With English cricket set for its biggest reorganisation in recent history, it is hard to foresee anything other than the decline of the domestic game. The new, eight city-based team T20 competition is on track to commence in 2020 and despite opposition from several first class counties, it is highly likely to receive the two-thirds of votes needed to ratify the amendment to the England and Wales Cricket Board’s (ECB) constitution.
However, the project has received significant criticism from several quarters: organised supporters groups such as the Barmy Army, first class counties including Essex and Middlesex and the majority of many counties’ members.
Indeed, it is hard to feel optimistic about the new competition given the hypocrisy in its marketing. The ECB has promised to pour millions into the new tournament, while the T20 Blast has received limited promotion and the chairman of the ECB even shockingly described his own competition as ‘mediocre’. His assessment does not stand up to scrutiny with the last T20 World Cup runners up largely learning the game in the English domestic competition and attendances increasing every year since it was rebranded. As well as this, the YouGov Sports Index Report placed the Blast in the top 10 sporting events in terms of public perception for the first time this year.
The ECB has been promised that the new competition will receive ‘significant’ free-to-air coverage to increase public awareness, but the Blast is not afforded the same luxury. Instead, it has been hidden behind the Sky paywall. Much has been made of emulating Australia’s Big Bash competition; every match in this tournament is available to watch for free.
It has been proposed that the T20 Blast should be played alongside the new competition. This, however, will fail in the long run. With 15 man squad, including three overseas players, the best 96 English players will not feature in the T20 Blast and there will likely be no overseas players in the existing Blast. Counties that do not have a city franchise (the majority) will suffer due to a shortage of interest in a diluted tournament. The proposed £1.3m that counties will receive won’t make up for the lack of exposure fans have to good quality, live cricket.
The new competition could also harm England’s chances in future global 50 over competitions. With the country’s best players, both in the England team and those hoping to break into it, playing in the franchise T20 tournament they may have to miss the domestic one day competition. Those who do not play in one day internationals (ODIs) will have their access to 50 over cricket severely limited.
All things considered, it is clear that smaller counties, possibly the England team and most importantly the public look set to suffer as a result of the new competition. Hopefully the counties currently sitting on the fence, such as Kent and Surrey, follow the example of Middlesex and Essex in opposing the proposals.