ECB want four T20 events to keep top players happy

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The Independent Online

England are trying desperately to pacify their players while planning where they should go with Twenty20 cricket. With the newest, shortest and suddenly sexiest form of the game apparently ready to spread round the globe, their top officials are frantically trying to launch four competitions at the same time as calming the mood of everybody else whose noses smell big money.

A firm of management consultants are working for the England and Wales Cricket Board to assess precisely how big T20 can be and how much more the domestic game – and by extension the world game – can sustain. The ECB's top officials, facing misguided accusations of being wrong-footed by the set-up of the Indian Premier League, which effectively stole and embellished their idea, are determined not to miss out again.

Their cause has been both helped and slightly hindered by the advent of the Texan billionaire Sir Allen Stanford, who has virtually agreed to pump more than $150 million (£75m) into cricket – as long as it is T20 – in the next five years.

The quartet of tournaments that England are keen to start are: an annual series of one-off T20 matches in Antigua between England and a West Indies XI, with $20m going to the winner of each; a $1m four-team annual T20 tournament at Lord's, also backed by Stanford; a revamped domestic T20 league involving big-name players and vast prize money; and the Champions' League, involving the T20 leaders from four countries playing for $1m.

Never has any format been so influential. The mood reached its zenith this week when Stanford told the BBC that T20, with the right leadership, would replace football as the biggest team sport in the world within 10 years. The only larger surprise was that his inquisitor did not express any scepticism.

While Stanford's financial clout and his beneficence cannot be doubted, as he has already demonstrated by significant investments in the West Indies, this lent credence to the old line that they always have to do things bigger in Texas. It put pressure on England they could do without.

Their players have already had their heads turned – perhaps understandably, perhaps not – by the riches on offer in the IPL. But the IPL's television ratings, after a solid start, have stalled, probably while the competition settles down. England, who are anxious to be seen to be doing something, have put some of the strain on themselves.

Stanford has eased the financial burden, although a survey by the Professional Cricketers' Association last week found that several internationals would be prepared to jump ship. But there is an element of wishful thinking. Many grounds are already full for T20.

Those who think there will be a domestic T20 breakaway based on cities should remember that the ECB constitution states all 18 counties must take part in their competitions, and that even profitable counties depend on the £1.3m annual fee from central funds – up to £1.5m this year – itself mostly generated by TV rights money.

But the landscape cannot remain Constable, it has to embrace Hockney.