Surrey captain Gareth Batty has warned that the ECB’s proposed T20 franchise tournament could damage world cricket for a decade if it fails.
Counties are set to vote on the new tournament, which would see eight newly-formed city-based teams competing while the existing 18 counties play 50-over cricket, and would begin in 2020.
But Batty believes that both the importance of success and the risk involved is monumental.
“The ECB have a huge responsibility to the game as a whole, and I think if it bombs out, cricket will be damaged for a decade or more,” he said.
“I actually think it’s the biggest thing in cricket since Kerry Packer went and did his thing in Australia.
“I’m not saying yes or no either way, I just think it’s a massive decision that people need to not do on a whim, and get it right because our game will suffer.”
The 39-year-old expects to have retired when this new competition would come into effect, but has concerns over the impact on players.
With 18 counties but only eight teams, there are a vast number of players who, by definition, will be left unpicked by a franchise side.
“Obviously, players are excited about something new that could be massive – every time they play, [they would do so] in front of 15 or 20,000 [people].
“I think there’s also a worry from certain players that ‘are the PCA looking after the three quarters of players who won’t get a gig?’”
Head coach Michael Di Venuto, who has seen first-hand the positive effect of the Big Bash League on domestic cricket’s popularity in Australia, has similar doubts.
He said: “In Australia, we have six states, we have eight BBL teams, so the players don’t miss out. With this current competition, there’s only a quarter of the players that’ll play in it.
“I find it interesting that the players have agreed to it and are pushing for it.”
There is widespread apprehension at Surrey, who were reportedly one of the main opponents to the ECB’s plans.
The club have since taken a more considered view in the interest of preventing exclusion and attempting to assist move the game forwards, should the ECB’s constituent members (the counties, the MCC, the Minor Counties Cricket Association and the 21 recreational boards) approve the proposal.
Surrey’s Director of Cricket, Alec Stewart, is still sceptical: “I still don’t think the ECB know exactly how it’s going to work.
“That’s the biggest thing: they’re asking counties to vote for something that perhaps won’t be the finished product when they have to vote, which is always pretty dangerous.
“We don’t need it because of what we do here but we’ve also got to look outside of what’s just right for us.
“We’ve got to be positive about it. We can sit here and be cynical, but if there’s a new audience which haven’t turned up here, then fantastic, and the fact that it’s going to run just as the Premier League starts again will be interesting.
“People don’t turn up to watch Chelsea, will they come here instead? Perhaps this new competition will find that new audience that do like coming on a Monday night. [But] we haven’t been able to sell those previously.”
It is not just the structure or overall value of the competition that Stewart is worried about, but the impact it will have on the club.
“We might lose eight players to various franchises, which therefore gives our opportunity of winning that 50-over competition a dent.
“It means that, yes, we’ll be able to play fringe players, we might be able to play Academy players, we might have to go to the Surrey Championship and take players out of there so we’ve got 11.”
“Until we know exactly how it’s going to work, it’s pretty difficult.”