County news January 31, 2013

ICC floats window for domestic T20 leagues

English cricket could find itself out of step with the world game after the ICC gave the first clues that it was considering creating space in the international calendar for domestic Twenty20 leagues.

At the ICC Board meeting in Dubai the principle was accepted that domestic T20 leagues can add to the game as a whole and that a policy of co-existence should be sought between domestic T20 leagues and international cricket.

A working party chaired by Sundar Raman of the BCCI, and including James Sutherland, David Collier and David White, in charge respectively of Australia, England and New Zealand cricket, concluded that the "growth and sustainability of international cricket" should be achieved by "attaining co-existence between domestic T20 leagues and the international game."

If such a belief is implemented across the cricketing calendar, windows could be created for T20 leagues such as the IPL to avoid clashes with international fixtures.

That could be good news for the ECB if the Indian board was persuaded to move - and potentially shrink - IPL to avoid a clash with England's international season - although it is possible that it would be the English season that would be expected to shrink with the possibility of compensation as a result.

More striking is that fact that the ECB have proposed a new Twenty20 competition that will not be able to easily slot into a world cricket calendar. From 2014, the tournament will consist of 14 group matches in a consistent schedule, most on Friday nights, throughout the season.

Support for a summer-long league was championed by counties such as Somerset and Essex, much to the frustration of some of the Test match counties, many of whom favoured a short-and-sharp format which would have potentially attracted T20 specialists and - if the ECB was persuaded of the advantages of a domestic window - England players.

The ECB is conducting its own analysis of its domestic T20 tournament. A working party under the chairmanship of Essex's Nigel Hilliard has been charged with examining how to freshen up domestic Twenty20, but attracting leading overseas players will be difficult because of the summer-long structure.

"You always want the best players in your domestic tournaments for the simple reason that it raises the standard," Giles White, Hampshire first XI manager, told ESPNcricinfo. "Young players that are coming through can test their skills against the very best which can only be a good thing. We've been lucky in the past with some very good overseas players, for example Shahid Afridi who was very instrumental in the development of Danny Briggs."

Without the lure of overseas stars, the ECB working committee, says Hillard, will "think outside the box" to make the game more interesting to spectators, considering changes to the playing conditions for the new tournament.

"It is an opportunity to make changes in 2014 when we relaunch the whole thing," Hilliard told the Telegraph. "Nothing is off the agenda. We just want to think about how we can improve the competition and see what ideas are out there."

Changes could see restrictions lifted on the number of overs permitted for each bowler and bonus points to promote good pitches, an idea that is favoured by Leicestershire's chief executive Mike Siddall.

"We need to be playing on pitching where sides are capable of scoring 180 rather than 130," Siddall said. "You want hard, flat wickets where the batsman is in the ascendency - that's what the crowd wants. You can have all the background entertainment but the thing that matters is the onfield entertainment - that's what draws the crowds.

"Attendances at T20 have started to fall and we don't know exactly why that is. There is a feeling that Twenty20 isn't hitting the sweet spot as it was in the early days."

Siddall said the notion of franchise cricket had probably run its course. "We've looked at the franchise idea and there was a big feeling a few years ago that it might happen but now that it hasn't happened by now probably almost means that it won't happen. Unless you can attract the top players to play in this country, the franchise arrangement won't work."

The ECB appears to be ploughing a lone furrow with their season-long model for T20 but, having created Twenty20 cricket in 2003, 2014 could be the time for further progress.

"We need to learn what others are doing, in cricket and in other sports and take that to another level," said Jamie Clifford, Kent's chief executive. "We've now got quite a lot of test beds in terms of what can work both inside the ground and what it looks like on the TV.

"Watching IPL, Big Bash, the game is presented well. More mic'd-up players, more interaction, a player's eye view, boundary interviews and that sort of thing to draw the viewer in to what's going on, so it's not just bat versus ball there's some context to it and a greater level of engagement.

"With our audience it's a longer summer and it can sustain a competition throughout the course of the season and gives us counties better opportunity to market each match as an occasion. And if we can't get the top overseas players we have a responsibility to do all we can to make sure the customer is engaged."

Alex Winter is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo