each match is feasible – and that is the holy grail for the broadcasters. If they are paying top dollar they want maximum exposure, and they want the best players in the competition to attract the audiences.
It’s estimated that of cricket’s global revenues, 80% comes from broadcasting rights with under 10% coming from punters paying on the door. And herein lies the problem for the ECB as it tries to find a way to find a way of maximising TV deals and revenue.
As we all know we have 18 counties. Some are ‘haves’ – they have tests status grounds with large capacities; some are ‘have nots’. Some are in perilous financial straits relying on ECB handouts. All of them, understandably wish to preserve their status, identity and history.
Sky cannot broadcast every T20 game unless they are spread out over a long period – this wouldn’t work for the television audience, nor for spectators actually going to games I suspect. And one thing broadcaster do like is a full house to be shown on TV, atmosphere and the feeling that the viewer is at an ‘event’ are important. So the ‘F’ word raises its ugly head in an attempt to mirror the IPL and Big Bash. How would that work? At the moment, it wouldn’t and no amount of trying to find an alternative word eg ‘City’ will help. Why?
Picture the ECB think tank over lunch at Lords. “How about going regional? North, South, East, West and Midlands. Not very exciting is it and only five teams? OK, expand the regions into ….er…..counties. Ah, yes…..right there’d be eighteen of those and we already…………ok forget that.
Cities then (whatever you do don’t use the ‘F’ word)? Let’s see……………… London (Middlesex, Surrey, maybe Essex at a push); Manchester (that’ll be Lancashire then); Birmingham (Warwickshire obviously, and Northants and Worcestershire); Nottingham (Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire); Bristol(Gloucestershire and Somerset); Cardiff (that’ll be Glamorgan then);
Newcastle (ah…that’s Durham taken care of); and what about Hampshire, Sussex and Kent sir? Well, we only want eight teams so call it Southampton (Hampshire and Sussex – they’re next door to each other so that’s fine).”
“What about Kent?”
“Hm, bits of it aren’t far from London so bung Kent in there.”
“Sir, what about Yorkshire?”
“They’re an independent republic aren’t they? Anyway, they’ve already said they’ll enter as long as they’re called Yorkshire.” ‘’Sir Surrey have also indicated they’ll be happy to play for London as long as it’s called Surrey. And it seems that Essex, Northants, Derbyshire, Leicestershire are forming an armed brigade ready to march on HQ at any time.”
“I see…right get on the phone and call off tomorrow’s meeting with the county chairmen.”
“What about two divisions?” “Move the whole thing to the UAE?”
“Any other ideas?.......Anyone?”
The point is the Counties know there’s a need for radical change to ensure their future existence. However as I’ve pointed out none wish to be sacrificial lambs, either losing their individual identity, the smaller clubs don’t want to be swallowed up by the bigger ones in some franchised carve up, none want to miss out on the TV revenue. The fact is, we are a small island with eighteen counties and not enough geographical spread to sustain an IPL or Big Bash model. I think it was Jonathan Agnew who recently said it’s all very well trying to ape these competitions but we have to face up to the fact that we are different by virtue of our county structure, and you know what? I think he’s right.
Something will have to give. I’ve no idea what. Anyone out there who does I suggest you send your answers on a postcard to the ECB sharpish.
Written by Bob Bowden (@54Bobb)
5/14/2016 0 Comments
England's recent squad announcement was not as far fetched as it could have been – the rumoured call-up for Nick Browne didn't materialise but the inclusion of Jake Ball and James Vince did raise eyebrows. Along with that pair, Nick Compton has retained his position from the tour to South Africa despite not setting the world alight either then, or this season in the County Championship. Let's have a look at these three, and what they can bring to the England team.
Nick Compton has had a poor start to the season, the Middlesex man averages only 20 and is yet to make a fifty. It is no question he offers solidarity at number three and at times during the South Africa tour he steadied ship and rode out the innings' against a difficult attack to face – attritional to say the least. But it would be fair to say that with the poor form Compton has shown this season that he did not deserve this call-up – one only has to look at the top of Middlesex order to see another England candidate showing the selectors what they want. Sam Robson has scored a double century and two other centuries and has really put his teammate to shame. Nonetheless, Compton can be a handy number three – with the stroke playing of Alex Hales often not bearing fruit Compton's battling style can really impress. He has faced serious criticism for his style, however, scoring slowly and perhaps letting the team fall behind the game at times – and who wouldn't prefer to see Kevin Pietersen walk out, all guns blazing and send countless drives to the boundary. Hopefully, we see the best of Compton against Sri Lanka, and it would be safe to say that some decent performances may not even be enough to cement his place.
James Vince's long-awaited call-up did not come as a shock to many; at times for Hampshire, it has seemed a one man team, he has had to dig his side out of a hole created by the early loss of wickets. But the grit he has seemed to show this season will be in fine place when he strides his way out to the crease at Headingley. Vince has all the attributes, a swanky array of shot play matched with the determination and guile that a number five needs to be a success at Test level. Vince's inclusion is definitely the least surprising out of the three eyebrow raising call-ups. While the Hampshire skipper has been lamented before for his tendency to get in and get out, he looks to have settled for a calmer approach to batting – which can see him accumulate scores rather than blasting his way to a quick 30. This season so far his strike rate is at only 46 is down from 60 last season and perhaps shows what steps Vince has taken to ensure he gets his England berth, and while that will be at his less favoured number five – his prospects surely are in good check for the summer ahead.
Jake Ball is the most shocking of the three “surprise” call-ups – his hard work at Nottinghamshire often falls under the radar, although clearly not with Trevor Bayliss. 2015 was an important year for Ball, he sealed his place in the Nottinghamshire first-class team and became a regular in the limited overs squads for the Outlaws, too. His potential had always been monitored, after several selections for England Lions squads, and his performances for the Lions must also have contributed to this selection. Ball is tall, but not Steven Finn – has a good action which leads to a repeatable line and length and enough pace to put to use at international level. His real breakthrough into the minds of England selectors must surely have come this season, he has been in fine form for Nottinghamshire. His 19 wickets have come at 21 and have included one five-for. His recent performance versus Yorkshire where he took the wickets of England capped Gary Ballance and then the man of the moment Joe Root in consecutive balls as well as forgotten man Adam Lyth with the first ball of the innings. Ball almost single-handedly turned that match in Nottinghamshire's favour – falling one wicket short of what would have been an impressive victory. And if there was a question over who should take that last remaining spot in the England squad at that point, Ball had made it his own. Hopefully, we get to see what Ball can bring to this team at Headingley – and we don't see the same fate that has befallen others before him; Chris Woakes, the unfortunate Mark Wood and Finn but to name a few. A hopefully injury-free Jake Ball can add something to this England team.
It will be an interesting series for the Three Lions' with fresh new faces set to tackle a Sri Lankan side that lacks the star players of yester-year this really acts as an opportunity for a Ball, a Vince or a Compton to really cement their place as an England regular.
Written by Charlie Jennings (@AVCJX)
Indian Premier League, Caribbean Premier League, Big Bash, Pakistan Super League and the list goes on; domestic T20 tournaments have become a staple of the cricket calendar. They provide the big hitters of the game with large sums of money for 6 weeks’ work, with some of England’s finest International stars heading over to warmer climates to ply their trade. A small selection of England cricketers get to hone their skills against the best in the world and pick up big money – all whilst their county team mates leave the field of play due to snow and torrential rain in the opening week of the season. I know who I’d rather be…
The success of these big tournaments (mainly Big Bash and the IPL) have strengthened the call for the county game to introduce a franchise based T20 tournament. Suggestions have flooded in from ex-England skipper Michael Vaughan and never was Aussie skipper Shane Warne on how this could be achieved. The main idea that has been conceived has been to join our counties forces across the UK and introduce a 10 city tournament. This would require combining Surrey and Middlesex, Yorkshire and Lancashire, Sussex and Hampshire…basically any rivalry out there. All the while introducing the world’s best to our county game and reducing the chance for the next Buttler, Billings and Broad a go in the 1st team.
Many professionals highlight that the only way for our young cricketers to improve in this form of the game is to play closely alongside Gayle, De Villiers etc. Yet this argument seems to hit a wall when you look at Stokes, Buttler, Roy and the list goes on within our own domestic game. A World T20 trophy and recent appearance in the final seems to indicate we are doing something right.
So why when we watch Big Bash and IPL do we feel there is something more exciting than our domestic T20 tournament? Something bigger and better? Well firstly, we actually watch it. Sky covers every BBL and IPL game, yet I often have to scroll through Twitter to keep up with scores around the county from the various T20 games. So the fixture list needs attention, or maybe even the broadcasting. What I would give to see a ‘Match of the Day’ related to T20 cricket, it would give air time to the teams who find themselves on Sky less than the ‘big’ teams such as Leicestershire (though multiple winners?!), Glamorgan et al. It would also bring more interest to the tournament as a whole, as the runs, wickets and catches taken would be there for all to see, not just those in attendance. This brings us nicely on to that very subject of attendance…
IPL and BBL have big advantage over our T20 blast – the weather. This can dictate so much on the financial impact of the tournament. It doesn’t matter if you have Tendulkar and Bradman facing a new ball partnership of Wasim Akram and Brett Lee – if it rains, no bugger will turn up. So by squeezing the tournament into a short period during the height of summer is the best way to ensure people attend and enjoy the game, though as well know this is no guarantee – we can only show best endeavours and hope for the best! Big Bash and IPL seem to have a bit more luck with dry evenings, must be the climate...
The other way to increase attendance and interest is ticket prices, and I applaud many counties for the work they have done on this topic. A lot of counties now offer a ‘child for £5’ if accompanied by a full paying adult which is fantastic, the more kids we can bring through the gates and get invested in the game the better. They will soon become the lads berating the opposition fielders with a pint of IPA in their hand, unknowingly funding the groundsman’s wages as they fall further under the influence and turn up to their Saturday league game feeling less than fresh. It’s also for the good of the youth of the UK, it’s a summer evening and kids should be outdoors breathing in fresh air and falling in love with the best sport in the land.
There is a down side to the ECB focusing on improving the T20 game too much, from next year our County Championship season will be reduced from 16 games per season to 14 – a shame in my eyes and in the eyes of many a ‘purist’ out there. This has been muted as a small change ahead of the broadcasting rights being up for negotiation in 2020 (ironic eh?). Hopefully our two-tiered competitive County Championship isn’t affected by this, and will continue to thrive and provide fantastic Test talent such as Messieurs Root and Cook. Whilst giving our one-day game continued impetus since Andrew Strauss went upstairs at the ECB and changed the status quo.
In summary, I’d like to point out that I am not coming up with a revolutionary idea to fill the ECB coffers and ensure England win T20 tournaments for the foreseeable future. We don’t have 81,000 seaters like the MCG, or 30-degree weather almost guaranteed. We will always struggle to get the kind of investment that the IPL has had as we have counties with heritage, not teams begging to become ‘franchises’ (and lets not begin to talk about the IPL’s fixing scandal problems). But we should embrace our T20 blast for what it is, great entertainment and a far better quality of cricket than we give it credit for. We just need wider coverage, greater accessibility (prices and Friday evening games) and our best players available, meaning the likes of Broad and Stokes are given leave by the ECB to play at least 50% of the games.
I’d welcome your thoughts and ideas on England’s T20 tournament – and am always happy to debate and discuss the subject and anything else cricket related at @linford88
Our Team of writers share their views on all things County Cricket
All Alastair Cook Australia Away Days Benny Singarajan Big Bash Bob Bowden Buttler Cameron Bancroft Charlie Jennings County Championship Cricky's Column Day/Night Cricket Durham ECB England Cricket Essex Footitt Foottit Graham Gooch Hampshire Helmet-gate IPL Joe Root Jonathan Trott Jordan Crick Keith Fletcher Kevin Watts Lancashire Leicestershire Mark Kidger Mark Wood Match-fixing Middlesex Natwest T20 Blast New Road Northants Nottinghamshire ODI Cricket Pink Ball Reece Topley Retro Cricket RLODC Royal London One-Day Cup Rushworth Sangakkara South Africa Steven Finn Steve Smith Stuart Pulford Surrey T20 Warwickshire Worcestershire World Cup 2015 Yorkshire Yorkshire Cricket Your View