The ECB’s proposed new competition, due to start in 2020, is the hot topic amongst cricket lovers. So we asked some of Deep Extra Cover’s writers to give their views.
We also sought the opinions of Neil Snowball, the Chief Executive of Warwickshire County Cricket Club and Edgbaston Stadium, one of the grounds already chosen to host the new competition. The interview with him can be found here.
First, let us start with what is actually being proposed. This is a bit of a moveable feast, in that currently ideas are being scattered around like confetti at a celebrity wedding. But what we know is being proposed so far is:
- There will be eight newly-created teams who will compete in a new tournament starting in 2020
- The matches will be played across seven city locations (London will host two teams) with the tournament lasting five weeks in mid-summer.
- The tournament will consist of 36 games in 38 days with four home group games per team
- Both men’s and women’s teams will compete in concurrent competitions
- The matches will consist of 15 six-ball overs and a 10-ball over to complete the 100 deliveries.
- All games will be televised with fixtures split between Sky Sports and the BBC, with 10 matches live on the BBC. Sky Sports will broadcast those matches not shown on the BBC.
- County cricketers will be drafted to the highest bidding teams for the duration of the competition and will not be tied to their ‘home venue’ team
- Overseas players will also enter the auction with up to three eligible for each team.
- The Vitality T20 Blast competition will not overlap the new competition and all 18 counties will continue to play Twenty20 cricket
We asked Steve Dolman, Scott Hunt and Phil Lewis for their views.
Steve is one of our Derbyshire correspondents, Scott is our Senior Editor and Lancashire writer, while Phil is one of our Gloucestershire correspondents.
Terry Wright took the chair. Terry is a Bear of both the Warwickshire and Birmingham varieties who has migrated to Bristol but still manages to travel frequently up the M5 to report on matches at Edgbaston.
Terry: What do you think, overall, about these proposals?
Steve: I don’t see the need for a new tournament with eight new teams when there is a perfectly good, well-attended T20 that is growing by the year.
The locations and cities chosen ignore decades/centuries old rivalries and enmity. Southport, Wigan, Liverpool folk will not support a Manchester team. Sheffield, York, Scarborough will not support a Leeds team.
Also, 36 games in 38 days is too many. People only have so much disposable income. It also ignores the British weather, which can ruin any crowd-pulling event and kill cricket stone dead.
Terry: Phil, do you agree?
Phil: No, because I am in favour of any initiative which promises to introduce more youngsters to cricket. The glaring lack of awareness that exists among school-age generation of kids is alarming. Doing nothing to rectify this sorry state of affairs is not an option.
Whatever the reasons for this, whether it is the ECB’s policy of selling cricket to Sky, the absence of cricket in state schools, the perception that cricket is slow, dull and for more prosperous social groups, the fact remains that the current diet of four-day, 50-over and T20 cricket is not attracting a wide enough audience.
Terry: Scott, what’s your view on that?
Scott: I think I find myself somewhere between Steve and Phil on this. Absolutely I agree that something needs to be done to widen the appeal of cricket, especially at a younger age group. With that in mind I’m not against the idea of this new competition per se.
I do share Steve’s concerns though that people from areas where one of these teams isn’t based will not engage with the competition. I find it highly unlikely that someone from Durham will travel to Headingley to watch a side they have no affiliation with. The Blast is a fantastic competition and my concern is that it will become an afterthought from 2020 onwards, which could alienate cricket fans and decrease the audience, rather than widening it.
Terry: So will the proposals work in bringing a new audience to the game of cricket?
Phil: Anyone who watches IPL and Big Bash can’t help but be impressed with the sheer level of excitement that the games produce. Big Bash marketeers have deliberately targeted families, notably to include girls and women, and it works. And every sweep of the camera at Chennai, Hyderabad or Mumbai confirms that IPL too attracts huge numbers of females and families.
Can we expect the same outcome in our cities? We don’t have Australian weather or the level of passion that elevates India’s cricketers to movie star status, but surely it’s worth a try.
Scott: I’m struggling to see why ‘mums and kids’, to use the ECB term, who are not currently watching cricket or engaged with it, are more likely to become so because of a new competition that features brand new teams they have no affiliation to. In chasing a new audience, with the 100-ball gimmicks that I’m sure we’ll come on to, you do risk turning off the current audience. It’s a tough balance to strike.
Steve: I doubt whether a new audience will be attracted. My earlier comments about local rivalries are relevant here.
Also, the truth is that many people just find the game boring, however you try and sex it up. And the changes risk alienating existing fans.
Terry: So you don’t think existing cricket supporters will also watch?
Steve: Not many. They have already been told that it’s not for them. Some will watch, out of curiosity, but will people get behind a horse that holds no interest for them?
Terry: Do you think that new supporters attracted to the competition will be be drawn subsequently to watch other forms of the game?
Scott: Possibly, once you get into the game as a whole, you may start to want to play it and engage with it more across all formats. Time will tell on that one.
Steve: They may go to watch T20. But people will not travel huge distances for 200-ball cricket matches and that needs to be understood. There are simply too many things competing for their money.
Phil: I do agree on this. It’s unlikely that those fans drawn to the new competition in the seven franchise cities will watch the county T20 as well.
Overkill is a potential problem, coupled with the perception that the county T20 may be seen as a poor relation. In addition, the use of outgrounds for many of the T20 games played by the eight counties whose grounds will be used for new competition will not be popular amongst existing fans.
Terry: Getting down to detail, what do you think of the 100-ball format and the proposed 10-ball over?
Steve: I think it’s stupid! If you’re going to make a change, why not 20 x 5 ball overs, or 15 x 6? That’s easier than 15 x 6 and 1 x 10.
Also, the result will be too short a game to warrant travel when you really don’t care about the teams or the result.
Phil: I don’t agree. An innings of 100 balls, however structured, is a much easier idea to sell than T20 (20 what?, overs, what are they?). This isn’t cricket for idiots as one cricket writer has argued recently, it’s marketing a product to a new audience to make the product more easily understood.
Scott: I think it’s become clear that the TV broadcasters have played a big part in this 100-ball proposal. Maybe that’s the price we have to pay to have it on terrestrial television. My view would be this competition was proposed to try and match the success of the Big Bash and IPL. They manage perfectly well with 20 overs a side.
When T20 was brought in in 2003, it was a brand new idea, but the fabric of cricket remained the same. Cricket is six-ball overs, always has been. You don’t need to rip the sport up.
Also, making it shorter won’t attract the new audience. You don’t sit through two and a half hours of a sport you’re not keen on, just because it could have been 40 balls longer. I don’t like American Football, for instance, but if they took the final quarter away I wouldn’t then decide to sit through the first three quarters.
Terry: How will tying up five weeks in the middle of summer with the new competition affect other forms of the game?
Steve: County Championship matches must be played at the same time and over those five weeks at weekends. Then people who want proper cricket can have their attention maintained in better weather. If it simply stops, then people will find other things to do.
Also, that would give a chance to academy players. We would need to change the qualification criteria for overseas players as there is too much pressure already with overseas tours, IPL, CPL and now this. Counties should be able to bring over two each, just like the old days. International recognition is not essential. Lots of great players were unknown before county stints – for example, Keith Boyce, John Wright, Peter Kirsten, Greg Chappell, Viv Richards.
Phil: As I understand it, at present it’s planned that the new competition will take place at the same time as the existing 50-over games. As most counties will contribute to the pool of players for the new competition, this means that the counties will field weakened 50-over sides. With attendances already poor at many 50 over games this may sound the death knell for this format; which is designed in part to foster potential international ODI players.
An even greater threat is posed to the existing county-based T20. Although the target markets are different, there is bound to be some crossover. It’s unlikely that those fans drawn to the new competition in the seven franchise cities will watch the county T20 as well.
Terry: And what about the County championship?
Phil: The ECB proposals suggest even more marginalisation of the much-loved tournament. Everyone in the game says how important it is to nurture it, and then they push it into what seems like late winter and the autumn. On the first day of round three of championship matches it was 7 degrees and raining!
If ECB decision-makers have a list of priorities pinned to their office walls, the 100-ball competition will be at the top and the County Championship firmly at the bottom.
Scott: The ECB have to find a way to preserve the Championship, it’s a treasured part of the game for most people. And it’s a different sport altogether in many way. For me, one of the biggest things that makes cricket what it is is the three formats and the challenge of playing in them all. I’m sure the ECB will be doing everything to preserve that.
Terry: So what, if any, alternative approaches to improving interest in the game would you suggest?
Steve: Get kids involved early, like many counties and clubs are starting to do.
Make prices reasonable, as Derbyshire are, and get clubs out into the communities and shopping centres to do signings and pose for pics.
Let them see who is involved and that they are nice people. Show them the positive side of the club with concerts and activities and some will come along.
Scott: Priority number one, get cricket in schools. It’s seen as a posh sport, not accessible to every child. Secondly what they are doing with the ‘hundred’ – get it on terrestrial TV, online etc. Make cricket accessible to all.
Phil: I would have liked to think that the existing T20 Blast could have been re-launched without the need for the new city franchise competition, but I doubt whether that is an option.
Better attended than ever, it seems to produce exciting talented international cricketers and makes money for the counties. It does attract a somewhat different audience to the four-day and 50-over formats but not different enough.
On many county grounds it seems that the sale and consumption of alcohol is the principal purpose of a T20 match. As someone tweeted last season on his first T20 experience (at the Oval) it was the biggest pub in London with some cricket going on in the background. Far from attracting a new audience of youngsters with their families it will serve to alienate them: losing them to cricket for ever.
Terry: Any other thoughts from each of you?
Scott: One of the biggest concerns I had was the news this week that England Test players won’t be involved because it will clash with Test series. Our biggest stars have to play – Joe Root, Ben Stokes etc. It was said that it won’t matter because the new audience ‘won’t know who they are’. Well then why are we bothering at all?
If we are doing this, let’s do it properly, make sure everyone is available and let our young kids see England’s best players and hold them up as role models.
Steve: It’s good that all games will be televised with fixtures split between Sky Sports and the BBC.
The draft system will kill all the source counties. As for three overseas players entering the auction with three available per team, that’s fair enough, but I’m still not sure that it will attract this vast audience of ‘Mums and kids’, unless Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp and Hugh Jackman are among them.
Phil: Those who have ridiculed the 100-ball format in recent days, criticised the city-based event for ignoring traditional county loyalties and doubted the integrity of the cricket itself are missing the point. It’s prospects for success lie not with the efforts of the cricket authorities and the cricketers but, to a large extent, with the marketeers.
The marketeers can use advertising media to target the intended market precisely, help to design an experience that will appeal to that market and, above all, create the impression of a completely new approach to a traditional well- loved game.
One major negative of the new competition, however, is the certain absence of the top English stars since Test matches will be played during the window of the competition. Surely the likes of Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow should play in the new competition to serve as role models for the young watchers. Their potential absence seems crazy.
Terry: Thanks for letting us have your wide-ranging views. Is there a final thought that we could all agree on?
Phil: Well, the one thing that is certain is that cricket will never be the same as it was. Everything evolves to suit the context in which it is set.
Let’s just hope the changes the ECB are introducing are the right ones!
Terry: And with that thought, we will close this discussion down and await further developments!