There's a big decision at Lord's today, regarding the future of the T20 game in this country.
I say decision. Using an analogy with that other 'phenomenon' in the news, The Great British Bake Off, part of the problem appears to be that there are too many options on the table. Do you want it with jam, or butter cream? Maybe fresh cream instead and perhaps with vermicelli topping? No, scrap the vermicelli, let's go for a chocolate topping and tell you what, have chocolate filling instead.
It is nonsense and yet, for the parochial cricket fan of a lot of cricket counties, it is worrying. The crux of the matter appears to be the creation of an eight-team competition, based on the Indian IPL model (yawn) played in eight major cities. You can bet your bottom dollar that we won't be one, nor will Leicester, while Hove, Worcester, Taunton, Durham and Chelmsford won't be either. Let alone Northampton, regardless of them winning the T20 this year. That a lot of these towns and cities are in counties that have made T20 successful on and off the pitch is more than a little ironic.
So will we have Manchester and Liverpool? Two great cities after all, but both in the same county. There's two Sydney teams in the Big Bash after all, another model the powers that be seem keen to emulate. Will anyone in Yorkshire outside Leeds get behind a side that doesn't actually represent them? What about a London side, a composite of Middlesex, Surrey and Essex?
Research shows that only 25% of the UK population is likely to
be catered for in the populations of these eight cities. Outwith them,
interest may well be akin to mine, which is minimal. How many people used to be overly fussed by the result of the North v South matches? Or the Gentleman v Players? Or indeed Smokers v Non Smokers?
The idea appears to be to have a month-long tournament, with players drafted in and bid for as they do in India. What happens if or when a player is injured playing in a franchise team and ruled out for his substantive employers is worthy of consideration.
Whether the cricketing authorities like it or not, cricket fans ARE parochial. Their club's history goes back generations and few can just give that up. There's likely only three or four of our players would likely be involved and I certainly wouldn't follow that team's fortunes as a consequence, probably as a squad member in most cases. I don't support Worcestershire because they have Ross Whiteley, or Somerset because of Tim Groenewald, nor would I expect others to.
It is what happens to the traditional game that is of the greatest concern to me. Talk of reducing the championship still further to ten games leaves me cold, then they will moan that we're not producing Test cricketers any more. If the proposed tournament is to be played in July, does that mean that what I would deem 'worthwhile' cricket is played without a hundred of the best players? Or do we have no cricket worthy of interest in one of the best summer months? It would make booking my summer holiday easier, right enough...
Then there's the overseas players. However tough it is to get decent overseas players for the T20, to run a suggested 'traditional' T20 alongside it will make it nigh impossible. The big names will go for the 'money' competition in the cities, because as mercenaries they generally don't care who pays them. That will leave the counties picking over the lesser lights, with reduced appeal for the matches as a consequence.
A two-tier league system would be my preference, based on the current county set up, but then I am one of the accursed traditionalists, nor especially a fan of the format anyway. It appears to me that those in the senior roles of the game must always try to justify their existence by tinkering with the game to 'enhance' it. Comparisons with India and Australia are odious, because the social and economic issues in the game as it is played in these countries differs considerably from that in England. And I've not even mentioned the weather and the potential of its impact...
Be sure of one thing. If counties vote for the new competition, accepting a reported sweetener or 'bribe' of a million pounds-plus per county to get it through, the game as a lot of us love it will change forever.
For the better?
Not in my book.