T20 Or Bust? The ECB’s New Radical Plan To Shake-Up County Cricket

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Details are slowly emerging of an ECB plan to double the TV revenue it currently receives from Sky. At first I assumed this might come via a bidding war between Sky and BT Sport when the current deal elapses in 2019. But I was wrong.

The actual plan is a completely separate initiative that wouldn’t even involve the England team. Indeed, income generated from the plan would be ring-fenced, and according to Nick Hoult in The Telegraph, not a single penny will be invested in the national side.

So what exactly is this bold new initiative? Drumroll … sharp intake of breath …

I’m either excited, or bloody concerned, to tell you that it’s a shiny new radical T20 tournament expected to start as early as 2018. It involves – you guessed it – brand new franchises and will be played in a single block at the height of summer. These ‘teams’ will be populated via a player auction (like the IPL) and bought players will be contracted to the individual franchises.

The surprising news is that this initiative wouldn’t replace the current NatWest Blast competition (which seems to be doing quite well) but actually run alongside it. Although this is somewhat reassuring for the counties, I guess they’ll worry that the new competition will eventually eclipse the current one.

This new plan obviously sounds quite sexy – and I’m not talking about the proliferation of scantily clad dancers that will inevitably do a little jig whenever the ball whistles to the boundary. Not only will there be plenty of razzmatazz and all that jazz, but some games might even be held at Wembley or the Olympic Stadium, where the locals will doubtless be pleased to see some real entertainment after enduring West Ham’s home games. Ahem.

Although I have some concerns about this new plan, the really good news is that the ECB want one game per week shown live on terrestrial television. Halle-bloody-lujah! Although Sky’s current deal allows Murdoch’s crew to monopolise live cricket in the UK, entirely new competitions are exempt. Therefore the ECB can flog the rights to the new competition separately to whomever they want – hence the expected windfall.

Obviously it will be a challenge to get this past the counties – the ECB need 12 of the 18 counties and 26 of the 39 recreational boards to accept this new vision – but the ECB is apparently doing its best to reassure them that this new competition will be in everyone’s interests. Although the participants won’t be ‘county’ sides, the counties will become shareholders in the new initiative; therefore they stand to gain financially too (at least that’s how it will be sold I imagine).

This is quite an interesting way of solving the turkeys voting for Christmas dilemma. Because the NatWest Blast (the counties lifeblood), will still be played as a separate competition on Friday nights, the counties might see the new competition as a way of making extra revenue on top of what they already have. Time will tell I guess.

Now, inevitably, we get to the downside. Although this plan is radical and bold – everything many of us want the ECB to be – and it should enable English cricket to catch up with the IPL and the Big Bash, certain aspects are very worrying:

According to Nick Hoult’s article, the ECB devised this plan partly because they fear a substantial drop in revenue from Test cricket. That’s right folks, the broader context to all this is the continued demise of test cricket. Of particular concern are rumours about a second ILP season in September each year- as if weeks and weeks of somewhat repetitive IPL action in April and May weren’t enough already. One might ask whether there’ll be room in the calendar for anything other than T20 cricket in ten year’s time?

This state of affairs frustrates me immensely. Rather than doing more to market and promote test cricket more effectively – I had hoped that the ICC’s plans to introduce two divisions might resuscitate the longer and best form of the game – the moneymen continue to focus on exploiting T20’s popularity. It’s a real shame because I think people forget what an excellent product proper, competitive, test cricket is. Can you imagine if the Royal and Ancient decided to prioritise crazy golf over The Masters?

I don’t really blame the ECB for all this – they’ve seen how well the IPL and Big Bash are doing and want their slice of the action – but it’s all a bit depressing isn’t it. One can only hope that a balance between each form of the game is preserved and that proper international cricket remains the true pinnacle of the sport.

I have to say that I have my doubts though. If one looks at international football, more and more people seem to care about their respective premier league sides than the national team. I’d hate it if cricket fans in this country suddenly cared more about The Manchester Maniacs or the Nottingham Nobodies (or however these franchises are randomly christened) than the England test side. After all, like football clubs these franchises will be packed full of foreign stars literally playing for the highest bidder.

James Morgan

32 Comments

  1. pktroll (@pktroll) on

    I just don’t now think that a new competition will work. For many of the bigger counties, the current competition is doing just fine. It is no surprise that the likes of Surrey want nothing to do with it as they are getting huge crowds. Sure it doesn’t work for every county, but some of these counties aren’t in the larger conurbations. As for a load of people who like the more ‘social’ side of the t20 experience. That won’t change be it t20 blast or EPL.

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