June 27, 2012

Friends Life t20, Wednesday June 27

Tim Wigmore
Richard Levi hits one of his 13 sixes, New Zealand v South Africa, 2nd Twenty20 international, Hamilton, February 19, 2012
Richard Levi has only made two appearances for Somerset so far but is impact has been significant  © Getty Images
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Evolution before revolution?

Tony Greig’s Cowdrey Lecture contained calls – following on from Muttiah Muralitharan’s and David Lloyd’s recent comments – for the introduction of franchises in England’s Twenty20 league. But it’s a suggestion not grounded in reality.

England lacks India’s population or interest in cricket. And, unlike in India, cricket fans tend to have deep attachments to domestic sides: it is optimistic to expect that, say, Somerset and Gloucestershire fans would suddenly be happy supporting the same team. Any franchise system would have an instant problem of reach – many supporters would have to travel long distances to what would now be artificial sides. New fans would replace rather than supplement existing ones.

Rather than imagine that franchising would be a one-step panacea to the problems of English domestic T20, it would be better if the ECB sought to improve the competition as it is: evolution rather than revolution.

Most basically, it should ensure that its international players are available for at least some of the matches – something that underpinned the IPL’s success. Market with more innovation – the gap in football could be exploited, say, by giving any football season ticket holders a half-price ticket to their first game; and place greater emphasis on exploiting days when there aren’t other high profile sporting events. Outgrounds, rather than being marginalised, need to be cultivated: they are a unique way of taking cricket to areas deprived of professional sport, as exemplified by the recent full house at Beckenham.

Introduce an annual Derby Day, featuring two, or even three, derby matches broadcast back-to-back on Sky. With the availability of English players, it would actually be a rare occasion when county cricket would be capable of generating backpage headlines.

If English T20 is being strangled, it is not because it lacks a franchise system. It is time the ECB had faith in what, at its best, remains a captivating product. Allowing their own stars to play would be a good start.

Somerset’s South African power

The dream of an opening partnership between Marcus Trescothick and Chris Gayle may not have materialised. Yet even with Trescothick injured and Gayle having returned to the West Indies, Somerset may still have the best opening pair in the competition.

Richard Levi and Craig Kieswetter share rather a lot in common. Both were born in Johannesburg within two months of each other; both keep wicket – albeit seldom in a manner that pleases purists; and neither is adept at rotating the strike. But, for the purposes of Somerset’s T20 charge, the most important similarity is that both share a penchant for the legside boundary.

Against Northants, Levi and Kieswetter catapulted Somerset towards the most facile of victories, putting on 61 in 5.4 overs. While Kieswetter made a half-century, it was Levi’s 18-ball 35 – containing 32 in boundaries – that was more destructive. In two games for Somerset he has now scored 104 runs at a strike-rate of exactly 200, showing the power that earned him the fastest international T20 hundred.

Both men were only playing their second games of the season, yet such is Somerset’s batting strength that they haven't lost a game without them, thanks to Jos Buttler’s flair and James Hildreth’s extraordinary century against Glamorgan. When Albie Morkel and Trescothick return – both may be back for the knockout stages of the tournament - Somerset’s batting will be even mightier still. The only problem? An abundance of South Africans may not be conducive to Somerset avoiding yet another T20 final choke.

Trending: Young Aussie quicks

Australia’s tour has seen much attention devoted to their young quick bowlers. But there is another very fine one not on national duty: Mitchell Starc. Starc took longer than hoped to arrive at Yorkshire – he arrived at Heathrow but had to immediately return to Australia to collect the appropriate paper work. Yet for a Yorkshire side finally seeking to make T20 finals day at the 10th attempt he has emphatically been worth the wait.

Blending pace and accuracy, Starc is a precocious talent at aged 22. Best of all for a left-arm quick, he is skilled at producing the delivery that swings back into the right-handers – something that accounted for Sachin Tendulkar in the Australian summer. It is not hard to see why he leads the T20 wicket-takers list – a position he will expect to shore up at Grace Road tonight. And don't be surprised if he's Ashes-bound next summer.

Player of the day: Joe Denly

Perhaps Joe Denly uses the County Cricket Live blog as motivation. After it lamented his mysterious T20 struggles last week, Denly has provided welcome reaffirmation of his aesthetic class, following 36 against Sussex with a match-shaping unbeaten 90 on return to his former county Kent yesterday.

His innings provided a reminder that the 120 balls of a T20 innings are deceptively many. Thus, while Paul Stirling began in typically cavalier style, fusing muscularity and clean timing to loft cuts and straight drives from the first ball, Denly allowed himself longer before commencing his assault. When he did so, he refrained from ungainly hoicks and never lacked for time as he showcased his range of shots. It was the sort of innings that showed why, three years ago, the England management showed faith in him as a limited overs opener. With Denly reinvigorated by his Middlesex move – averaging over 60 in first-class cricket this season – they may yet do so again.

Fixtures

Durham v Derbyshire, Chester-le-Street, 17:30 Gloucestershire v Warwickshire, Bristol, 17:30 Middlesex v Hampshire, Old Deer Park, 17:30 Leicestershire v Yorkshire, Grace Road, 17:40

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Posted by Martin on (June 27, 2012, 20:30 GMT)

First of all I should point out I'm the first Martin to post, not the second, who wasn't me! @Darren I think the two division system has had a twin effect: firstly, the cricket in the top division is strong and competitive and produces good players. The top 2 or 3 teams in the second division with recent experience of the top flight are similarly strong. Secondly, the truly weak counties are slowly being identified and squeezed and (I suspect) by design will slowly be allowed to die until we are left with 12 or so truly first class counties.

Posted by Darren Cook on (June 27, 2012, 20:19 GMT)

@Martin, England team is successful despite CC and not because of it,CC is an ageing Dinosaur enjoyed by a minority purely interested in their own enjoyment, too many teams and too much cricket reduces the standard but no way the amount will be reduced because the fans would revolt, if the game was started all over again purely for the interests of Cricket then the person who suggested the current format would be laughed out of town...

Posted by Anonymous on (June 27, 2012, 17:33 GMT)

Have to say, I think Tim has summed up the situation regarding the franchise system perfectly. English domestic cricket has always been the most keenly followed in the world (and still is) and that is precisely because of strong county loyalties that cannot be transferred.

Posted by Phil off of the Pears (not Newport mind) on (June 27, 2012, 17:04 GMT)

Right so, after all the bother and huff and puff of people muttering about changing the county game and introducing franchises; I have completed volte-face with regard to the issue.

I was fully in favour of scrapping the counties to bring in franchises for the Twenty20. But having thought about it, I know realise that the Blazers at the ECB have it in their power to save the whole competition and make it less of a dull, sullen, broken & cracked collection of bored cricketers than it is at the moment.

Wigmore has some good ideas, not least about the footie connection. But trying to figure out why there was sod all cricket last night (2 matches) on a non football night and now there are 4 tonight when there is football is doing my head no good at all. Set the number of home and away matches and stick to it.

I love T20, CB40 and the Championship dearly but get sooooooo fed up of trying to follow the fixtures. Each competition should run alongside each other, not jostle for position?!

Posted by Martin on (June 27, 2012, 16:05 GMT)

18 teams is far too many to end up with a quality T20 comp (with enough quality players) which the public will support. The talent is spread too thinly. Who wants to go and watch a bunch of nobodies? Plain and simple. If the Big Bash in Australia can only support 8 teams, the IPL in India 9 or 10 and the South African league 6 or 7, then how on earth can England think their comp can be a success with 18 teams??? They are dreaming.

Posted by Billy The Fish on (June 27, 2012, 15:52 GMT)

Get down to Hove on Friday or over to Chelmsford tomorrow and then tell me again the T20 doesnt work.

A franchise based competition would almost certainly rule out any games at either Hove or Chelmsford - two of the grounds that have made a big success of T20 in England despite the lack of availability of the England players and so called world stars.

I see Morgan isn't playing for Middlesex tonight. His team have been forced to play at little old Richmond on Thames by the big game at Lord's this week. He can look pretty close to home for some simple answers to his questions about why T20 is less commercially successful in England.

Posted by Billy The Fish on (June 27, 2012, 15:52 GMT)

Get down to Hove on Friday or over to Chelmsford tomorrow and then tell me again the T20 doesnt work.

A franchise based competition would almost certainly rule out any games at either Hove or Chelmsford - two of the grounds that have made a big success of T20 in England despite the lack of availability of the England players and so called world stars.

I see Morgan isn't playing for Middlesex tonight. His team have been forced to play at little old Richmond on Thames by the big game at Lord's this week. He can look pretty close to home for some simple answers to his questions about why T20 is less commercially successful in England.

Posted by Rohin Maini on (June 27, 2012, 13:26 GMT)

Having the England players available would help. What's KP up to these days?!

Posted by Paul, Somerset on (June 27, 2012, 13:19 GMT)

One other point re Eoin Morgan's claim that England is falling behind India at T20 owing to the lack of IPL-style franchises. India's decline to the foot of the international T20 rankings, and England's rise to the top, has coincided exactly with the introduction of the IPL.

I couldn't understand why Morgan had so readily forgotten the beating England handed out to India in the T20 at Eden Gardens last October. India was a shambles in that game, staggering to 120-9. Then I looked the game up and realized Morgan hadn't actually played in the match.

If he had, he might have thought twice before making such illogical claims.

Posted by Tim Wigmore on (June 27, 2012, 13:05 GMT)

Some interesting feedback.

Re the Australia point - its an interesting comparison, but it created, rather than got rid of, sides. It basically just used the existing 6 states, then added teams in Melbourne and Sydney. This means that there is a much more obvious transfer of loyalties than would be the case with getting rid of say 10 teams in England. So the Big Bash actually made more teams and therefore it more accessible to get to games - it seems odd to suggest we do the opposite. The BBL was a success but (a) the weather provided a big advantage over England (b) it was massively boosted by the return of Warne, Gilchrist, Hayden and co. This is a legacy of Aus's success since the mid-90s - something England doesn't have; short of dragging Flintoff out of retirement for a few games we have no comparable options. And, in any case, I'm not sure a reliance on 40-somethings is exactly a long-term solution for the BBL. I'll address more fully in my next blog.

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