Flintoff denounces plans for new T20 teams

Andrew Flintoff gets involved with the fans Cricket Australia/Getty Images

Andrew Flintoff has urged the ECB to resist the introduction of new teams into the domestic T20 tournament and rely instead on a restructured tournament involving the current 18 first-class counties.

Flintoff, the former England captain and current PCA president, believes some supporters will be "alienated" by new team identities, especially if they named after cities, and warns that the charm of the game will be diminished if players' loyalty towards their local side is abandoned.

"I wanted to play for Lancashire all my life," Flintoff told former England team-mate, Rob Key, in a Sky Sports podcast. "I didn't want to play for Manchester. I'd play for Preston, don't get me wrong. But Manchester doesn't have that same thing for me. You look at Yorkshire: are you going to play as Leeds and alienate everyone from Barnsley? If you call it Manchester, you're going to alienate the Scousers.

"You turn it into a football scenario. Loyalty goes out of the game. You just go to the highest bidder. Year in, year out, you're playing for a different teams.

"This is where cricket is separated from the likes of football. Look at the top football teams: you're telling me Sergio Aguero, as a kid, wanted to play for Man City?

"In cricket, we still have an element of loyalty. It's something that is quite charming about cricket"

"Why does it matter? Because I find in football, the fans are the most loyal people. Not the players or the managers or anybody else. In cricket, we still have an element of loyalty. You played your whole career at Kent; I did the same at Lancashire. The Yorkshire lads are the same. There's a real pride in playing for your county. I wouldn't want that to be lost. It's something that is quite charming about cricket."

Claiming the standard of the Big Bash League was no better than the NatWest Blast - he has appeared in both in recent years - Flintoff cautioned against applying the Australian model in England.

"Everyone looks at the Big Bash and says 'this is brilliant' and 'this is what we should do in England' but I don't think the standard is any better," Flintoff said. "The pitches are a lot better.

"But the worst thing you can do is compare the Big Bash. Let's get ours right. The Big Bash has been six years in the making and has started making a profit in the last two years. Before that it was running at a loss.

"And, 9pm on Friday at Old Trafford: if you're watching Lancashire or Manchester, it's still going to be cold. The weather isn't going to be any better."

Flintoff did suggest that some aspects of the Big Bash League could be copied, though. But while he appreciated the briefings from commercial teams about the importance of the players understanding the need to reach out to a new audience, he still concluded that a system of promotion and relegation involving all 18 first-class counties would serve English T20 better than a new team competition.

"Before we bowled a ball at Brisbane Heat, the commercial department came in and told us what was required of us on and off the field to grow the fan base," he said. "I've never done that with Lancashire. They sat us down and told us about all the interviews we would be doing and what we were expected to do. All the players bought into it. I'd never had that in the county system. Nobody had ever told me what they expected beyond a few runs and wickets.

"Why do you need city cricket? I don't think the NatWest Blast has been done as well as it could. Let's get the NatWest Blast right, let's get the format right and put a load of energy into that rather than worrying about a new tournament. Play it in a block. Two divisions, up and down.

"Northamptonshire won last year. But will Northants, the best team in the country, be one of the cities? Will they heck. And another thing: you'll have 200 lads, during the summer, not playing cricket. What are they going to do?

"I don't know if they've done this, but they should go to Surrey and see what they're doing. They play in front of packed houses week in, week out. You see a Surrey game on TV and there's life and atmosphere and they get full houses."

While Flintoff is a bit loose on a few details - the ECB are looking more at regional rather than city identities for the new teams and those players not involved are scheduled to play a 50-over tournament instead - his words will strike a chord with many traditional cricket lovers. That is not the audience the ECB is targeting with the new team competition, however, and it seems all but inevitable that the new tournament will be launched in 2020.

It must also be noted that the company that manages Flintoff is chaired by Surrey chairman Richard Thompson. Surrey have been the strongest opponent of the new team competition among the counties.