Will Hawkes: T20 faces make-or-break season after overkill and decline in 2010

County Focus: A cup that once appeared to offer a lifeline to the domestic set-up is more likely to hasten its demise

For a competition entering only its ninth year, the Twenty20 Cup is looking remarkably haggard. This season's event gets under way tonight at the Rose Bowl, where 2010 champions Hampshire and runners-up Somerset meet, but the action will have to be spectacular to dispel the sense that this a tournament in trouble. A cup that once appeared to offer a lifeline to the perennially under-threat domestic set-up is now more likely to help hasten its demise.

Last season demonstrated just how the Friends Life T20, as it's now known, has been devalued. Crowds were generally down – way down in some cases – amid grumbles about overkill (each club played 16 games, as they will this year, but not next, when there will be 10 each) and the football World Cup, which apparently kept people away. There will be no World Cup this year, nor even a European Championship, but perhaps football's flagship event wasn't quite the competition killer some made it out to be.

Put simply, the 2010 event suffered through a combination of too many games and high ticket prices. Sixteen group matches for each county meant any scarcity value was lost and, with some clubs charging as much as £25 a go, the punters stayed away. No amount of carping about football and bad weather – as if that's anything new in an English summer – could dispel the notion that we were watching the goose that laid the golden egg being slaughtered.

To be fair to the county clubs, there are other, more long-term, problems. The likelihood is that the English Twenty20 (even if it were a franchise-based, nine-team city event, an idea which is not about to go away) is destined to remain a second-class competition as long as the Indian Premier League exists. India's flagship event may have had a difficult year but it is undeniably the blue riband of Twenty20 tournaments. It has the crowds (albeit diminished in 2011), the big names and, most importantly, the money. Many of those young cricketers who do well in this year's Friends Life T20 will be dreaming, perhaps above all, of an IPL contract.

Even that would be fine if you got the sense that the ECB cared enough about its own T20 competition. It's inevitable that England players will miss T20 games – Test matches are and should remain the focus of the English summer – but there needs to be more effort made to get the England team (Twenty20 world champions, let's not forget) involved. If you send out the message that the Twenty20 Cup is not important enough for the best English players, it's no wonder if fans take the hint and stay at home.

For all the problems, there is good news. Some clubs rode out the difficult 2010 season in style, attracting decent crowds along the way. One was Essex, where advance sales have been even better this year: speaking recently, the club's chief executive, David East, claimed there had been "a huge surge in [sales of] Twenty20 tickets this season". Essex's commitment to making every game at Chelmsford a real event – "Fortress Chelmsford" may be an amusing concept, but Essex don't often lose in front of their partisan support – has paid off.

This year those Essex fans should have more to cheer than ever before. The county are the only South-eastern club never to have won this competition but with the addition of the Kiwis Scott Styris and Tim Southee, plus the return of Ryan ten Doeschate from the IPL, they look well equipped to do better than their semi-final exit last season. Expect Essex to shine on and off the field this Twenty20 season.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering