As the Indian Premier League commences its 10th season, and the County Championship emerges from its hibernation like a bleary-eyed hedgehog, cricket fans from Hove to Hyderabad will be discussing the news that England will be having a new T20 tournament. But not until 2020, giving enough time for the other T20 franchise tournaments to spread their dominance even further, Dave Stewart to write a new official song and the ECB to negotiate a deal with Atomic Kitten to play at the opening ceremony.
So to paraphrase the Cranberries, if everyone else is discussing it, why can’t we?
Matt H: It is a recorded fact that the Big Bash is our favourite T20 competition. So what can England (and Wales) learn from it, as they prepare for their new tournament?
Aussie Matt: Now seems to be a good time to begin introducing KFC buckets to English grounds. Perhaps hand them out for free at the gate so Lord’s members can experience the excitement of watching cricket with a greasy cardboard bucket on your head. I think this will help dispel many of the reservations some cricket fans have towards this new type of competition.
It might also be a good idea for the UK government to follow Trump’s lead in stripping back all environmental regulations, as global warming could only have a positive impact on attendances.
Nichael Bluth: Mainly that free to air coverage is the key. Get the thing where people can actually see it, get them talking about it and then sell tickets off the back of that. It might be tougher up front than just milking the Sky cash cow, but it has to be the way to go.
Also, that despite all the flashing bails, dancing troupes and Mel McLaughlin’s shiny hair, it’s the cricket that really makes or breaks the competition. If people aren’t gathered in the kitchen the following morning talking about a record-breaking all-round performance from Stuart Binny then something must have gone horribly wrong somewhere.
MH: I agree about the free to air coverage, though I don’t know enough about media law to know if this can be guaranteed. The ECB should do everything they can to get as many people watching it as possible though. Speaking of which, the expected format sees teams based at eight grounds. Is this a problem?
AM: It shouldn’t be, as long as ticket prices are low enough. Although this would make less sense if the same grounds are sharing T20 and NatWest Blast games. Those, at least, should be used to spread word beyond the big cities where I assume this new comp will reside.
NB: Generally speaking, people either travel a short distance or not at all for Big Bash games, given that the Aussie population is based in a few big cities around the coast. I can’t imagine many people from Darwin heading to Big Bash games, for instance. Although that’s probably because they risk being eaten by crocodiles or blown away by cyclones every time they step out the front door.
I’d be surprised to see people from outside the eight cities travelling far to watch games to be honest, especially when they support a team that doesn’t exist in the context of this competition. Hence instead of spreading the game, it’ll actually be doing the opposite: concentrating it in a few specific areas. Hopefully not ones prone to lots of rain.
MH: I actually think there is a case that the ECB should try and spread cricket beyond the current cities. After all, not all the cricket grounds are in the biggest cities. Not in Bradford or Sheffield or Newcastle or Liverpool or Glasgow. And I can’t see cricket fans from Portsmouth or Swansea going to watch Cardiff Clash or Southampton Scorchio.
NB: They definitely should be trying to spread the game. If they were really brave and trying to distinguish this from the IPL and Big Bash, they would explore playing matches in stadia that aren’t cricket grounds.
MH: What will the impacts be on other parts of the season – the Championship, Test cricket, the #Blast, etc?
AM: The Royal London Cup is going to be gutted, and its carcass thrown to the wolves. But there might be an argument against the need for strong domestic 50-over tournaments if you have a competitive T20 league in their place. Australia hasn’t had a 50-over comp worth following for years now, and it doesn’t seem to have hurt the development of its international team at all.
NB: Yeah, the Royal London Cup is basically dead already, a Bokoblin arm left twitching on the floor, waiting for someone to pick it up and forlornly whack it on a Lynel’s head before being mercilessly taken down with shock arrows. I’m also concerned that Test cricket will be going on at the same time as this new comp. As a result, there is a risk that both are diluted – Tests won’t get the attention they deserve, and the T20 won’t feature England’s most identifiable players.
MH: What exactly is the objective of the new tournament then? How would we design it?
NB: The object is money.
AM: The objective of the Big Bash is to attract new fans, which its been extremely successful at doing. Whether it’s been successful in its second objective, turning these new fans into followers of Test cricket, is less clear and nobody will really know the results of that for a while yet. But as long as the ECB are doing this for the right reasons, and not just to line their own pockets, like with that Stanford rubbish, I think it will do well.
Designing the comp to try and keep all fans happy will be more difficult. In Australia they didn’t bother with that, because nobody follows Shield cricket anyway, but the ECB should beware the fury of a County fan scorned. Unless they can find a way to keep both camps happy they will be burning effigies of Tom Harrison and Andrew Strauss up and down the country before long, not just in Durham like they are now. Because the danger is the County game will ultimately be rendered as irrelevant to international sides, even the Test team, as the Shield has.
MH: What all right-thinking people have learnt from the IPL (and ICC tournaments), is that it shouldn’t outstay its welcome. Ideally it won’t last longer than three weeks, during the school holidays.
NB: Bingo. So stay tuned for a six-week behemoth of a tournament with weird scheduling, iconic overseas superstars like John Hastings and Ravi Rampaul, and a washed out Lord’s final exclusive to BT Sport.