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June 13, 2012
Muttiah Muralitharan, Sri Lanka's record-breaking spin bowler, has dismissed England's Twenty20 format as "old fashioned" and called for it to adopt the franchise format favoured by the IPL.
Muralitharan is about to begin his second season with Gloucestershire in Friends Life t20 and as the competition begins he has risked a storm by suggesting that they should merge with their fiercest rivals Somerset.
"That would be good as they are close counties and they would benefit financially," he said. The ECB insists that the 18-county system is sacrosanct yet England players play little, if any, domestic T20 cricket because of an international programme that dominates the entire summer. England's T20 tournament was an innovative product when it launched in 2003, but Muralitharan argued that it has now fallen behind rival tournaments around the world.
"They introduced it worldwide but now England is old-fashioned," he told BBC Points West. "They need to change and become franchised teams and each county would benefit financially. If it happens like that it would be huge in England. I think the market is there, and the TV rights will come."
Muralitharan, 40, has a wealth of experience on his side. As well as Sri Lanka his clubs include Chennai Super Kings, Royal Challengers Bangalore, Kochi Tuskers, Chittagong Kings, Kandurata, Lancashire and Wellington.
Since its inception in 2003, the game has been adapted worldwide, taking on several different guises. But the FLt20 will struggle to make impact this summer, not just competing against England's unrelenting schedule but the European football championships and London's hosting of the Olympics.
Debate is still going on about the structure of England's T20 tournament in 2013, but this season the 18 counties, restricted to a maximum of two overseas players, play 10 matches in three groups of six before reaching the quarterfinal stages.
Muralitharan even suggested that England's T20 competition was lagging behind Bangladesh, a competition that has been characterised by a stand off between FICA, the international players' association, and the BCB over owed player payments.
"Bangladesh launched it big and their crowds have been 30-40,000 for every match," he said. "Australia has merged into eight franchises so I think England should also do that and it could equal IPL."
Muralitharan starts his second spell with Gloucestershire on Thursday against local rivals Somerset, and believes merging the two counties to become a T20 franchise would be a good move.
"At the end of the day the public will see good cricket and enjoy it," he said. "Money will be spinning from the competition and they can sustain the other forms of the game within county cricket. It would be one of the best things to happen if they do that. It will make sure the competition is more successful than what it is now."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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