The Cricket Paper - - OPINION - DEREK PRINGLE

The new city-based T20 com­pe­ti­tion which the ECB are plan­ning for 2020, is an at­tempt to raise the pro­file and spec­ta­tor lev­els of cricket in Eng­land and Wales by at­tract­ing a new au­di­ence to the game. If that sounds fa­mil­iar, well, that is be­cause the cur­rent T20 Blast claimed the same thing when it came kick­ing and scream­ing into the world of county cricket 14 years ago.

With a new T20 com­pe­ti­tion planned did that first in­car­na­tion of T20 fail in its aims? Well, yes and no. For many coun­ties a new au­di­ence, beer-swill­ing and ag­gres­sive, has made Fri­day night T20 a fix­ture in their so­cial cal­en­dars. But where are the ex­tra women and chil­dren promised by the orig­i­nal com­pe­ti­tion?

It is them that the ECB are hop­ing this lat­est Big Bash-style in­car­na­tion of T20 will de­liver. That, and a whop­ping TV deal with which to keep coun­ties, most of them strug­gling fi­nan­cially, sweet.

It has been re­ported that 15 of the 18 coun­ties are for the new com­pe­ti­tion, yet to be catchily named, with three against.

This is not true with quite a few not pre­pared to give their bless­ing un­til more detail has been painted, some­thing the ECB are plan­ning to do be­fore March when they hope to have enough ac­cord to sign it off and in­clude ne­go­ti­a­tions for a new TV deal. If that all seems a bit rushed, it is be­cause the ECB feel the need to get the TV deal done be­fore any foot­ball deals are struck, in case they leave the cup­board bare for other sports.

Chief among the po­ten­tial prob­lems is when the new com­pe­ti­tion, thought to in­volve eight teams, might be played. Orig­i­nally, it was stated to take place along­side the County Cham­pi­onship but given that the new T20 would take 100 of the best play­ers away from county duty, that would mean al­most 70 per cent of the Cham­pi­onship be­ing con­tested by a sec­ond string, some­thing un­ac­cept­able to many clubs with strong mem­ber­ships.

Sens­ing dis­quiet, the ECB’s lat­est pro­posal is for it to take place dur­ing the do­mes­tic 50-over pro­gramme, though the same prob­lems of weak­en­ing the com­pe­ti­tion ex­ist. It cer­tainly makes no sense for the best 100 do­mes­tic play­ers to miss out on rig­or­ous 50-over cricket while there is still a 50-over World Cup to be played, so there are stag­ing prob­lems for the new T20 from the off.

There are also wor­ries that a new, all-singing and all-danc­ing T20 will, even­tu­ally, down­grade the cur­rent T20 Blast, a com­pe­ti­tion that has proved the lifeblood of coun­ties like Som­er­set and Es­sex, and a gold­mine for some richer coun­ties like Sur­rey, who clear £3m ev­ery time they play T20 at the Kia Oval.

For that rea­son, Sur­rey are the big­gest crit­ics of ECB’s plans for a new T20, which they see as tam­per­ing with a model they have work­ing well and which has en­riched them be­yond their wildest dreams. Then there are the is­sues of where it might be played with the six main Test grounds and oth­ers big grounds, like the Ageas Bowl, Emi­rates River­side and Cardiff, the ob­vi­ous venues.

Ex­cept that Sur­rey are thought not to be that keen (they would have to share the spoils of play­ing at the Kia Oval), which would place a lot of pres­sure on Lord’s. There are lim­its to how much cricket can be played at Lord’s which, un­less Mid­dle­sex could be per­suaded to play more games away from HQ, could leave the ECB with the co­nun­drum as to where a Lon­don team might play?

Although that would be a ma­jor set­back there are so­lu­tions at hand. Kent were one of those who came out against the ECB’s orig­i­nal pro­pos­als, but are thought to be soft­en­ing after of­fers to help them de­velop the ground at Beck­en­ham, one of the venues at which the county cur­rently plays. That, along with places like the Olympic Sta­dium in Strat­ford, could then pro­vide al­ter­na­tive venues for a Lon­don-based team.

There is a fear that by con­cen­trat­ing more matches in ma­jor ci­ties that some ru­ral coun­ties with­out large metropoli­tan ar­eas like Le­ices­ter­shire, Northamp­ton­shire and Der­byshire, will even­tu­ally be­come ob­so­lete. Some coun­ties are also un­easy about the prospect, if it does fol­low Big Bash lines, of the ECB own­ing all the new city teams.

That means the ECB will then be in com­pe­ti­tion with the coun­ties it pur­ports to rep­re­sent over the pro­mo­tion of each T20 com­pe­ti­tion. No prizes for guess­ing which one the ECB will throw their weight be­hind.

Then there is the detail of who picks the teams, which coun­ties will join forces to form which city sides, where the coaches and sup­port staff will come from, how many over­seas play­ers per team, and whether or not there will be a player auc­tion? All of it as yet un­re­solved, at least as far as the coun­ties are con­cerned.

For those county play­ers in­volved in the city-based sides there will be a new, en­hanced salary stream. But with that will come shift­ing al­le­giances to the point where some play­ers might want to pre­serve their fit­ness and peak per­for­mances for the high­est payer – which will mean coun­ties, and their mem­ber­ships, be­ing fur­ther short­changed.

These are just some of the is­sues and de­tails that most coun­ties, at least those who wor­ship cricket over money, want an­swered be­fore they agree to a sec­ond T20 com­pe­ti­tion. Most of the 18 coun­ties face fi­nan­cial chal­lenges, more some than oth­ers. In­deed, their prob­lems vary so much that 18 dif­fer­ent mod­els would prob­a­bly be re­quired to run the sys­tem ef­fi­ciently.

The com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor to most of their prob­lems, though, is a lack of money which is why, with the prom­ise of an ex­tra £1.3m per county, most will say “yes” to the ECB’s pro­pos­als and hang the con­se­quences – which in four years’ time could be con­sid­er­able un­less that new au­di­ence has been en­ticed and TV are happy with their lat­est ac­qui­si­tion.

Most will say ‘Yes’ and hang the con­se­quences which could be con­sid­er­able un­less that new au­di­ence has been en­ticed and TV is happy with its ac­qui­si­tion

PIC­TURE: Getty Im­ages

Oval and out? Sur­rey are happy with the cur­rent T20 set-up

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