ECB gambles on youth to boost county scene

Angus Fraser
Friday 31 January 2014 02:01
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Fancy watching Graham Hick bat at Worcester while relaxing in a hot tub? Or Wasim Akram bowl from the comfort of an arm-chair in a mock living-room at the Hampshire Rose Bowl? If you do, then the England and Wales Cricket Board's latest initiative, Twenty20 cricket, is the thing for you.

Such styles of marketing may not get the tie-wearing brigade that gather in the Pavilion at Lord's rushing out for an evening of music and fun, but they are two of the methods being used by counties to attract a new, young and family orientated audience to county cricket.

Indeed, yesterday, at the official launch of Twenty20 cricket at the Kensington Roof Gardens in London, the ECB seemed unconcerned that these 20-over all-action evening matches may not be attended by the sport's traditional support base who are largely male, in their sixties and pretty well off. The feeling is that there are three other competitions for them to watch and the game needs to pull in spectators from the opposite end of the spectrum.

At the 45 matches which take place between 13 and 24 June, there will also be designated zones set aside for barbeques and karaoke, as well as live music from pop bands such as Mystique, D-side and the United Colours of Sound, who have produced a remix of the 10CC hit Dreadlock Holiday called I don't like cricket... I love it which has been adopted as the tournament's theme song. The competition climaxes with a finals' day at Trent Bridge on 19 July, where Atomic Kitten will be performing in concert.

It is not just those at the ground who will be able to join in the fun. Channel 4, Sky Sports and BBC Radio Five Live will ensure that those who prefer to sit in their own front room get closer to the action too. Their coverage will allow the third umpire to sit in the commentary box and explain the rules – which could be be interesting – commentators to interview the next batsman in – which should be interesting – and a microphone link to some of the players out in the middle – which is sure to be interesting. Especially if the vocabulary of certain individuals is as rustic as I remember. The sound man may have to keep his finger permanently on the fader.

This all sounds like fun, and there is sure to be some excellent evening entertainment around the shires. However, with every new idea there is apprehension. The ECB has taken a huge gamble in introducing this new format of the game, which is as radical as any since the introduction of the one-day game to domestic cricket 40 years ago.

A similar response by the public would signify an overwhelming success, but despite aiming all its resources at people who previously had little interest in the game, winning them over may be tougher than expected. The ECB has spent more money in promoting this domestic competition than any other in its history. Time will tell whether the vision of the ECB is short, long or Twenty20.

* Yorkshire have confirmed the signing of the Indian all-rounder Yuvraj Singh, 21, as their overseas player to replace Matthew Elliott, who is returning home to Australia for treatment on a recurring knee injury and because his brother has a terminal illness. Yuvraj has yet to play a Test but his powerful strokeplay, occasional left-arm spin and dynamic fielding made him a key part of the India one-day side which reached the World Cup final.

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