Tim Wig­more with reg­u­lar views from the sec­ond tier

Tim Wig­more’s weekly look at the game be­low the Test-play­ing na­tions

The Cricket Paper - - ENGLAND TOUR OF BANGLADESH -

Arev­o­lu­tion is com­ing to English do­mes­tic cricket. Many will not like it, but the in­tro­duc­tion of a new, stream­lined do­mes­tic T20 com­pe­ti­tion looks cer­tain. But the ECB should be aim­ing higher: they should not sim­ply be seek­ing to trans­form English cricket with a new com­pe­ti­tion, but to lift up the en­tire Euro­pean game. Such an ap­proach would give new en­ergy and dy­namism to the T20 tour­na­ment, and, by grow­ing the Euro­pean game, ul­ti­mately be in English cricket’s fi­nan­cial in­ter­ests, too.

The first step is sim­ple. Ire­land and Scot­land should be sounded out about field­ing a team each in the T20 com­pe­ti­tion. Rather than be­fore, when Ire­land and Scot­land played in county cricket as their na­tional teams, the sides should be clearly iden­ti­fied as based in Ire­land and Scot­land, rather than be­ing them: a sub­tle but im­por­tant dif­fer­ence.

Th­ese teams should be free to have as many over­seas play­ers as ev­ery other team, al­though, ide­ally, all of the other sports would be taken by play­ers el­i­gi­ble to play for the na­tional side.

Adding in the Celts would en­rich the com­pe­ti­tion. It would add a new di­men­sion of na­tional ri­valry, and al­low fans to plot, Six Na­tions style, week­ends away in Dublin or Ed­in­burgh. Healthy crowds would cer­tainly come: Dublin, Belfast, Ed­in­burgh and Glas­gow all have pop­u­la­tion cen­tres that are big­ger than some of the English grounds likely to be awarded T20 teams.

Th­ese are ar­eas where in­ter­est in cricket is size­able – there are fa­mously more cricket clubs than rugby clubs in Scot­land, and Ire­land has twice got 10,000 peo­ple to see ODIs against Eng­land de­spite them be­ing held out­side the height of sum­mer – and it would be nur­tured by in­clu­sion in a shiny new T20 com­pe­ti­tion.

It would also be a bril­liant way of ex­pand­ing the game. De­spite get­ting a wel­come ex­tra $250,000 from the ICC to pay for fix­tures next year, Scot­land re­main starved of matches. Since the ECB booted them out of the do­mes­tic county com­pe­ti­tion in 2013 – a small-minded act in keep­ing with the worst of the ECB in that era – Scot­land’s sum­mer fix­ture list has been des­o­late.

The team is young and dy­namic and, as they showed by thrash­ing Hong Kong and al­most top­pling Afghanistan and Ire­land in the World T20 in March, well­suited to T20 cricket. They de­serve bet­ter than an ex­is­tence as non-play­ing crick­eters: Scot­land only had 10 days of com­pet­i­tive cricket in the en­tirety of last sum­mer.

The scraps that Scot­land are seek­ing – like their A team be­ing in­cluded in the 2nd XI County Cham­pi­onship – are un­be­fit­ting for a coun­try ranked 13th in the world in both T20I and ODI cricket. Cricket Scot­land have made ad­mirable ef­forts to ex­pand the sport’s ap­peal, and scotch the myth that it is an ‘English game’ once and for all. The trou­ble is they have no matches for new con­verts to cricket to watch.

Al­though Ire­land have a bur­geon­ing fix­ture list against Test na­tions, there would be huge ben­e­fits for them in an Ir­ish team tak­ing part, too. Ire­land are des­per­ate to ex­pose their fringe play­ers to a higher level of com­pe­ti­tion and need to hone their T20 cricket, eas­ily their weak­est for­mat.

Un­til Ire­land ex­ited the county game in 2009, their matches against coun­ties often at­tracted size­able crowds. In­clu­sion would be a huge boon to cricket in the Emer­ald Isle, too, ex­pos­ing play­ers to bois­ter­ous crowds and the pres­sures of be­ing tele­vised be­fore they had grad­u­ated to in­ter­na­tional cricket. As in Scot­land, an Ir­ish T20 team would make it eas­ier for young­sters to en­vis­age a ca­reer in cricket, nudg­ing them to choose the game over other sports. The depth and qual­ity of Ire­land and Scot­land would be boosted by play­ing in a pre­mier T20 tour­na­ment, with and against some of the the best T20 crick­eters in the globe.

The teams would be very com­pet­i­tive, too. Both have per­formed well in in­ter­na­tional events in re­cent years; while Scot­land have lacked Ire­land’s vic­to­ries over Test na­tions, they per­formed doughtily both in the World Cup last year and the WT20 this year. Al­low­ing Ire­land and Scot­land first re­fusal on their own in­ter­na­tional play­ers for the tour­na­ment would give them unity and ex­pe­ri­ence play­ing to­gether that the new pop-up sides might lack.

The prospect of play­ing in such an ex­cit­ing tour­na­ment would also help to en­cour­age more play­ers with Ir­ish and Scot­tish an­ces­try across the globe, in­clud­ing in Aus­tralia, New Zealand and South Africa, to com­mit to the coun­tries; right now, there is scant mo­ti­va­tion for any­one with Scot­tish her­itage to up­root them­selves to Scot­land.

And en­sur­ing that the teams had ac­cess to over­seas play­ers – just like Rahul Dravid, who played for Scot­land for a sum­mer of county cricket in 2003 and de­clared him­self “blown away” by the in­ter­est in cricket there – would both im­prove the qual­ity of the sides in this com­pe­ti­tion, and boost the de­vel­op­ment of young Ir­ish and Scot­tish tal­ent.

But the ECB should not only in­vite teams from Ire­land and Scot­land be­cause it is the right thing to do to aide the growth of cricket in Europe. They should also in­vite them for rea­sons of nar­row self-in­ter­est.

If the ECB wants to make as much cash from the new tour­na­ment as pos­si­ble, it should ex­tend a wel­com­ing hand to Ir­ish and Scot­tish teams. There are 12mil­lion peo­ple in Ire­land and Scot­land com-

The prospect of play­ing in such a tour­na­ment would also help to en­cour­age more play­ers with Ir­ish and Scot­tish an­ces­try to com­mit

bined, so en­sur­ing that a new T20 tour­na­ment was de­signed for this au­di­ence too would make it sub­stan­tially more lu­cra­tive. Spicy trips to Belfast, Dublin, Ed­in­burgh or Glas­gow, played out in front of rowdy, English-bait­ing crowds, could be­come a highlight of the new tour­na­ment.

Greater Celtic in­ter­est in cricket would also help Eng­land in other ways. More cricket fans in Ire­land and Scot­land means more peo­ple who want to watch the sport – not just this new T20 com­pe­ti­tion, but in­deed, Eng­land in­ter­na­tion­als, too. So the ECB’s TV rights would be worth more.

Nur­tur­ing cricket in Ire­land and Scot­land could also al­low the ECB to make sub­stan­tial cash from play­ing them in in­ter­na­tion­als, rather than ful­fill­ing fix­tures out of a sense of duty. Cricket Ire­land ex­pect Lord’s to sell-out for their his­toric visit there for an ODI against Eng­land next May. When Eng­land play their Celtic ri­vals in foot­ball or rugby, the games gen­er­ate huge swathes of cash. In time, the same could be true in cricket.

It would be an odd ap­proach to ex­pand­ing cricket’s ap­peal that com­pletely ne­glected the third big­gest city in the UK: Glas­gow. And it would be a wasted op­por­tu­nity if the huge re­forms to English do­mes­tic cricket were obliv­i­ous to the in­creased pop­u­lar­ity of the game in Ire­land, Scot­land and beyond. The ECB has an op­por­tu­nity not merely to re­form English do­mes­tic cricket, but to be­come pi­o­neers, form­ing the first transna­tional T20 league, and de­vel­op­ing a tour­na­ment with cross-con­ti­nen­tal ap­peal.

Here is an op­por­tu­nity for the ECB to do what is right for the sport, and en­rich them­selves in the process. All that is needed is a lit­tle vi­sion.

Tar­tan tri­umph: Scot­land beat Hong Kong in the World T20

City breaks: Ed­in­burgh and, inset, Dublin wlll bring added value as des­ti­na­tions among new T20 fran­chises

The way they were: Ire­land and Scot­land were part of the Friends Prov­i­dent Tro­phy

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