Friends Life t20 June 29, 2013

Flt20 must embrace own identity

The tournament has been having an identity crisis as it tries to find its place in both the English and world cricket calendars but, like The Open and Premier League, T20 in England must embrace their Britishhness

It is what it is. This phrase, which has become ubiquitous in recent times, might be a useful point of reference for the Friends life t20. On its 10th birthday, the tournament has been having an identity crisis as it tries to find its place in both the English and world cricket calendars. But instead of concentrating on what it isn't - the IPL, or even the Big Bash League - it might be time to concentrate on what it is.

English T20 will never match the IPL; it doesn't have the clout, the money, the window, the players or the weather. Once India took to Twenty20, the rest of the world had no chance. There is no shame in that. The essence of cricket, more than most sports, is its diversity. There are many things English cricket will never do as well as India, and vice versa. The FLt20 is barely a cousin of the IPL, never mind a competitive sibling.

Friday's programme, effectively the opening night of this year's competition, was a triumph despite the generally dismal weather. Only four of the eight games were unaffected (three in the North division; it's grim down South) but thanks to the persistence of groundstaff, umpires, players and spectators, seven of the games produced results. There were 1,957 runs, 89 wickets, 60 sixes and some superb cricket.

Middlesex and Surrey stole victories on the road, the former despite Vernon Philander taking 3-1-8-4 on his Kent debut. For Surrey, Jade Dernbach (4-0-15-3) reminded us that, for richer and poorer, he is a unique talent. Nottinghamshire flexed their considerable muscle against Leicestershire, with Michael Lumb and David Hussey overseeing an intimidatingly comfortable chase of 184, and Lancashire held their nerve to beat Durham by nine runs. Glamorgan pulverised Worcestershire in a 14-over thrash, and Northamptonshire did the same to Gloucestershire in a match reduced to 12 overs.

Sometimes it is going to be wet and miserable. Sometimes you are going to have to bowl one over for 17 in pouring rain with a soapy ball. This is the reality of domestic cricket in England.

This is turning into quite a season for Northants. Last year they won four matches in all competitions; this was their tenth victory in 2013. It was also their first T20 victory at Wantage Road since 2010. The man of the match was the left-arm spinner Graeme White, back at Northants on loan from Nottinghamshire, who took 4 for 14 from three overs. He caught the eye even before he'd bowled a ball by wearing three hairstyles in one: a Mad Men slickback, a Beatles bowl and a V-shaped step at the back. It was possibly the most striking haircut seen in English cricket since Kevin Pietersen's skunk rock summer of 2005.

Spectators waited almost two hours for the play to start, including a group of cheery, flag-waving children from the Kettering & Corby District Under-11s. This is the reality of domestic cricket in England and Wales. Sometimes it is going to be wet and miserable. Sometimes you are going to have to bowl one over for 17 in pouring rain with a soapy ball, as Gloucester's Alex Gidman did at Wantage Road. Sometimes it is going to be a bit naff.

Other sports embrace their Britishhness rather than trying to ape what goes on elsewhere. The Premier League does not try to copy Serie A or La Liga, Wimbledon has always stood apart from other tennis tournaments, while the Open Championship and the links courses in England and Scotland are not given beauty treatment to copy the manicured courses in America. They are what they are, and that's an essential part of the charm.

Using a pinnacle as a reference point is natural. But sometimes you have to know your limits. You could not have saxophone-playing elephants in England.

And if the Flt20 tries to be too like the IPL it will end up looking as ridiculous those ordinary folk who bought Ryan Gosling's iconic jacket from the film Drive. It should have its own British identity.

This is not to say the mid-match entertainment should be Basil Fawlty impersonators rather than dancing girls, or that fast-food vans should serve toad in the hole. T20 is intrinsically box office, and can never lose sight of its essential purpose, but for English cricket there may be a happier window between the inevitable bombast of T20 and the eccentricity and homespun charm that makes county cricket so endearing.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Adam on July 3, 2013, 9:46 GMT

    Football is a bad template to follow. Look instead at the hypersuccessful American sports. Quarter Finals are best of 5, semifinals are best of 7, and finals are best of 9. Its the logical progression - as the stakes get higher and the quality converges, it takes longer to split the teams. The same logic is used in snooker, darts, you name it. Matches get longer as the tournament progresses.

  • Paul on July 2, 2013, 19:29 GMT

    Re: py0alb (best of three). Football League Cup in England has a two legged semi final (home and away) with a one off final at a neutral venue (Wembley). No reason cricket cannot do likewise. Yes, it is irrational for the finals day in the shortest form of the game to last so long, but it is popular so let it be.

    An extended quarter final stage would mitigate the risk of weather and create a short block leading up to the final. Like Royal Ascot horse racing, Wimbledon tennis or the Football League Playoffs, it could be a regular point in the British sporting calendar. The Twenty20 Playoffs!

  • Adam on July 2, 2013, 11:36 GMT

    Surely if the quarters were best of three, then the semifinals and finals also have to be? Otherwise its a bit backwards, no?

    I still don't understand why they invent this new competition, the main benefit of which is that it takes under 3 hours per game and is therefore far more attractive to fans than having to sit through a 7 hour 50 over game, and then completely negate this singular advantage by insisting on cramming the final 3 games into one day to make the resulting 9 hour marathon the longest and most exhausting day of cricket in the entire calendar. What on earth possessed them?

  • Paul on July 1, 2013, 12:11 GMT

    The article is quite right. It is why franchises are a non-starter and some of next seasons changes are a risk. Of the numerous domestic structures proposed in recent years, the ECB should be commended for embracing regularity to Championship and T20 groups games.

    Fully agree. Include Scotland, Netherlands (both regrettably omitted from the new CB50) and Ireland to make twelve games in the existing groups; much better than planned fourteen games.

    The T20 knockout phase could be a greater spectacle. Were the quarters best-of-three games, scheduled in a block with the traditional Finals Day, it could be a more internationally attractive event. Especially if England players were available.

  • Adam on July 1, 2013, 10:02 GMT

    "Unfortunately the English T20 is a far inferior product to the IPL"

    You cannot possibly be serious. One or two famous names excepted, the general standard of cricket in the IPL is woeful. The bowling and fielding is especially poor.

    I've been going to see the FLT20 since it began and its an excellent tournament, with consistently exciting and high quality cricket, marred by unintelligent scheduling (three home games in five days and then none for a fortnight? I ask you), and unfortunately low profile by dint not being shown on free to air tv in the UK (unlike the IPL ironically).

  • Dummy4 on June 30, 2013, 23:10 GMT

    How can a ten year old tourny have so little identity? It is the one form of cricket that has kept more or less the exact same rule set since it began. Even test rules have changed more often than T20 - and the poor old 50 over game is messed about wirh so often they might as well re-name it every 18 months as it bears little or no relation to previous incarnations. Here's a thought. T20 has no identity because most people couldn't care-a-less about it. Watching the 3 men and a dog down at Gloucestershire today - a glorious warm dry Sunday afternoon and a crowd you didn't need to take your socks off to count.

  • Roo on June 30, 2013, 3:19 GMT

    @Rob Smyth - "Flt20 must embrace own identity"

    I would have thought that after 10 years the comp would already have its own identity, unless there are some under-current feelings that it should have done much more considering that the IPL started a few years later & that the BBL is only 2 years old but already has seen the biggest crowds ever at an Oz domestic cricket game in history...

    Also what is the ECB trying to achieve? In Oz CA has been pushing the advertising at younger people & families trying to grow a new generation of cricket fans - in the 1st BBL, matches saw up to 33% of spectators being first time attendee's of a cricket match, which in itself is a great achievement which also clearly indicates that in Oz younger people are much more willing to pay to see a game that only takes a few hours to complete rather that a longer match.

  • David on June 29, 2013, 20:34 GMT

    The examples of football, tennis and golf the author uses show the problem; they may be different to all the other competitions in foreign climes, but they are their equal (at least). Unfortunately the English T20 is a far inferior product to the IPL (betting scandals notwithstanding) and even the Big Bash. British T20 anyone? The Scottish Claymores vs the Irish Shamrocks vs the welsh Dragons vs the Manchester Happy Mondays (poor, but you get the picture)? Final at the olympic stadium? Lose the international T20s, and make it franchise only.

  • Dummy4 on June 29, 2013, 12:54 GMT

    T20 is set to stay in the British Isles. why not bringing in Scotland, Ireland, Netherlands, to make it a global taste. I understand the logistics will be a nightmare to organise but it is something worth thinking about? I always have had the fascination on the Flt20 every year because any team can win it like Leicestershire did in 2010 among the strong finalists, Hants, Somerset, Lancashire. Also, bringing in families will suit as the format is shorter and faster and livilier! Keep it going for another ten years and beyond!!!

  • Dummy4 on June 29, 2013, 12:54 GMT

    Dear FLT20. You may not be the prettiest or the cleverest or the most exciting, but I love you just the way you are. I might flirt with the shiny and good-looking IPL sometimes, but my heart belongs to you. Be mine forever, love Harriet xxxx

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