Reprieved T20 Blast Needs ECB’s Support
The England and Wales Cricket Board looks to have shelved its’ proposal to move to an eight ‘franchise’ Twenty20 tournament until 2019.
The controversial proposal was met with resistance from a number of counties, as well as dividing opinion among supporters, as the game’s governing body looked at ways to maximize the formats potential, both in terms of fan interest and perhaps more importantly revenues, as they seek to plug the financial holes in the English domestic game.
With a little over three years until the the tournament, and perhaps crucially the broadcast rights for English cricket, will be discussed again, the ECB’s commitments to the T20 Blast must now be as assured as the counties who defended it.
But will that commitment come from a body that could be accused of failing the tournament previously? Especially when their proposed eight team tournament, at one time almost inevitable according to some reports, has had to be so hastily placed on the back burner.
The BBC’s Elizabeth Ammon encapsulated the two scenarios this change in stance might reflect.
Given the suspicion that many, justifiably, treat the ECB with, there is reason to believe either theory could be correct.
The idea that they want to give the current T20 Blast format a chance to shine, as attendances rise and revenues grow, makes sense. Whilst there is room for improvement, the competition appears to be on the up.
But has this upswing in support, shaken the ECB’s belief in their own proposal? Or do they simply seek to avoid a confrontation with the Counties? One which could, conceivably, cost certain officials their jobs.
Whatever their reasons for postponing discussions over a shift to an eight team, city based competition, the ECB still need to do their part to support Twenty20 cricket in the UK. Something they have again come under fire for, following the T20 Blast quarter final debacle at Worcester last week.
While news attendances are on the up, and several counties reporting increased profits from this year’s tournament, are positive, the ECB still has a pivotal role to play in the competition’s long term success.
Previously it has been implied that the counties wanted to stage this year’s tournament at the ‘height of summer’, to try and capitalise on the weather and school holidays, with reports suggesting it was the ECB who were opposed to this move at the time.
But with word Sky were eager to see the proposed eight team tournament scheduled during this same peak period, it is not unreasonable to believe the ECB may have at least warmed to the idea.
Given that the One Day Cup has largely been shoe horned in to the calendar between late July and early September – with Championship cricket almost entirely on hold as a result – additional weight can be lent to the argument for hosting the T20 Blast during this period.
With just eight One Day Cup group games to fit in, the domestic season is still lengthy enough to accommodate the 50 over tournament, probably during the ‘first half’ of the season (April to June or early July). The T20 Blast then gets a dedicated period at the end of July and in to August, or ‘the height of summer’ if you prefer…
Working under the assumption the T20 Blast keeps the current group formats, Counties would play 14 games plus up to three knock out games; though the semi final and final could stay part of a single Finals Day.
A three or even four week window would allow plenty of time for the competition to take place, but within a much more focussed window – which is, understandably, seen as desirable in order to retain public interest throughout. And while mid week games might not seem ideal for working fans, holding games on a Friday night, as they do now, presents the same problem. A three to four week tournament would at least allow for some weekend fixtures.
In terms of clearing a window for the tournament, again, you need only look at the current schedule to see an opportunity.
Nottinghamshire played their first One Day Cup game on July 25th, since then they’ve played just one Championship game (away at Worcestershire). Their final 50 over game is tomorrow (Wednesday 19th August), with Championship action beginning again on Friday when Notts host Warwickshire.
That’s a window of nearly four weeks with just a single Championship game and eight One Day Cup group games for the Outlaws. To further highlight how much the One Day Cup has dominated the schedule recently, Division 2 leaders Lancashire haven’t played a single Championship game since beating Glamorgan on July 21st, and nor have Somerset, whose final week or July and August consisted of two T20 Blast games and eight One Day Cup games.
It’s hardly an surmountable task to shift things around to allow the T20 Blast to take place during the summer holiday period.
Working with this year’s calendar; the T20 Blast started on May 15th. If counties had played a One Day Cup game every Saturday from May 16th, allowing Championship games to still start on a Sunday, the group phase would have ended on July 4th.
Hold the semi finals that week (either on the same day or consecutive days) and the Final on Sunday July 12th and the competition is done and dusted with enough space to fit in at least one more round of Championship games before starting the T20 Blast on July 25th.
Scheduling the T20 Blast to begin in late July also ensures it does not clash with the IPL or CPL, freeing up some of the games global stars who might otherwise have been unavailable – or only available for a handful of games, as we saw with Chris Gayle’s whistle stop tour with Somerset.
If the ECB continue to show a willingness to reconsider the national teams schedule, and make England players available, that would only boost the T20 Blast’s appeal to fans, keen to see their favourite England players mix it up with cricket’s biggest stars.
Even for those who believe this ‘willingness’ within the ECB was only to further the appeal of their own proposed eight team tournament, correct scheduling means a T20 Blast without James Anderson and co would still receive a significant marketing boost thanks to the inclusion of Gayle, Darren Sammy (who fleetingly played for Notts this season), Daniel Vettori and Kevin Pietersen (love him or loathe him); meaning it’s not the end of the world.
Retention of the eighteen County tournament also ensures success stories like Northants, small in stature and financially fragile, continue to get their shot at glory. A chance to raise some silverware that otherwise would not be there.
Significantly, such a venture would surely be of appeal to Sky? A clear schedule, world stars and scope for day or day/night games to fit the broadcast schedule.
But it relies on the ECB’s support. Their ability to champion the T20 Blast as it is and give it a fighting chance. To continue to advise and guide clubs like Worcestershire, to ensure situations similar to that which we saw last week do not occur again.
While Giles Clarke and the ECB come under the microscope as a result of Death of a Gentleman, here is a chance to demonstrate their commitment to the domestic game. To a format which can not only help to recoup some of the £110 million worth of debt the eighteen counties have run up collectively, but also reach new fans, inspire the next generation of cricketers and raise the games profile in an increasingly saturated market place dominated by football with limited column inches available to the rest.
The T20 Blast does not need major change to be a success. It just needs some love and attention from those driving the sport. It shouldn’t be seen as a box ticking exercise. Nor should the clubs who have underpinned England’s success be brushed aside so callously.
The building blocks are there. The T20 Blast just needs a bit of design flare to shape them in to something great.