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Franchises and the false Australian comparison
As the franchise debate rumbles on, comparisons have been made with Australia’s T20 league. If Australia, which shares the deep history of the English domestic game, were able to make franchises a success, why can’t England?
Actually quite a number of reasons. While any potential franchise system in England would remove perhaps half the counties, thereby making games less accessible, the opposite was true in Australia. The Big Bash kept the traditional six state sides, while supplementing them with extra ones in Melbourne and Sydney. It meant it was easier to go to Australian domestic cricket than ever before, whereas a franchise system in England would, on average, double the distances supporters had to travel.
The Big Bash received huge short-term impetus from the return of former Australian greats like Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden. This is a legacy of Australia's success since the mid-90s - something England doesn't have; short of dragging Andrew Flintoff out of retirement for a few games we have no comparable names who crowds would be desperate to see one last time. Regardless, that the Big Bash’s initial success was so dependent on returning 40-somethings suggests it may lack genuine long-term viability.
And then there’s the greatest Anglo-Australian difference of them all – the weather.
Rashid returns – but Rafiq is now the man
Adil Rashid made a welcome return to the Yorkshire side in their four-run win against Leicestershire. But, with three overs of erratic leg-spin going for 30 (and one wicket), it was less a performance to remind Yorkshire of what they’d been missing than one to reaffirm the rationale behind dropping Rashid in the first place.
There were no such problems for Azeem Rafiq, the man who has usurped Rashid as Yorkshire’s No. 1 spinner. His four overs went for only 21 runs while claiming a wicket. Moreover, in the third game of his stint as stand-in captain with Andrew Gale still injured, Rafiq, whose captaincy style in T20 is more aggressive than the norm, earned his second victory (the other game was abandoned) as Mitchell Starc successfully defended nine runs off the last over. So as Rashid’s career flounders, Rafiq is increasingly becoming every bit as treasured as the Rashid of a few years ago.
Paul Stirling’s imperious form continued at Richmond, when he followed his 63 at Canterbury on Tuesday with an unbeaten 82 yesterday. It all means that, despite missing two Middlesex games for Ireland duty, Stirling leads the tournament run-scorer table, with 254 runs at an average of 63.5.
The most striking facet of Stirling’s batting is the sheer power he generates from a short, somewhat stocky base. He is most impressive scything cuts or launching lofted straight drives; his ease hitting over the top from the start of his innings makes him especially dangerous in Powerplay overs.
There are certainly areas to improve on outside the Powerplay overs. At Richmond, Stirling became frustrated, wasting several balls attempting to reverse-sweep spin rather than trust his power straight, contributing to him managing only 43 off his last 46 balls after the Powerplay against 39 off 18 balls during it.
Yet, aged 21, Stirling is already a dominating force in English T20 cricket, the disdain for reputations in his cocksure batting supplemented by an ability to bowl canny, predominantly flat, offspin. His form gives Ireland to believe that, come the World Twenty20 in September, they may be celebrating another triumph over a Full Member.
Player of the day: Sean Ervine
It was Sean Ervine’s first significant contribution in this season’s T20 competition – but his 51-ball 75 not out was quite a contribution. Entering with Hampshire struggling at 41 for 3 after some brainless batting, Ervine began his innings calmly supporting Simon Katich. But after a modest start – with 14 runs, none of them boundaries, from his first 17 balls – Ervine launched a devastating, calculated assault.
Ervine plundered a combined 26 runs from the 11th and 12th overs, bowled by Ollie Rayner’s offspin and Neil Dexter’s medium pace. In his hits over wide long-on, the arc of his bat, and his sheer power, were almost reminiscent of a baseball slugger.
Having now reduced the required run-rate to just over seven, Ervine had the experience to avoid the usual T20 mistake of continuing to seek boundaries even when there was no need. From his next 20 balls he hit only one boundary, until he allowed his explosiveness to return when wrapping up Hampshire’s victory. For its changes of tempo, Ervine’s was a T20 innings of rare subtlety. And it ensured Hampshire’s second consecutive victory – both away from home – to restore genuine qualification hopes.
Fixtures Essex v Sussex, Chelmsford, 19:10
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