Essex, Sussex and Somerset are trying to persuade the ECB not to reduce the number of T20 matches next season. Essex in particular have been vocal in their opposition – they claim they’ll have to make redundancies if their home matches are reduced from eight per season back to five. So what is the solution? Everybody agrees that the Friends Provident matches had less meaning this summer. Players were complaining of burn out and interest in T20 cricket seemed to be reaching saturation point. But on the other hand, nobody wants the smaller counties to suffer. The likes of Worcestershire are already feeling the strain of financial hardship, whilst Sussex’s relegation from division one of the county championship last year undermined hopes that smaller counties can still compete with the big boys. It’s all a bit of a pickle.
Ultimately, Essex’s protests are likely to be ignored. They are just going to have to grin and bear it. The future of the smaller counties may look bleak – observers such as Michael Atherton are already predicting that clubs like Worcestershire will eventually become feeder clubs for larger counties – but there is simply too much cricket being played. Instead, we believe that county cricket can be saved from bankruptcy through broader reforms. In fact, our solution is simple …
English cricket needs to address why the public only seem to be interested in the twenty over form of the game? Essex claim they take more in one evening of T20 cricket than they do in three entire seasons of championship cricket, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be this way. Although the public now seems to have an almost insatiable appetite for vacuous in-your-face entertainment, the English people are not idiots. If cricket was promoted in the right way, the subtleties of the game can still charm like they did in years gone by. After all, cricket remains an intelligent and fascinating sport with players that are accessible and generally personable – a far cry from the over-hyped and predictable soap opera that Premiership football has become.
In our opinion attendances at matches are dwindling for two primary reasons (a) the ridiculous price of match tickets and (b) the absence of cricket from free-to-air television. Put cricket back on the box and there will be a resurgence of interest in the game. I’m not saying that all cricket should be on the BBC or Channel Four – Sky do a good job and their money is both welcome and helpful – but cricket needs to be accessible.
The absence of Sky’s annual windfall would surely hit the ECB coffers hard in the short term, but if more people become interested in cricket then the resulting increase in sponsorship revenues and attendances will eventually make up the shortfall. Cricket’s authorities don’t realise it but a huge opportunity is staring them in the face. Premiership football is now entirely predictable and therefore its status as the national sport should be vulnerable. Other than the top five clubs, there is a glass ceiling on what every team can achieve – a limit imposed solely by money. Meanwhile footballers have never been so distant from the fans nor more disliked for their morally dubious lifestyles and pay-packets. The public gradually seems to be waking up to this fact – which is why the popularity of sports like darts is on the rise. Darts has its appeal, don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t half the sport that cricket is.
Cricket is a sophisticated and multi-dimensional game. The problem is that the public have simply forgotten about it. If the game was back on free-to-air television, the sport would sell itself. Interest in the domestic game would rise and more people would watch and play cricket. At the moment the ECB are so fixated on counting the pennies that they are missing the bigger picture. Cricket is a great product. The ECB should have more faith in it. If cricket became the national sport once more, stadiums will be full and financial concerns would dissipate.