June 10, 2008

From hit and giggle to do or die

Why the increased focus on Twenty20 just may be good for English cricket

More explosive players like Luke Wright may come to the fore via Twenty20 © Getty Images

Rare is the time when there isn't talk of upheaval and reform in the English domestic game. But the current atmosphere has been made all the more febrile by noises off: the coveting of the Indian Premier League, and Saturday's confirmation that a Champions League will take place later in the year.

No prizes for predicting the content of every English county's Twenty20 team talk this week as the domestic 20-over competition kicks off: "Come on lads, there's 2.5 million quid on this."

How quickly Twenty20 has metamorphosed from hit and giggle to do or die. Somewhere in an office at the Rose Bowl stadium in Hampshire, a marketing man is musing on his creation. Stuart Robertson, Hampshire's commercial director, is cricket's Dr Frankenstein - it was he, while working for the ECB, who commissioned the market research that led to the creation of the Twenty20 monster.

Michael Vaughan has raised the concern that Twenty20 now becomes the priority for counties, "the ultimate importance, rather than developing the four-day team", as he put it. I think Vaughan's concerns are misplaced. Anything that sharpens the mind of county cricketers has to be a good thing, as long as counties don't lose sight of the long-term objective of producing England players for all forms of the game.

It's not really about which competition a county focuses on. It's the fact that they don't really have time to prepare properly for any of the four main tournaments they play. Once the season starts, it's a five-day-a-week job with little time for rest, reflection or preparation. The problem remains in the county game of the amount of cricket that is played. It is a vicious circle: counties want to fill every nook and cranny of their summer to bring in revenue to pay for their sizeable fully professional staffs (and to give Sky TV something other than England matches to fill their schedules with); and they need these large squads in order to get through the workload of the summer.

England lack explosive players and that surely is because the nature of county cricket mitigates against it. More focus on Twenty20 might just help England produce some more Luke Wrights and Dimitri Mascarenhases. Domestic players in England play more limited-overs cricket than in any other country yet does that quantity lead to greater quality and high achievement at international level? No.

Vaughan has mooted cutting down the number of county championship matches and this seems to be a no-brainer. There is an argument that the British weather is too unpredictable to make, say, a ten-match championship season credible. But this is the bullet that must be bitten.

The two-division championship is a competitive competition, far tougher and more rigorous than it was a decade or so ago. But there is still too much of it: Wednesday to Saturday every week, with a one-day game to top it off on Sunday. Talent could be distilled further by a split into three divisions of six, which would lend itself neatly to a 10-game, home-and-away programme. If you couple that reform with the disbanding of the 40-over league, you have a radical change in the structure of the English game with the emphasis on quality not quantity.

John Stern is editor of The Wisden Cricketer

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Graham on June 12, 2008, 15:22 GMT

    10 highly competitive first-class games - that's an average of one every two weeks across mid-April to mid-September - sounds perfect. With a 3 or 4 week Twenty20 break, it would be more like a four-day game every 10 days, but that is an improvement on the current situation. The Pro40 should be scrapped and the FP Trophy, played with full ODI rules (including powerplays), lengthened slightly and stretched over the summer with the final at the end of August. That ought to be more than enough cricket to keep the public entertained, the county coffers in shape and the players sharp...

  • Roger on June 11, 2008, 9:12 GMT

    Well done John. At last someone has recognized the main problem with the English game and that is too much cricket. More cricket has been added to the County menu over the years for the wrong reasons namely to appeal to the demands of TV , advertising and a perception that more tournaments will improve the game for one and all. Well it hasn't. All it has done is dissolve the quality of players and the cricket played. Further to this, another vital component of reforming the English game and controlling the amount of cricket played, is to reduce the number of tems involved. Counties need to amalgamate with each other to play out of the best grounds. 10 teams (rather than the present 18 counties) will be be quite enough.

  • Cricinfouser on June 11, 2008, 1:24 GMT

    From what I've read it seems that English counties do play too much cricket and there seems to be far too many foreign players that dilute the talent pool for international selection. I'm sure these things have been said before though so someone needs to actually do something about it.

    On the Champions League I dislike some of the things proposed, ie IPL teams get first pick of foreign players, with compensation that I'm sure they can afford considering how much money was thrown around in the IPL. Case in point Michael Hussey has said that he would prefer to play for Western Australia rather than Chennai which makes sense, but the chances are that he will end up playing for Chennai. Also the tournament venue has been said to be in either India or UAE, while I have no problem with UAE hosting (provided facilities are OK) if India hosts it does seem a little unfair to Aus, Eng and Sth African domestic teams. Surely there is another venue that is at least possible at this stage.

  • Abhijeet on June 10, 2008, 19:28 GMT

    The IPL impact has hit across the cricking nations. Slowly but surely all 40/50 over games will make way for 20 over one. Test matches will remain the true test of players callber and i doubt their status will be affected. Champions League will most probably be held in India. So it is bound to be a huge hit. 20-20 will surely produce some more exciting talents. Cricket is undergoing its biggest change since Packer's era. The sooner the cricket boards fall in line the better it will be for them. ECB has no choice to embrace it because all other countries surely will. Personally I would be glad if ECB includes more foreign players per match like IPL. It will surely attract more audience outside England.

  • Chris on June 10, 2008, 15:53 GMT

    Certainly streamline the calendar to incorporate the gamut of cricket genres and also get rid of those formats that really fall between cricket and entertainment without satisfying either ends of the spectrum. However, let's not forget that it is cricket that enables the twenty/20 to flourish because it is cricket that teaches technique. You have only to look at the poor quality of batting in the West Indies to see the damage that is done by a dearth of long form games in their home series.

  • John on June 10, 2008, 12:58 GMT

    Instead of cutting back on real cricket, how about getting rid of Pro40, a format played nowhere else in the world?

  • Roy on June 10, 2008, 12:27 GMT

    "as long as counties don't lose sight of the long-term objective of producing England players for all forms of the game."

    English counties have never considered the greater good, they do what's good for them - remember they had to be bullied into implementing a system that might actually produce decent England players. That set up is now bearing fruit and the ECB need to take action now to ensure the counties' respective priorities don't shift and the England team is back to the standard it was in the 1990's

    Otherwise some good points made. Absolutely right about dropping the 40 over competition, its a waste of everyone's time. Interesting that the players have moaned for 10 years that they play and travel too much, then you dangle the carrot of a bit of extra cash in front of them and they'll travel to the ends of the earth to play when otherwise they would have had a break they've been crying out for. Did anyone come back from the IPL complaining they were tired?

  • SEKHAR on June 10, 2008, 6:25 GMT

    England cannot be expected to cling to domestic county test championships to identify talent.It must expose itself to T20s sooner so that players of the likes of Mascarenhas and Ravi Bopara are spotted.

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