|Made in Somerset and Durham|
And why? Because of the money to be made from hosting a competition called the 100.
The 50 over competition, of which we are world champions on the international stage, will be relegated to a development tournament, with T20 losing its best players to the 100. Durham fans already feel harshly done by, when the ECB sanctioned them heavily in 2016 and the county have never recovered. If their fans want to go and watch the 100, then they will have to make the journey down the A1 to Leeds to watch the so called "Northern Superchargers". Sport in the North East is integral to the communities that make up County Durham and they have produced numerous players to the national side during their first class existence. Their two major football clubs have suffered in recent years, with owners taking the blame.
Likewise Somerset followers will have to trawl up the M5, queue to get across the Severn Bridge, navigate that heavy traffic that always builds up in the Newport area before finally finding somewhere to park in Cardiff and get into the ground. The chances of either Durham fans making the trip to Leeds or Somerset going to Cardiff to support a made up franchise, are slimmer than Nathan Lyon.
|Durham in Test playing days|
So therefore, what is happening in cricket is that the ECB are deliberately promoting eight centres ahead of the other ten remaining counties. Funnily enough these are at the Test playing venues and the rich will get richer whilst the smaller ones will in effect, not have the infrastructure to compete with their bigger neighbours.
For years, we have seen this happening - a slow strangulation of the smaller counties as the likes of Leicestershire lost Stuart Broad or Durham lost Stoneman, Jennings and Borthwick. Leicestershire are perceived as a smaller county, yet it is a city rich in sporting history with their cricket, football and rugby clubs all winning silverware in the last twenty years. Leicestershire have continually lost their better players and will continue to do so in years to come.
If you look at football in the last thirty years, television rights produce an obscene amount of money to the elite clubs, possibly more if a European Super League rises in the name of corporate greed. Two of those clubs are likely to be Manchester City and United, yet two clubs supported by loyal fans just a short drive away, are about to close their doors on their support for the last time.
|The same is true for cricket|
Sport is not all about television rights. Jock Stein said, "Football without fans, is nothing" and the same could be said for cricket. It is about those clubs at the heart of their communities who represent me and you. It is not about television income, new audiences or funky advertising campaigns, it is about promoting the game to kids in eighteen counties. It is about making sure that they support their local side - a side that they can relate to in geographic terms, just as those Lancastrian kids who support Bolton or Bury do. It is about making kids in the North East able to watch their heroes play for their local club. Without the fans, the game dies. With that comes the knock on effect of jobs going, pubs in the area shutting down along with other businesses that rely on sport to survive.
The ECB has a classic opportunity at the moment. England have just won the World Cup and Ben Stokes has ensured we have 'Ashes fever'. Kids are playing in the parks with our one day kits on and people who don't know their Roots from their Roys are suddenly talking to me about the game. The opportunity that was missed in 2005 by hiding the game behind a paywall and ensuring that the numbers playing recreational cricket dropped, needs to be atoned for and that is by backing the Vitality Blast. With numbers up all around the counties at present, the goose that is laying the golden egg is about to be turned into a farmyard chicken.
Whether this opportunity is taken with both hands remains to be seen, or whether Northamptonshire, Durham, Leicestershire or Derbyshire end up as the Bury or a Bolton Wanderers of cricket is more likely.
To let the counties die, would be criminal.
Sport, whether it is cricket or football is about the people who watch it. It is about all teams, no matter how big or small and the people who support those sides. Administrators and the bigger clubs have a responsibility to capitalise on the 'Stokes Effect' and to support all eighteen counties. That includes the small guys.
All those years of history, surely outweighs a quick buck?