Surrey v Hampshire, FLt20 South Group, The Oval July 2, 2012

Pietersen duck deepens Twenty20 gloom


Hampshire 63 for 0 beat Surrey 84 for 4 (Dawson 2-10) by 19 runs (D/L method)

If anything could sum up the struggles of this season's Friends Life t20 to achieve lift-off, it was surely Kevin Pietersen's first-ball duck against Hampshire.

Following his abrupt retirement from limited-overs internationals - and a three-week break from cricket in all its forms - England's most marketable player and one of the world's most destructive batsmen in the format strode out to open the batting in his third Twenty20 appearance in two years with Surrey, only to depart immediately, caught at cover off the left-arm spin of Liam Dawson.

To compound the sense of anti-climax, Surrey were beaten on Duckworth-Lewis, without taking a wicket, in a match when less than 16 overs were possible. On a wet Monday night more suited to umbrellas than cheerleaders, the IPL, cricket's premier short-form bonanza, cannot have seemed further away.

This has been a summer of discontents for the domestic game, from the failure of the Morgan Review to the job lot of poor weather that has submerged much of the season so far. Finances, as ever, are tight yet ennui threatens the money-spinning FLt20, with Eoin Morgan the latest to advocate changes to the competition.

The possibility of securing a window for England players to appear in domestic T20 has support in some quarters as a method of piquing public interest. Could Pietersen, unexpectedly available, confirm that he provides box office from Delhi to Derby by rallying the county game with an injection of flair and celebrity, reinvigorating the hardened fan and casual consumer alike?

The short answer was 'no'. Although it would have been an irony not lost on many had Pietersen fulfilled his brief as the saviour of a domestic game he has rarely professed an affinity for, an immediate spike in attendances was not expected by Surrey.

Despite the newspaper adverts warning "BOWLER'S BEWARE ... KP'S BACK", Surrey's chief executive, Richard Gould, believes that a focus on "scheduling and local heroes" would be more successful than attempting to balance on the shoulders of the game's giants.

"Ticket sales for Twenty20 are largely determined by the day on which games are played," Gould says. "A game on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday doesn't sell very well anyway, irrespective of who's playing."

While Surrey had expected up to 6,000 for the visit of Hampshire - a fixture that had been postponed in the wake of Tom Maynard's death - the numbers will swell to around 15,000 later in the week, for games against Kent and Middlesex. Surrey also host Sussex on Tuesday and Gould described the original decision to hand them three home games in four days as "pretty disastrous". Spectators are unlikely to want to pay to see cricket on three or four nights of the same week, even if Pietersen is around to switch-hit them senseless.

"There is a huge demand to watch Twenty20 and that is proven by the two games we've got on Thursday and Friday," Gould says. "Across those two days, within a 26-hour period, we will have 30,000 people coming to watch. What we want is for cricket to become habit forming. We want them to come on the Thursday or Friday of one week and then have the ability to come back a week or two weeks later."

A big crowd at The Oval for a T20 match can bring in around a third of the income an ODI generates, without the need to pay the ECB a hosting fee. A successful T20 tournament could therefore make a real difference to county finances as well as promote the game to a wider audience. Gould suggests that spreading the tournament out would allow games to be scheduled in more regular and attractive blocks and would help convert occasional watchers into regulars.

David Leatherdale, Worcestershire's chief executive, is also open to the idea of a more spaced-out fixture list, though others responsible for the game fear that such a move would dilute the tournament's impact. Leatherdale and Lancashire chief executive Jim Cumbes, meanwhile, are among those who think that star names can help promote the game.

"I think if England players were available it would help to attract new audiences," Leatherdale says. "It's something quite a few county chief executives have said for a while, finding a window that would allow them to take part. If you had a month's programme, similar to what we've got at the moment, and you could guarantee for the first two weeks of it that all your England players would be available, I think that would help no end."

It is not only England internationals who have been absent from the FLt20, with several counties losing out on overseas signings due to problems with the new visa system. Changes made by the UK Border Agency earlier this year meant that counties had to obtain a new licence - Tier Five rather than Tier Two, as was previously the case - in order to apply for international visas, leading to delays in the process that denied Worcestershire the services of Sohail Tanvir and Hampshire Shahid Afridi.

While that problem should not recur next season, Leatherdale says the crowded international calendar means bringing in marquee signings has become harder, despite the concentrated nature of the group stage, reduced to 10 games per county from 16 last year. Next year will bring the added problem of England hosting the Champions Trophy, scheduled for two weeks in June.

Cumbes, who saw gates increase on the occasional days that Andrew Flintoff was available for Lancashire, concedes that the drop in attendances this year has been disappointing and that the weather has only been part of the problem. "Maybe we're a little bit stuck with a competition we started with eight or nine years ago and people have got used to it," he says.

Franchise cricket has been touted as another method of spicing up a tournament that introduced the 20-over format to the world in 2003. But it is worth noting that for Worcestershire and Lancashire, the biggest attendances are for the visits of local rivals, Warwickshire and Yorkshire.

Among the varying and diverse theories, Gould, Leatherdale and Cumbes were united by the idea that English domestic cricket should listen to what it is that supporters want. Judging by the boos from the crowd as the rain closed in at the end of a desultory evening at The Oval, this is not it.

Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Geoffrey on July 3, 2012, 21:50 GMT

    Cant wait for the T20 circus to be over so we can get back to proper cricket. Leaves a big gap in the middle of our season.

  • John on July 3, 2012, 20:43 GMT

    @Trickstar on (July 03 2012, 18:35 PM GMT) We have Morgan still but apart from him , I'm not sure I have as much faith in others if we have a situation where we need to vastly increase the total when setting a total or chasing when we may need a further 150 at 7-8RPO. I still think it was really poor timing and I don't buy his "giving extra time to plan for 2015 ODWC" and more see it as hampering our preps for the T20WC

  • Michael on July 3, 2012, 19:01 GMT

    Pietersen's failed again against Sussex tonight. There are certain Australian observers who are very fond of disparaging the English county game, but it's journeymen bowlers seem to be getting the better of Pietersen in his current form. If Pietersen had not retired, presumably he would be playing in the current ODI series against Australia in place of one out of Bell, Bopara, or Morgan, so you have to say that the real losers from KP's retirement to date have been Australia's bowlers ...

  • paul on July 3, 2012, 18:35 GMT

    @JG2704 Completely agree, anyone that says he won't be missed are letting their own personal bias of the man get in the way of any real truth. Of course he will be missed he's a massive part of the reason why we are at he top of the tree in two of the formats and on the way up in the third. It's strange people are saying look at how well the 50 over side are doing, well it's only a few games ago he was a big part of Pakistan getting whitewashed in the UAE. England will feel the loss more when their in the sub continent in the WT20, he's got the greatest experience of any England player of the conditions and by some distance our best player. People think he won't be missed are deluding themselves and for the most come out wit the same lies that a few journos that also have their own agenda against him, namely he's not English and he's outspoken. The media as a whole especially the written press, don't like guys like that, Botham was a great example of it when the press turn on you.

  • John on July 3, 2012, 17:22 GMT

    Re my scheduling ideas , reserve days etc - Thinking about it , this would work ok if we had at least a semblence of a summer. As it stands the weather messes up everything.

  • John on July 3, 2012, 16:06 GMT

    Still feel Eng will find times when they badly need KP in ODI/T20 so I don't buy the "Who needs KP?" logic.I feel the only chance he'll want to come back is if Eng succeed without him in which case would Eng change a winning set up.I would say KP is that good that though morally wrong I'd squeeze him into ant OD/T20 side.Think ECB (If the schedule was the full issue with KP) could be more flexible with all players who play all 3 formats which could inc Trott, Bell and Cook but realistically Broad,Bres and Swann.Then again if KP was being rested for the WI series it seems a little feeble. Could both sides at least have had him playing til/inc the T20 WC even if they could not agree terms after that? Surely an extra few months wouldn't do that much to KP and if he goes after the T2OWC then we still have plenty of time to to plan for the ODWC.KP was saying that by leaving now it gives Eng more time to prepare for the next ODWC. I see it more a case of hampering our plans for the T20WC

  • Simon on July 3, 2012, 15:46 GMT

    My solution, for what little it`s worth;

    Keep the groups as they are - I don`t like the franchise idea (as a Northants supporter, we`d be swallowed up, and then it`s only a few years before we would be lost forever) - but have three teams at a venue on matchday so T1 v T2, T2 v T3, T1 v T3 on the same day - a longish day, but only as long as finals day, starts at 10.30pm, 2.30 and 6.30pm and play them on a Saturday or Sunday.

    This way, the competition can be sandwiched better into the season without the impact on the championship fixtures and wouldn`t drag on forever like it seems to now.

    I`m sure there`s a great reason why this couldn`t be done, maybe it wouldn`t attract the casual observer? I`m sure there`s enough Cricket fans around to fill our county stadiums...I think it`s worth a try.

    Oh, and I`ve always liked the idea of three misses and you`re out as a batsman. Level the playing field a bit...

  • John on July 3, 2012, 15:46 GMT

    @emmersonne on (July 03 2012, 12:35 PM GMT) Re your comment , was that because KP is ex Hants and didn't part on the best of terms or because this match was vs Hants or both? Actually Hants got my full respect in the T20 comp - think it may have been when they won it , even though they beat Somerset in the final - as KP suddenly made himself available for the big day and Hants rewarded the players who got them there by playing all of them instead

  • Kaspar Damm on July 3, 2012, 14:28 GMT

    @Tigg Middlesex & Kent tried that last year, the result was carnage. Of course, it didn't help that the T20 was in Canterbury and the CC game starting the next day was at Lord's, nor did it help that the T20 was a late finish. But the result was 23 wickets falling on the first day of the CC game, on a pitch that might have offered a bit of seam and swing, but by no means was a minefield.

    I agree with what someone else proposed, namely that saving September for the T20's. By then there's usually only a couple of onedayers left for the England team, allowing more of the centrally contracted players back to their home counties, thus raising their profile slightly.

  • Simon on July 3, 2012, 13:38 GMT

    Simple scheduling can help.

    Four day first class from Monday to Thursday. Then either a Pro 40 on Saturday or two T20s over the weekend.

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