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
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