Thinking is a dangerous thing – especially if you’re an ECB suit or a middle-aged cricket blogger. However, the ECB’s warning to counties that they must accept radical changes to the domestic game or face years of decline has got the grey matter churning. I mean, who the hell are the ECB to tell individual counties, who are only too aware of the problems facing cricket, that they need to ‘accept change … or else’?!
I have an open mind when it comes to this franchise, I mean city-based, T20 competition. I’m not sure it will work, but I’m willing to see if the ECB can make it work. However, the more I think about it, the more questions I have. For starters, why are the ECB trying to rescue cricket by pinning or their hopes on a simple T20 tournament? Attendances in the NatWest Blast have been pretty good. If it’s not broken why fix it?
Secondly, and most importantly, why are the ECB convinced that T20 cricket is the way to save cricket? They’re convinced that kids will become enamoured with the bish, bash, bosh of the shortest form and then automatically become addicted to first-class cricket when they grow up. But is there actually any evidence that T20 works like a gateway drug? Does everyone that loves playing pool in their local pub automatically fall in love with snooker and then go on a pilgrimage to The Crucible every year?
What’s more, the ECB’s warning to counties seems incredibly disingenuous. Everyone knows that introducing franchises, I mean city-based teams, is a danger to counties’ identities, so Graves, Harrison and Co are basically saying “vote for this thing that might kill you because if you don’t, you might get killed”.
The other thing that doesn’t make sense to me is that proponents of the new franchises, I mean city-based teams, argue passionately that having a single tournament in one block in high summer is logical. They claim that (a) this enables teams to sign star overseas players for the whole competition, and (b) the fact it’s played over a few weeks means it’s easier to keep up to speed with what’s going on; therefore the ‘narrative’ more compelling.
There’s just one hole in this argument – and it’s the size of the hole that the iceberg made in the Titanic: they’ve already tried scheduling the domestic T20 tournament in a block in high summer and it didn’t work. It was T20 overkill.
Although playing matches in a block sounds like a good idea, the matches came so thick and fast that spectators became exhausted. What’s more, supporters didn’t seem to have the spare time or disposable income to attend many games in a short period of time. Which is why, presumably, the currently structure where teams play on Friday nights throughout the summer, is attracting good crowds.
Although I initially thought it was significant that most counties voted in favour of the franchises, I mean city-based teams, I’m now having second thoughts. The counties are cash strapped. Everyone knows that. If you offer a relative pauper £1.5 million for doing very little, they’re bound to say “yes”, even if they have considerable doubts about what it might mean in the long term. Maybe it’s more significant that Surrey, one of the big boys with a large revenue stream, voted against the new competition.
The other thing is that nobody really knows how the new competition is going to operate. Very little detail has been announced. In typical ECB fashion, the details have been hidden behind non-disclosure agreements. As usual, the supporters have been left in the dark when it comes to the biggest and most contentious issue facing domestic cricket since, well, ever. It looks like we’ll have to wait until October, when the counties vote again, to learn more about the nitty-gritty.
My biggest question, however, is about first-class cricket. Why are the ECB so obsessed with bloody T20? We all know T20 has become the golden goose, but surely there’s no need to put all the golden eggs in one basket? I want to know how the ECB plan to breathe life into the county championship? I also want to know what Giles Clarke is doing to help promote test cricket at the ICC?
Basically the situation can be summarised thus: the ECB has warned counties that they must embrace change or face annihilation. And what does the ECB’s blueprint for change look like? It’s just one single T20 competition that involves less than half the counties and which won’t even start for another four years. As far as plans for saving cricket go, it’s a pretty rubbish one.