In the ECB’s brave new world there is very little to please the poor, beleaguered, run of the mill cricket supporter. The county championship is being ever more marginalised, the calendar is re-shuffled almost every year, and the ECB is intent on wooing a completely new audience. Current supporters are just expected to shut up and continue paying their money. How very football.
Instead of treating them with distain, maybe the ECB could placate its existing loyal fan base? The fifty over competition, likely to be sponsored by somebody other than Royal London three years hence (if sponsored by anyone at all), will be virtually downgraded to a second XI competition when the shiny new city T20 toy begins. So how about sprucing it up a bit?
This summer’s edition has proved entertaining but the format is staid and lacking in excitement. If the competition is to be a proving ground for young players, how about returning the competition to a straight knock-out format? And how about going one step further and including the Minor Counties and the likes of Scotland and the Netherlands?
Many a cricket fan can remember the days when Middlesex were required to visit Shropshire, or Nottinghamshire trekked down to Cornwall for instance. Most matches ended, as expected, in victory for the first-class county but, on occasion, the minor county produced a surprise to freshen and ignite that year’s competition.
Similar to the FA Cup in football, surprise victories are still discussed with verve and gusto amid supporters in the non first-class counties. Arguably that was part of the charm and nuance of the limited overs competitions in the olden days and still remains the charm of the FA Cup in football.
What’s more, if the fifty over tournament is effectively downgraded to a de facto second team competition then the non first-class teams will potentially possess a better chance of emerging victorious.
Ponder also what effect such contests could have on cricket as a sport in the non first-class counties? Cricket fans in Cornwall are unlikely to hike all the way to Bristol or Cardiff to watch the new T20 bonanza, but playing Sussex or Lancashire at Boscawen Park in Truro could prove a very palatable alternative.
In some respects, such a scenario could re-create the big day out atmosphere, providing an event in a location where it would likely be appreciated rather than another non-descript contest in a locale already saturated by a lengthy summer.
Although kudos for minor county victories would be slightly diminished because the first class teams would field somewhat weakened sides, and the scheduling might prove problematic, it’s still an idea worth trying – even though knock-out cricket seems to frighten first-class administrators worried about losing matches and revenue.
If the financial projections are to be believed then the brave new city T20 world, and its resultant financial bonanza for counties, presents an ideal opportunity to provoke the curiosity and interest of the cricketing public at large; to provide a competition of genuine cricketing interest rather than another designed to squeeze every pound out of the punters in attendance.
If the brave new world really is about growing the game, then how about growing it in nigh on forty counties rather than just eight cities?