June 27, 2012

Friends Life t20, Wednesday June 27

Evolution before revolution?

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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