Time for Scots to Join T20 Cities?
Sometimes you have to reach for the sky to get an idea off the ground. These last few days have brought plenty of feverish debate about the future direction which Scottish cricket should take, but perhaps we should be looking at what’s happening south of the Border.
For those who might be unfamiliar with recent developments, a battle is brewing over plans to revolutionise the whole T20 structure in England, away from counties and towards a city-based model.
There are fears this might create a schism and tear the sport apart and that guarantees strong arguments when the ECB attempts to sell the scheme to clubs on an individual basis between now and mid-September. But the reality of the situation is stark enough. Outwith the traditional powerhouses of Yorkshire, Lancashire, Middlesex and Warwickshire – who are already called Birmingham in Twenty20 circles – ticket sales are generally declining from where they were five years ago. If you’re at Derby, Leicester, Northants, or even Sussex or Worcester, life is a struggle these days. County cricket might not be withering on the vine, but it is far from being a land of milk and honey.
So what’s the solution? Well, there are one of two intriguing possibilities. Warwickshire’s rebranding might have offended some of the purists, but last year, revenue from T20 was up 43% and crowds 83%.
The county’s wonderfully-named chief executive, Neil Snowball, declared recently to The Cricketer magazine: “All I would say to other chief execs is that the model has worked brilliantly for us. I think it has shown how a city-based team can be effective. And nationally, we’ve just got to do something to supercharge the whole T20 product.”
That word “nationally” is interesting. Glamorgan have already shown an inclination to join the radical voices and the Telegraph mentioned on Thursday, almost as an afterthought: “A Wales team could solve [the county’s] financial issues.”
Yes, a Wales team. Which, if it happened, would raise the prospect of the present Twenty20 structure being renovated and opened up in a dramatic fashion. And, let’s face it, if Wales or Cardiff was admitted as a viable option, why on earth stop there? What’s wrong with Glasgow and Edinburgh becoming part of a British T20 competition?
As matters stand, there are too many English counties to generate the momentum, fan hysteria and financial clout which has been instrumental in the success of the IPL. But let’s suppose the ECB’s new template was based around London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Southampton, Cardiff, Newcastle and Nottingham, wouldn’t it be terrific if Dublin/Belfast and Glasgow/Edinburgh was added to the equation, as the prelude to a cricket-style British and Irish League?
Obviously, there are many hurdles to overcome. City analysts, Deloitte, are currently engaged in an evaluation of the NatWest Blast T20 and investigating the best way to fashion a new event. Until now, there has been a marked reluctance by the ECB to assist the Scots after their departure from the Totesport League and CB40 tournament at the end of 2013. But the authorities in England urgently need bold new ideas.
And they have to break free from the shackles of an anachronistic county hierarchy. In T20 terms, expanding the event to include representation from Wales, Ireland and Scotland has clear merits, whether in increasing the sport’s commercial appeal, crossing borders or breaking into new supporter markets.
For the moment, pretty much everything is shrouded in secrecy. But imagine if the best talent from Clydesdale, Ferguslie, Kelburne, East Kilbride and elsewhere could join forces under the Glasgow banner? Or Grange, Carlton, Watsonians and Heriots followed suit in Edinburgh? And they were meeting Birmingham or London in a match broadcast live on Sky or even the BBC if they ever return to the cricket milieu. It would be fantastic and, given that the ECB is facing a protracted battle with the more entrenched counties, they need all the allies they can find.
I can already hear the naysayers raising objections or envisage some clubs asking why they should help Cricket Scotland. There is plenty of mutual suspicion and self-interest which explains why everything takes an age to get resolved, but the fact is Twenty20 is in trouble in England and there are only so many ways to placate an excessive amount of counties going nowhere fast.
In these circumstances, a British League doesn’t appear far-fetched at all. Instead, it seems an entirely practical solution. One hopes Cricket Scotland at least explores the issue.