The rise of Twenty20 cricket could kill the County Championship, according to the chief executive of one of the country's most famous clubs. Paul Millman of Kent believes that the rapidly changing face of world cricket means that the four-day game – for so long the backbone of England's domestic cricket – is under serious threat.
Twenty20, which began in England in 2003, has spread across the cricketing world, and the launch of the Indian Premier League – which got under way on Friday – is expected to take its popularity to new heights. "One day we will wake up and cricket will all be Twenty20," said Millman, whose county won the Twenty20 Cup last season. "People will say, 'Do you remember the days when we played in whites over four days?' That is not what the traditionalists want to hear, but I think it is a very real possibility.
"Most sports have evolved; that is what cricket is doing," he added. "Most people have accepted change in sport because it has got to be something that people will watch. It is no good putting on something that nobody watches.
"But I don't think [Twenty20] poses a serious threat to Test cricket, not in the foreseeable future. There's still a huge franchise for Test cricket, particularly in this country."
Millman believes the publicity generated by the IPL (and its rival, the Indian Cricket League) makes this a particularly interesting time for cricket. "The IPL is very exciting," he said. "If it can be managed properly then it is hugely exciting. It may take the game into markets we have never contemplated.
"If you look at the [United] States and China, it is the sort of exciting sporting encounter people will want to watch. It could ignite cricket in a way the traditional approach could never have done. I am sure [the IPL] will be a fantastic success, but there is still time to run before it is an assured winner."
An agreement to prevent timetable clashes between the IPL and the county season, thus potentially allowing English players to play in the Indian competition, will be reached, Millman believes. "The timetabling will settle down. There will be an accommodation all round, I suspect."
Surrey's chief executive, Paul Sheldon, has proposed setting up a league featuring city teams in the UK as a rival to the IPL. Sheldon said that counties could be renamed or grouped into franchises, such as "Vodafone London". It is not, however, an idea that Millman welcomes. "I am not convinced," he said. "What would feed into these franchises? Cricket works as a pyramid. I am not sure how it would work."
Preplanning was key to the success of the Twenty20 Cup, Millman argues, and any new competition would have to be similarly well thought out.
"When we launched Twenty20 we had done a lot of research," he said. "We asked people what they wanted from cricket. You need to ask: what would be the loyalty factor to a London side?"