It takes guts to look a seven figure sum in the face and resist temptation, but that’s exactly what Essex have done today by rejecting the ECB’s plan to introduce a city T20 competition.
Make no mistake about it. Essex’s stance, which comes hot on the heels of Middlesex’s plan to reject the new competition last week, is a real embarrassment for the ECB.
Essex and Middlesex are two counties with great traditions, who have produced many England players, and are often thought to be close to the powers that be:
Andy Flower, who is still a powerful figure in English cricket, is Essex through and through. Ditto Alastair Cook. Meanwhile Middlesex’s Angus Fraser is obviously still an England selector.
The fact that two high profile counties from the south-east are turning their backs on Harrison’s harebrained-have-a-hit undermines the ECB’s cause badly.
It’s obviously not a fatal blow, as these are just two counties and the numbers are still stacked against the rebels, but it might just be start of something greater. Perhaps momentum will slowly turn against Harrison and Graves?
The words of Essex chairman John Faragher couldn’t have been much more direct and cutting:
It is essential that the County Championship, domestic 50-over and T20 competitions are encouraged to grow, and they must be protected …
We are focused on expanding cricket in Essex, East Anglia and Metropolitan London, ensuring there are opportunities for all age and ability groups, male and female to be actively involved in the game.
As a result of the proposed changes, these opportunities will be reduced, our income overall will suffer and the first-class game will be diminished, in contradiction to the ECB’s objective, which is to grow the game in this country.
These words are not an apologetic rejection, they’re a unequivocal repudiation of the ECB’s whole rationale for financially coercing counties into supporting their ill-conceived venture.
As Faragher makes clear, how can a T20 competition grow the game when it “excludes large areas of the country from any involvement in it”?
Whereas Middlesex rejected the ECB’s plans because of their unique position as tenants at Lord’s (so they wouldn’t have earned the same revenue as other host counties who own their grounds), Faragher’s critique goes right to the heart of the issues. It exposes the contractions of the plan and highlights real concerns.
Those who read TFT on a regular basis will know I’m not a fan of this city-based tournament. I wonder why, for example, the ECB think that a city is inherently sexier (and easier to market) than a county. Why do they assume that a team called “Nottingham” is any more appealing than a team called ‘Nottinghamshire”?
I also wonder why an entirely new competition, with players representing teams they have no natural affiliation to, would be appealing to the public? There will be no local heroes in the ECB’s new competition – just players looking for a convenient pay day.
What’s more, I don’t see why a new competition with eight new franchises would be any more appealing than, for example, a premier division of the nine best counties with a few overseas stars.
If the ECB really want to plug T20 to the masses why not just market the Blast more aggressively? I don’t see the advantages of starting afresh with new city-based entities.
Besides, if the ECB’s target audience isn’t currently interested in cricket, they won’t care whether a team is new or not. After all, everything is new to the uninitiated.
I also have huge doubts concerning the ECB’s plan to aggressively market this new competition to kids aged 5-7 (and their Mums). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: my six year old boy loves sports, and he likes nothing more than kicking a ball around or hitting one with a tennis racquet, but he won’t sit still for half an hour let alone three hours.
If Tom Harrison thinks that six years olds are going to sit politely and watch 40 overs of live cricket (let alone their disinterested Mums), he’s got another thing coming.
It seems to me that the whole city-based T20 is an ill-conceived plan that’s trying to replicate the IPL and Big Bash without taking into the account the idiosyncrasies of the UK.
English cricket fans are not the same as Indian fans. Our loyalties to our counties are stronger than Indian supporters’ loyalty to their zonal teams. And we don’t have a predominantly city-based population like the Australians do.
The bottom line is this: the success of any city-based T20 tournament in the UK is very uncertain and the risks are undeniably great. Therefore it doesn’t seem like a ‘percentage’ shot to proceed. It’s too much of a gamble.
At the moment the ECB seems determined to put the mortgage on what I consider to be an outside bet. The county system isn’t perfect by any means – but what system doesn’t have its foibles? All county cricket probably needs is better management and marketing.
And let’s not forget that the modern county system has seen England win the Ashes five times in the last seven series, and get within one Carlos Brathwaite heave of winning the World T20 twice in six attempts.
I think you’ll agree that’s not a bad record at all.