Now before you start calling us old misty eyed slipper wearing fuddy duddies, who pine for a return to the good old days when first class cricket was king (you’d only be half right), let’s get one thing straight. We like T20 cricket. It’s exciting, it generates much needed revenue, and it broadens the appeal of the sport. What we don’t like, however, is too much T20 cricket. That’s why we think that this year’s Friends Provident Trophy, which starts today and goes on until the end of August (it might as well be December), will ruin the domestic season.
Take a glance at your favourite county’s fixture list. You’ll see that there are a minimum of sixteen T20 matches during June, July and August, with only two or three championship matches sandwiched in between. It’s beyond belief. The height of the English summer has become infested by the annual slog fest – and there’s little room for cricket of any other sort.
England might say they want to become the best test team in the world, but judging by the domestic fixture list, the ECB only care about defending our world T20 title.
June and July are the peak months of the English summer. The pitches tend to get flat – an ideal breeding ground for test players – and the weather is at its best. How come, therefore, my team Worcestershire are only set to play three county championship matches between now and August 9th? It’s ridiculous.
If the Royals are going to wear their brave but rather garish camouflage outfits again, like they did in last year’s T20 competition (to help promote the Help For Heroes Campaign), Solanki and Co will feel more qualified to join the Territorial Army than the England Test Squad by the end of the summer.
Equally baffling is the fact that Worcestershire won’t play a single forty over match during the next ten weeks. Although staging a Pro-40 event makes about as much sense as Giles Clarke after ten gin and tonics (as obviously there’s no forty over international tournament), it’s still the nearest thing we’ve got to the fifty over ODI format.
Sometimes I wonder whether we actually want to do well at a World Cup. The ECB’s attitude seems to be ‘let’s reserve the best weather for T20 cricket, and play the most important forms of the game when the pitches are green and Darren Stevens is the most effective bowler on the county circuit’.
Plans are in place to reduce the group stage of the Friends Provident Trophy to ten matches next year, which is more like it, but you wonder how we got ourselves into the current predicament in the first place? Those who don’t like T20 will have no county cricket to watch for two and a half months.
We understand the financial arguments in favour of T20 cricket, but having sixteen Friends Provident matches in seven weeks is absurd – and then there’s the knockout stage in August. There is a real risk that the authorities are going to milk the cash cow dry. If there’s one thing that’s bound to kill off interest it’s over familiarity. Just ask Jedward. Let’s hope the schedulers don’t ruin the brand before next year’s more sensible format kicks in.
When T20 first arrived on the scene it was a refreshing and lucrative distraction during the domestic summer – and it lasted no more than a handful of weeks. The format was perfect. Matches had a festival atmosphere, and the players seemed to enjoy the format as much as David Lloyd enjoyed interviewing the bronzed girls in bikinis that wallowed in Jacuzzis on the boundary edge. These days there are so many matches that the players look desperate to join them – they’d do anything for a breather and a rub down with an oily rag.
So will we bother watching the Friends Provident Trophy ourselves? We probably will. After all, it’s unavoidable if you’ve got Sky Sports. However, the chances of us keeping up with the competition’s progress are slimmer than Bruce Reid.
We’ll probably just tune in, keep an eye on individual performances – I’m looking forward to seeing Durham’s Ben Stokes for the first time – and not really care who wins. After all, whoever loses today’s opener between Hampshire and Somerset will get another fifteen opportunities to put things right.