An Open Forum to discuss the possible introduction of a city-based T20 tournament has been organised in the Shaun Udal Suite at the Ageas Bowl on Wednesday 12th October at 6.30pm. Hampshire’s Chairman, Rod Bransgrove will address the meeting on the proposals, as below -
Notwithstanding the fact that Hampshire was at the wrong end of it, what an incredible finish we have just witnessed to the 2016 County Championship. I am however in no doubt that such a headline-grabbing climax would not have been possible without the existence of the two-divisional system that was introduced in 2000.
I applaud the forward-thinking decision makers of that time who, in the face of stiff opposition from the ‘traditionalists’, stuck to their aim of improving the competitiveness and therefore the quality of the 4 day game.
Now is the time for all who love cricket and wish to lay the foundations for the next 150 years of its existence, to demonstrate a similar openness and commitment to another critical innovation; City-based T20.
We should be in no doubt about the risks of doing nothing. As those who have been watching have seen for many years, children are losing touch with cricket and arguably vice versa. Research conducted recently by ECB has revealed that only 2% of children aged 7 to 15 ranked cricket as their favourite sport and that American WWE wrestling star John Cena was recognised by more of these children than Alastair Cook.
Many blame the absence of cricket on terrestrial TV for this situation and this may indeed have played a part, but this ignores the trend of young people watching ‘traditional’ scheduled TV less, in favour of a range of other communication methods including ‘catch up’ and clips on a wide range of devices and platforms e.g. Twitter and Facebook. It is also somewhat ironic that Mr Cena’s fame has been established whilst WWE has been broadcast in the UK exclusively via satellite!
All is certainly not lost however and again, ECB’s own research suggests that some 9.4million people in the UK profess some interest in cricket. Of this huge number, only 75,000 or so have been attracted to join one of the 18 first class counties as a Member. Whilst acknowledging that our Members are the most loyal supporters of the game and a source of valuable income, many of them would and should be the first to acknowledge that their interests do not always accord with those of the young people and their families with whom we so desperately need to re-engage.
Change should be no stranger to any consumer-facing organisation, indeed it is an essential element of survival and growth. In 2002, despite overwhelming consumer research in favour of the introduction of Twenty20 Cricket, 7 Counties voted against it and for those of us present at the debate, it was clear that their decisions were in the main fuelled by a fear of backlash from their membership. It is no exaggeration to say that, without them being outvoted at the time, some of these same Counties would have perished by now. Again somewhat ironically, the very introduction of the format that many traditionalists feared, has therefore already come to the rescue of 4-day cricket by assisting with the survival of all 18 first class Counties – at least, for now.
Despite our “invention” of T20, we have allowed it to maintain limited momentum whilst other countries, notably India with the IPL and Australia with the Big Bash, have shown how it can be taken to another level. Even in the cash-strapped Caribbean, audiences are being lured back to the game they had abandoned via a re-invigorated CPL. Anyone who has not seen this revolution in cricket has simply not been looking. Amazingly, however, such people do exist!
After extensive and detailed consultation, which included consideration of all options, the ECB and its constituents have broadly agreed that we should fully investigate the potential for establishing a new T20 Tournament along the lines of the IPL and the Big Bash utilising the best players from around the world and the biggest grounds in the UK. This Tournament needs to start soon and the intention is to establish this as early as 2018 in order to maximise the opportunity and minimise competition from the rapidly-growing CPL.
This competition will require Members to look more openly at the game they love. For a month or so each summer, the best players from all Counties (should all Counties wish to participate) will join forces with the best overseas players in 8 new teams based at grounds with high attendance potential (not necessarily cricket grounds at present). These new teams will be run independently and all income derived will go into a newly-established company owned equally by all 18 First Class Counties (should they agree to participate) and MCC.
It is estimated that the minimum distribution to all participants will be c£1.3million and, make no mistake, for many FCCs this is a life saver. Host grounds will also receive a fee for staging the events which could be in the region of £500,000.
This income will, without doubt, secure the future of a number of FCCs and, therefore, the existence of First Class Cricket for many years. For those Members who profess no interest in T20, this safeguards the Long Form game in a way that cannot be guaranteed without such an innovation. If we truly love this game, and we want to preserve it for our children’s children, we must make this decision now and take pride in the fact that we have secured the future of cricket. If we do not take this decision now, we can watch the game’s gradual erosion into a minority cult sport played by the wealthy few. Those of us in, or approaching, the autumn of our lives have a responsibility to protect the game from this inevitable decline.
Of course, as with all change, the proposal has certain detractors. As mentioned above, this was the case in 2002 when, thankfully, the common sense of the 11 supporters of T20 cricket prevailed to the benefit of all. Most opponents are well-intentioned people who simply enjoy attending Long Form cricket and enjoy the skills and durability required for this game. To them I can only stress that this is a format which does not accord with modern day life and is not attracting new spectators. Without significant new funds this will perish altogether.
There are also (inevitably) some lobbyists with different motives; people with agendas other than the best interests of our game as a whole. In an open debate all legitimate points of view should be addressed openly by all participants and this is the process which ECB has encouraged to date with County Chairmen and CEOs. The PCA has also actively sought the views of our Players and have indicated their support for this initiative. It is now time for us to invite the views of Hampshire Members and Supporters and I am proposing that this statement will be followed by an open forum on 12 October where these views can be expressed and considered.
Finally to those who seek to portray me as a T20 pioneer with no interest in “proper” cricket, I say this. There was no T20 cricket when I poured my money, my time, my heart and my soul into Hampshire Cricket; I am a cricket lover through and through and nobody can doubt this. I see an opportunity for us to save the entirety of our game by showing some initiative. Let’s not miss it…