Angus Fraser: A plan that threatens the fabric of the English game
Saturday 12 July 2008
The Twenty20 format proposed by the Marylebone Cricket Club, Hampshire, Lancashire and Surrey is imaginative and has some merit but it threatens the fabric of the domestic game in England. Despite what the project team state, the creation would cause an insurmountable split among the 18 first-class counties. It threatens overkill of Twenty20 cricket, a product that has achieved so much good in the six years since its inception.
County cricket, rightly or wrongly, has worked on the principle that all teams are given an equal chance by receiving the same annual handout from the England and Wales Cricket Board. There has always been a level of inequality, with the counties who host Tests constantly being able to generate greater income, but picking the winner of the County Championship is somewhat harder than the winner of football's Premier League.
But now the big boys want more and it is no surprise that the four largest and wealthiest clubs in the country are behind it. With cricket committee rooms increasingly filled by businessmen, whose sole measure of success is the bottom line and what is in it for them, greed and a sod-the-rest attitude have become prevalent.
The four clubs listed above, along with potential franchises in Cardiff, Durham, Leeds, Nottingham and Birmingham, cities with Test match grounds, will each be considerably better off should the concept be taken on board and prove successful.
But what of the other nine counties? The proposal states that they will all benefit too. Yeah, right. I'm sure the businessmen connected to the MCC and Surrey franchises will be delighted to hand over a sizeable amount of their profits to Derbyshire and Leicestershire. Many may feel that it is the way forward and that there are too many counties. The view should not be ignored, but if county cricket disappears from Gloucestershire and Somerset, so will interest in the game.
The ECB does need to create a bigger, sexier Twenty20 League to sit alongside the Indian Premier League. But no British-based tournament will ever be able to compete financially with the IPL. There is not the interest or money here. The figures of £300m over 10 years sound good, but are the accountants aware of the world financial situation? Such sums could only be raised by Indian investment – it is why four overseas players per county has been mooted – but yesterday's Independent reported the value of the Indian stock market had fallen by a third in the past six months.
There is the also the question of fitting the tournament into an already bloated season. The county season could easily be modified but cramming 54 matches into 25 days – 12 per side – would take incredible organisation. England would not play while the tournament takes place, meaning that seven Tests and anywhere between 10-15 one-dayers and Twenty20 internationals would be shoehorned into the rest of the season.
The project team must surely be aware that, on the back of an increased number of games, the average attendance at a Twenty20 game this summer has gone down. And one would have thought that the two men who put their name to the proposal – Keith Bradshaw, the MCC chief executive, and David Stewart, the chairman of Surrey – would realise the dangers of turning county Twenty20, which will still exist, into a Friday night league. Lord's and The Oval get huge crowds for Twenty20, because they are organised mid-week when thousands from the City turn up after work for a bit of fun. On a Friday they will not be interested as they return home for the weekend.
What the MCC is up to is hard to fathom. It is desperate to have a bigger role in the game, but as guardian of Laws of Cricket and the supposed moral conscience of the game, the club is surely meant to act in a way that is good for the game.
This attitude seems to have slipped by the MCC, whose sole interest now seems to be money. There is talk of Lord's hosting neutral Tests, IPL games and any other event that creates revenue, all to fund the building of new stands and a five-star hotel at the Nursery End. So much for the unique feel of Lord's and the members' view of trees behind the Compton and Edrich Stands. Perhaps it is time to knock the Pavilion down and build a 5,000-seater stand. It takes up far too much room and seats far too few people. Then the MCC could sell more of its beloved debentures.
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