Friday, 12 February 2016

The Blast from the Future

Shhhh. Whisper this really quietly but I am starting to warm to a few ideas that the ECB are coming up with. Two months ago we wrote on these pages about Matt Dwyer and promoting the game to all ans sundry at grass roots level and now they have finally seen sense. It looks like the franchise agreement is going to get scrapped. Today's Telegraph reports that a working party will propose keeping the 18 county system in a two division line up in the shorter format, having rejected the idea that we move to a smaller, city based franchise, such as employed by The Big Bash. Even better, the ECB look like they are listening too. This can only be good news for all of us, England and the game in general.

Lord's...the corridors of power
Many ideas have been floated around in recent years about franchises and reducing the NatWest Blast T20 to the big counties. Despite poor performances by some of them in recent years, ideas have been thrown around social media like confetti at a wedding of how this is going to work. If you could get a big crowd in, you got the gig. It basically included a carve up where the bigger counties got bigger and would, without a shadow of a doubt have led to some smaller counties reliant on their T20 gates, going to the wall.

Recent successes of the likes of Leicestershire in the competition spring to mind and as David Hopps brilliantly reminded us on ESPN Cricinfo the recent success of the city's football side has brought alive the national public's imagination in football. Big isn't always beautiful, you know!

Finally, the counties have seen sense and a working party led by Somerset CCC chairman Andy Nash has listened to the fans and players. For cricket to be successful, it needs competition and the format proposed by the party means scrapping the regional blocks as played at present and having two divisions of nine teams. This would provide 8 games with a quarter, semi and a final. A meritocratic system which is based on ability and not how much cash that you have in the bank. Or for that matter, how many people you can get through the door.

Andy Nash...leading the Working Party

For regular readers of these pages, you will know that we are firmly against a smaller T20 competition. Franchising alienates fans and doesn't mean anything to those who are proud of their county history and heritage. The likes of Leicestershire and Northamptonshire rely on gate receipts to keep their teams afloat and despite their struggles in recent years both have produced England players albeit who have then moved to other counties. Without the T20 gate money, would these guys have got the chance to ply their trade in the longer game? Why should the loyal fans of these sides miss out just because their side is going through a rough patch at present? Yes there may be fewer of them than say those at Surrey, but they are still hard core cricket fans none the less. Cricket is cyclical and what goes around, comes around.

Many grounds have also been upgraded in recent years with vast amounts of money being spent bringing them up to 21st century standard. A franchise system would deem this a waste of money in some instances. It would demote the county system to a second class citizen and if it followed the structure of rugby, such as Wales or Scotland, then it wouldn't be a good role model. In England where you still have traditional clubs, the domestic structure works. Wales may have a strong national side at present but politics, contractual wrangles and the exodus of players to other countries clubs still blight the domestic game.

England supremo Andrew Strauss is firmly behind the idea mooted by the working party, believing that it will strengthen England's chances at the World Cup and to stop the game lagging behind other countries. A strong T20 is favoured by the players too with 65 per cent of them favouring this system. It also enhances the prospects of selling the global tv rights too albeit with more focus on the top division. A stronger competition based on ability and not money can only be good for the game, although it is a chicken and egg scenario and I firmly believe that a stronger competition will bring in even more money.


Now imagine taking this one step further. Imagine it being on free to air television, imagine it being played in a block in September for instance (which would allow the four day game to be played in August enhancing the credentials of spinners in the game) and ensuring that there was enough prize money to make it worthwhile that counties played their England stars. Now we're talking...All kids, and not just those from a background where their parents can afford a subscription would even get a chance to see their idols on tv again.

The thing I really like about this proposal is that it places counties on an equal footing. Of course the richer ones will end up in Division One by buying in players but everyone will have a chance to get there. Under the franchise system they wouldn't have had the chance in the first place. Yes, there has been the odd grumble that losing a local derby will affect gates but football hasn't seen this problem with the absences of the Birmingham, South Coast or even Glasgow derby in recent years. If sides are good enough, they will play each other in the top division.

The NatWest Blast isn't from the past. It is looking to the future and it is in the near future that we will know more. March 7th to be precise. If these proposals are taken on board, the county chairmen should be applauded.

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