Southampton Storm, Manchester Magic, Nottingham Nightmare. Please give me a break.
That’s what it’s going to be. Eight teams with gimmicky names fighting it out in the ECB’s ingenious answer to the success of the IPL and the Big Bash. I do wonder whether these franchises will go down the, somewhat, tasteful route of Australian franchise teams such as the Perth Scorchers or the Sydney Sixers. Or will they go down the route of Indian teams such as Royal Challengers Bangalore, the currently banned Chennai Super Kings, or even worse, their replacement, the Rising Pune SuperGiants. Whether the ECB will go to the extent of producing the Super Cardiff Lightning Dragons to compete in 2020 is one ridiculous problem, but it’s not really the big problem here. Warwickshire for example have done very well by becoming the Birmingham Bears in the shortest format the last couple of years, although the less talked about Glamorgan’s move to becoming the Welsh Dragons the better. The city based names aren’t too bad really, as long as it’s my county behind them.
This will not be the case in 2020 however, because i’m a fan of Leicestershire who until Wasim Khan took over a couple of years ago, were by far the worst domestic team in Britain and, in terms of competitiveness, likely the world. Despite the fact that Leicester is one of the sporting hubs in the country, there is no way in the world that the ECB would base a team at Grace Road. Instead the local midlands teams will be based in Birmingham or Nottingham, not on the team who has won it the most times, Leicestershire, or the team who won it last, Northamptonshire. As well as this by focusing on only two of these cities the ECB is ignoring places like Leicester and Northampton with huge immigrant populations from Asia which could be drawn in to their local teams support. Obviously the franchises will go to where the money and the crowds are, fair enough, but where do the crowds of other teams go? No chance the ECB will persuade me to support a team based in Nottingham, a Worcestershire fan to support a Warwickshire based side, or even more worryingly for the ECB a Liverpool based Lancashire fan to support a Manchester based franchise. What will happen to Kent and Essex fans who probably won’t have a team in there area? Can’t imagine they will want to support a London based team, or will even get the chance to given the likelihood that London stadiums will be packed with locals as they always are for big T20 fixtures.
The reason the franchise system works in Australia is that the population is far more concentrated around cities such as Sydney and Melbourne, and their suburbs, that are the homes for the franchises. Most of the Australian population will have a local franchise to support with the only decision really is for those in Sydney or Melbourne who need to decide which of their two teams to support. There really is no difficulty as there are no real local rivalries in domestic state cricket, which actually has two less teams than the Big Bash itself. Instead local rivalries are played out at Grade level, the level below first class cricket. This is not the case in Britain however where there are so many local rivalries at a first class level it is inconceivable for many fans to support any of the franchises.
Of course the IPL is a huge country with a massive population, and only ten teams to cover it. What drives fans to support teams miles away from them which they have no attachment to? Generally it’s which team that their hero, whether it be MS Dhoni, Virat Kohl, or Yuvraj Singh, is playing for. That’s how the hideous Rising Pune Supergiants earned so many fans, despite being local to the massive Mumbai Indians. It’s because they had MS Dhoni. This is the power of icon worship in India. It’s a cultural phenomena that will draw fans around the country to a certain team because of one player, meaning pretty much every Indian has a team to support.
Now i’m not go into some deluded piece on how having Joe Root and the very best England players wouldn’t draw me into attending games, seeing a big name on the team sheet is always likely to draw more fans in and I would certainly make an extra effort to make a game so as to see Jos Buttler play. The big thing is though, is that this competition is not necessary to make this happen. What would be easier would be too stop filling the international calendar with so many pointless ODI’s and have England players available for the white ball games young people really want to go to, T20s. The T20 Blast already has the big international names in attendance as well. Chris Gayle turns out for Somerset, Shahid Afridi and Darren Sammy both play for Hampshire, Brendon McCullum plays for Middlesex, and the wealth of overseas talent that Surrey provides is outrageous. Crowds for the Blast increase season by season as well, if the ECB were to decrease the number of pointless ODI’s their players were involved in, the T20 Blast would continue to increase crowds and interest year upon year if played throughout the season. Some of the best T20 players don’t play Test Cricket anyway so many could play in the tournament if the current format was kept in place and the International schedule rightly edited. Let us not forget also that none of the Australian national team involved in Test cricket actually play in the Big Bash for more than a couple of games because the competition is at the same time as the Test calendar.
All that this condensed format would provide would be hurting the chances of young talent, the destruction of the smaller counties, and a significant blow to domestic first class cricket. With 8 squads of 15, with only 12 being domestic players and goodness knows how many of those could be Kolpak, there will not be enough spaces for young players from smaller counties to break into these sides. Promising players like Ben Raine and Lewis Hill at Leicestershire, who make such an impact on the T20 Blast, will likely not get selected for the big franchise squads. Young players from teams like Northants who have produced David Willey and Ben Duckett for England, and Leicestershire who produced Harry Gurney, Stuart Broad, and James Taylor for Nottinghamshire and England, will not get the chance to play in Franchise teams likely coached by staff from the base ground, who will pick their own players.
This of course means that the very best young players will move to the bigger counties so that they have a better chance of appearing in the competition. All the big talent will leave to the big counties causing a greater gulf between the divisions in first class cricket as smaller counties will not have the quality to challenge richer teams who host these franchises. The fact the new competition will be played at the height of summer will also push the County Championship to the periphery of the summer, reducing crowds, interest, and ultimately the kindness of the weather. The County Championship does of course struggle from getting crowds in the first place, so does need some sort of help in re-invigorating interest.
The big reason for the introduction of this new format is to get some cricket on television for the general public to create more interest in the game. Now whilst it will be excellent to have some cricket on free-to-air TV, there is no reason that the T20 Blast can be televised over the whole summer when the current deal has expired. By having games and coverage across the whole summer and specifically on Friday and Saturday nights rather than throughout the week where people are more likely to go to games and take their family with them, it creates more interest for domestic cricket in England and the tournament itself.
So this is my diagnosis for the ECB’s problems. Scrap it. Scrap franchise teams with no real soul. Scrap pointless ODI’s and focus upon a unique T20 competition with county teams full of history and character, among franchised leagues plaguing the world. Stick with the T20 Blast. Stick with both the past and the future of British cricket.
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