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ECB casts its eye over the Big Bash

An ECB delegation has spent time in Australia this month assessing the Big Bash League as they step up preparations for a high-powered tournament of their own

Renegades' Aaron Finch and Sunil Narine warm up before going out to bat, Renegades v Stars, Big Bash League 2016-17, Melbourne, January 7, 2017

The ECB have been checking out the Big Bash again  •  Cricket Australia/Getty Images

An ECB delegation has spent time in Australia this month assessing the Big Bash League as they step up preparations for a high-powered tournament of their own.
Anthony Everard, the league manager of the Big Bash, said the delegation, led by the ECB's head of commercial partnerships, Mike Fordham, "asked all the right questions" when they met. Fordham was joined by Gordon Hollins, the ECB's chief operating officer, as well as two county cricket chief executives, Somerset's Guy Lavender and Nottinghamshire's Lisa Pursehouse.
The travelling contingent are representing the "T20 working group", which was established in December and also contains Rob Calder, the ECB's head of marketing, and Tom Johnson, the head of business support as well as the chief executive of the PCA, David Leatherdale.
It is understood that they are not looking to file a formal report from the BBL, but are observing and researching the way Cricket Australia and the clubs have pulled off the highly successful competition.
ECB delegations have become a regular feature of the Big Bash as the future of T20 in England remains undecided. "There is a mutual curiosity," Everard told ESPNcricinfo. "We welcome the ECB, we spent the morning with them, and they asked all the right questions. There is common ground, but also apples and oranges."
The BBL model has effectively tapped its target market: anybody who had not been to a cricket match before. The ECB appreciates that due to a differing population spread and starting point (18 counties, rather than six states) they cannot simply replicate but they do seem increasingly determined to hold a comparable eight-team competition from 2020.
Last year, ECB's market research suggested that only 13% of fans at NatWest T20 Blast games were under 16, and that the average was between 48 and 49, prompting fears about where the next generation of fans would come from and strengthening determination that a shake-up was required.
Progress on the project - which has received significant opposition from county members - is expected when the county chairmen and CEOs meet at the end of March.
This is not the first time the ECB have visited the BBL - which is averaging 29,875 fans per match this season, as well as free-to-air TV ratings of more than 1m people per night - for inspiration for their own competition. Last year Sanjay Patel, the chief sales and marketing officer, travelled to Australia to assess the competition. Tom Harrison, the ECB's chief executive, travelled to the USA in November to meet with Twitter, Facebook and other social networks to research how the competition's media rights package could work.
The ECB are not the only overseas board in town to pick the BBL's brains. Damien O'Donohoe, the Caribbean Premier League's chief executive, has also met with his Australian counterparts this week.

Will Macpherson writes on cricket for the Guardian, ESPNcricinfo and All Out Cricket. @willis_macp