Twenty20 is the future of English cricket and all else must be fitted around it - why I have made a complete U-turn to save our game
SUNDAY TELEGRAPH RUGBY CORRESPONDENT Steve James 8 AUGUST 2016 • 12:38PM
Difficult piece to write this, not least because it involves a huge bouleversement in standpoint.
It will also probably send my dear late father spinning in his grave, but, with deepest apologies to him and all those other well-intentioned cricket traditionalists, here goes anyway in explaining my altered stance on county cricket.
Twenty20 must rule.
There, I’ve said it. And by that I mean that having the most profitable Twenty20 configuration must become the primary consideration when solving the always-impossible schedule conundrum, and then all else must be fitted around it.
So if that means two Twenty20 competitions, as revealed in this parish recently, one comprising fewer city-based teams, and the other with all 18 counties as now, then so be it.
These are dangerous times, with more counties lurching on the precipice of financial extinction than many would care to admit, and the truth is that Twenty20 is the only real route to significant money being made at domestic level, as well as being already proven as the easiest passage to attracting new participants and spectators.
In the past I would always have argued that cricketing concerns, especially the sanctity of first-class cricket, must come first, because a T20 argument is always a fiscal one, but sometimes some detachment can bring more clarity, and maybe the majority of my time now being spent covering rugby has brought that, especially the utter futility of the constant tiny fiddling with the schedule, as the county game so obviously gets pushed more and more to the margins.
Now a reduction in the number of County Championship matches, one fewer home Test a summer and even the abandoning of 50-over cricket altogether (is there much difference in attitude between 50 and 20 overs any more?) seem piffling inconveniences and will probably not produce the catastrophic cricketing consequences so many envisage.
Would, say, just 10 Championship matches in a three-divisional structure be that bad? It is still a lot of cricket, and poor weather does not keep players off the field for as long these days, with better drainage systems and fewer pluviophiles amongst players and umpires.
Sorting Twenty20 could not just save the county game; it could even allow it to stand on its own feet at last.
A new competition with new teams will not spell the end for the counties. The teams will not be franchises because that would mean money going unnecessarily out of the game, but instead the counties will be stakeholders and will benefit enormously from an enhanced television deal.
But for this to happen we need something different. We need something without any restrictions in terms of scheduling and personnel involved. We need something involving all the top overseas players, and more importantly, all the current England players.
I will be summarising on Glamorgan’s quarter-final against Yorkshire on Thursday and, while the absence of the likes of Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow will undoubtedly benefit my former county, it is a travesty that such players are not performing.
One caveat to all of this is that support for contrived teams is unproven in these parts. Parochialism is too often too huge a hurdle.
English rugby once experimented with regional sides, to resounding failure. Welsh rugby’s regional set up has hardly been a roaring success, even if the dire state of club rugby just beforehand is often conveniently forgotten.
But this is worth a go. Make it top notch and see how the public respond.
A small example might be Wasps rugby and their recent move from London to Coventry. They have brought in big names - South Africa’s Willie le Roux the latest last week - and have succeeded on the field, and so crowds have come, many supporting a new team.
Twenty20 will not kill first-class cricket, Test cricket or the 18-county structure, but narrow-mindedness and stuck-in-the-mud traditionalism might.
It is time to change. We are getting left behind.