June 13, 2012

Friends Life t20, Wednesday June 13

Tim Wigmore

Time for franchises says Murali

Muttiah Muralitharan exults after taking two wickets in two balls, Mumbai Indians v Royal Challengers Bangalore, Mumbai, IPL, May 9, 2012
Murali gives England's t20 tournament a good kicking  © AFP
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Muttiah Muralitharan has made waves as he prepares for Gloucestershire's opening game against Somerset at Taunton.

It would be far better if Gloucestershire and Somerset merged, said Murali. England's t20 competition is "old fashioned", needs to refashion itself with mergers and it is not even up to the standard of Bangladesh's Twenty20 tournament.

At least the English counties are more likely to pay their players on time...

Explaining the inexplicable

On an underwhelming t20 opening day, the main question was just how, exactly, did Leicestershire win the thing last season? Unable even to reach 100 against Nottinghamshire, they failed to provide the show-stopping opening game that might have given FLt20 a flying start.

Observing their struggles, the temptation to put their success in the Greece Euro 2004 box of unfathomable sporting triumphs was great. So an explanation of how they did so well last season is in order.

According to the official Most Valuable Player ratings, two of the top three t20 players last season played for Leicestershire. While Josh Cobb made only 9 and didn’t get a bowl (despite taking 4-22 in last year’s final), Andrew McDonald, whose powerful batting and parsimonious bowling made him officially the t20 MVP last year was absent altogether. Ramnaresh Sarwan’s 18-ball 13 rather suggested he will not be an adequate replacement, given his orthodoxy and inability to confidently beat the infield.

Leicestershire were also lacking two other key men from their success. Paul Nixon’s retirement deprived them of not only one of cricket’s most relentless talkers but also an idiosyncratic batsman whose 17-ball 31 clinched last season’s quarterfinal against Kent. Then there is James Taylor – conspicuous not by his absence but presence at Grace Road, as he was playing for Notts, and who completing their victory with some classy pull shots.

Nick Knight was unhappy Taylor was batting as low as six considering his England prospects. But counties should be free to bat players where they like and, besides, Taylor might just be most use to England’s limited-overs sides as a finisher at No. 6.

Easy on the gimmickry

Gimmicks are great when they work. But English county cricket is not the best environment for them. Does hearing about batsmen’s ‘guilty pleasure’ or ‘dream holiday’ really add anything to the TV coverage? Ditto the conversations with fielders in between balls – something players at international level would never agree to. It might not be easy to say on a day so lacking in drama, but the cricket should be good enough to entertain in its own right

Not Gayle force, but still formidable

Two months ago, Somerset anticipated that their openers would be the eye-catching pair of Chris Gayle and Marcus Trescothick. It hasn’t quite worked out that way, with Gayle playing today in the West Indies’ tour game and Trescothick injured, but theirs is still a fairly remarkable batting line-up.

To Craig Kieswetter and Jos Butler have been added the South Africans Richard Levi and Albie Morkel, who share a love for the mid-wicket boundary and may soon also share a fondness for Taunton’s placid track.

Neither James Hildreth nor Nick Compton are guaranteed to play but have been in superb form this season; Compton’s century and 95 in consecutive t20 second XI games hinted that the first man to 1000 first class runs can transfer that form. As if that all wasn’t enough to ensure they are losing finalists again, Somerset have also recruited Ireland's Kevin O’Brien, hoping he will be able to reproduce his t20 century for Gloucestershire last season.

Trending – The Favourites

According to the bookmakers, Surrey are most likely to win this year’s competition. While their batting is often hyped-up, it is their bowling that really stands out. Jade Dernbach and Dirk Nannes’ mix of pace and variations make them probably the best opening attack in the competition, with Stuart Meaker, Jon Lewis and Chris Tremlett (on the verge of a return from injury) providing excellent support.

But sticking to the strategy that led to CB40 victory last season, Surrey will regularly play three frontline spinners, including Murali Kartik. It all adds up to perhaps the competition’s best bowling attack.

If Surrey have a weakness, it is in the batting. Rory Hamilton-Brown’s booming off-drives – often glimpsed only fleetingly – encapsulate the peril and promise of the line-up. With Tom Maynard, their best t20 batsman last season, injured, their line-up tonight will appear strangely vulnerable if they are reduced to 20 for 2.

Interestingly, Mark Ramprakash, who hasn't played any white ball cricket since 2010, has been recalled, suggesting that perhaps Chris Adams agrees, and hopes t20 is just what a 42-year-old needs to recover his form.

Something to laugh at

Rory Bremner will join a host of comedians visiting Friends Life t20 games across the country. The comedy tour will spearhead a wider marketing campaign by the ECB entitled 'Something Completely Different' - a retort to the detractors who claim that after 10 years England's t20 tournament provides little different at all.

Every first-class county will receive a visit from a comedian at a T20 match. Jimmy McGhie, Paul Sinha, Rob Beckett, Stu Goldsmith and Chris Martin will each attend an FLt20 game over a two-week period where they will provide entertainment on the PA system and meet spectators. The tour will culminate in Cardiff on August 25 when Bremner will attend T20 finals day.

Player of the day: Steven Mullaney (Notts)

Steven Mullaney, a nuggety batsman and 75mph dobbler, is few people’s idea of a t20 star. But bowling immaculate seamers of the Paul Collingwood variety, his 4 for 19 suffocated the Leicestershire innings. Given the dampness of the summer, expect to see plenty of similar bowlers, lacking in spectacle but not in effectiveness.

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Posted by Chris P on (June 14, 2012, 1:09 GMT)

I'm a Somerset fan so my perspective is biased in that regard but I fail to see how a 'merger' with Gloucs (if 9 franchises) or Gloucs & Glam (if 6) will be of any benefit.

Revenue is diluted - you simply can not rise the prices to compensate for less games, the economic situation in the country dictates that.

In terms of quality - I hate to be seen as arrogant - but Somerset would make up the majority of any composite side & this partly due to the fact we steal most half decent player from Gloucs.

So Somerset, as Nick C stated a profit making county - helped by their performance in T20 and the CL, would lose revenue and the majority of their squad will see little rest time whereas rivals in the County Championship will do so.

Posted by Nick C on (June 13, 2012, 22:09 GMT)

Sorry it doesn't work, Somerset are one of the few Counties turning a regular profit. If you merge the sides Somerset will see only half (assuming fair split) of their T20 revenue. If that's County's main money spinner you suffocate their cashflow and in turn development of young players (which despite some big names Somerset do have).

The funny thing is the County system almost is a franchise system....

Posted by Fake Sound of Progress on (June 13, 2012, 18:20 GMT)

Ardent Pears fan here and much as the thought of merging with the Bears fills me with dread; I have to completely agree with Murali's comments.

Ok, so it sounds like he is advocating ripping up centuries of history, but look at it this way - T20 has been going in this country for 9 years, not much in the way of history there!

Combine the 18 into 9 based on regional locations, condense the quality of the players into the franchises and then allow 2 overseas players per side. It would remove the dross that floats around the county game, improve the level of performance for those who are good enough for the franchise and would really ensure that each and every match had something riding on it.

The County Championship is protected, put on a pedestal and rightly so; the Pennant flying high is the pinnacle of domestic cricket. If we are willing to put a halt to it for 2 months of each year for the T20, let's at least make it a worthwhile carnival, not the bloated carcass we have now!

Posted by Peakfan on (June 13, 2012, 16:28 GMT)

Murali's comment is sadly one made with no idea of the history and rivalries in English cricket. Together with its parochial nature, it ensures that the competition will stay as it is. As a Derbyshire fan, the thought of an East Midlands franchise, teaming us with Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire is abhorrent. You can't discount a century and more of local rivalry and then expect us to support a composite side. I bet Middlesex and Surrey would love to combine too, maybe Essex and Kent, or Warwickshire and Worcestershire. India is a completely different country and one simply cannot say it works there, it will do here. In short, it is an ill-thought comment, perhaps taken out of context. Perhaps he should stick to the bowling, something he knows far more about.

Posted by Nick C on (June 13, 2012, 14:40 GMT)

I would like Murali to find one Somerset fan who actually attends the games (ie not someone from overseas) who even is lukewarm to idea of merging with Gloucestershire. It's equivilnet of asking before their millions Manchester City merging with United, or Bath rugby merging with Gloucester. Or even worse Yorkshire merging with Lancashire! Utterly utterly revile the idea.

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