County news May 2, 2012

England professionals demand IPL-style T20

England's professional cricketers have overwhelmingly rejected the findings of the Morgan Report into the future of the first-class game and have called for the introduction of a high-profile Twenty20 tournament that can bear comparison with IPL.

The survey, conducted by the Professional Cricketers' Association (PCA), reveals in detail for the first time the strength of opposition to the proposed shake-up.

The players show almost universal support for the retention of the 16-match Championship and calls for T20 to become a highly promoted tournament in the middle of the season - in the manner of the IPL - to maximise the chances of attracting some of the world's best players.

The PCA report concludes that the English game must: "Establish a high quality T20 competition which draws on experience from other T20 events worldwide, and balances the requirement for short-term financial return for the counties with the need to establish a sustainable T20 income stream.

"For that, we need a competition which has the potential to attract the best overseas players and maximises overseas broadcast interest. A significant increase in the prize money at stake is a critical element of that.

"The T20 competition has a crucial role to play, both from a cricketing perspective, and for county finances. From the point of view of the players, the limitations on their ability to play a full part in the IPL because of the overlap with the start of our season ... make it critical that our own T20 competition delivers adequate compensation in terms of excitement and reward.

"The question for T20 is not simply 'how many games can we squeeze in?' particularly given the dangers of putting quantity before quality, but 'how can we make our T20 competition as good as it can be?'

"In designing the optimal competition, we believe ECB must engage with players (including those who have played in the IPL, Champions League, and Big Bash), spectators, sponsors and broadcasters (both at home and overseas) to understand how best to create a successful competition, played in front of large crowds, and attracting a good TV audience."

But the desire for a high-profile T20 tournament comes alongside a desire to protect the integrity of the 16-match two-divisional Championship.

The report concludes: "The County Championship remains the priority, and this is a competition which must have full fixture symmetry and integrity. This is regarded by the players as more important than creating space in the schedule to allow our teams to compete in the Champions League, and this in turn is a higher priority than achieving further reductions in the amount of cricket played in the domestic season.

"We cannot support changes to our premier competition which are made to allow more room in the schedule for the other competitions ... We would further argue that the financial benefits claimed are (a) unproven, and (b) relatively small compared with the cricketing and commercial imperative of sustaining England's position as No. 1 Test playing nation."

As many as 91% of players regarded the Championship, often derided for its low crowds, as the most important tournament, with a similar number (87%) placing the Friends Life t20 as the second-most important competition. CB40 came a distant third, with the PCA calling for a "fundamental review" of how much 40 or 50-over cricket is played by the counties.

The players' views, which preliminary soundings conducted by ESPNcricinfo also suggest are shared by the bulk of spectators, place further pressure on the ECB to accept that the Morgan Report's solutions to the game's ills are not supported either by those who play or watch.

The exhaustive review, conducted by David Morgan, a former ECB chairman, was shelved by the ECB in March as the board decided instead to conduct further research throughout the 2012 season into the future of professional cricket in England.

Growing opposition to Morgan's recommendations, which included a reduction in Championship matches from 16 to 14, a return to 50-over cricket and 14 T20 matches, left the ECB board unable immediately to adopt a report that many senior officials still want to see become reality.

Morgan's proposal to play T20 cricket across much of the summer, on nights preferred by individual counties, was opposed by 77% of players polled who wanted the group stages to be played in a single block.

The PCA research was carried out online and involved 277 registered professionals, with a response rate of approximately 70%.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo