Last weekend an England cricket team did something that hasn’t been done by any of their predecessors. They won the world cup for the first time since its inception 44 years ago. The game was shown live on terrestrial TV and up against the mens’ singles final at Wimbledon, the viewing and listening figures were amazing. The TV audience peaked at 8.3 million.
England play in a bold and exciting style in this 50-over format of the game a product in part of the decision several years ago to switch the domestic longer form one-day game to this format.
You would think that this success would provide the governing body with great satisfaction and perhaps see even greater support for this competition in the coming seasons. But no, the ECB is downgrading the domestic 50-over competition from 2020 to a “development” competition running up against the hundred, the Board’s shiny new showpiece event.
The impact of this is that from next season the rising stars of English cricket, who will almost inevitably be signed up to one of the 8 Hundred franchises, will no longer play any 50-over cricket. How the selectors are to choose the players who are to be brought into the England squad over the next four years is anyone’s guess.
If you thought this was lunacy, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The ECB have decreed that there will be 8 city franchise teams based at the Test Match Venues but all drawing on a geographical catchment area. But in the case of the West Country, where the “Welsh Fire” will be based in Cardiff will not be an amalgam of Glamorgan, Gloucestershire and Somerset but, like its rivals a random bunch of players brought together by a draft.
A Taunton based Somerset supporter will, the ECB assume, be willing to drive up the M5 across one of the Severn Crossings and into central Cardiff, in the late afternoon to support their “local” franchise.
The format is as the name suggests 100 balls a side. Apparently the concept of an over is hard to understand and in a bid to attract a new audience of women and children who are the governing body say in need of a simplified format to make the game easier to understand.
How patronising. How insulting. How dare they.
The evidence suggests that cricket on free to air TV is not that inaccessible in its current 6 ball over format. And even more tellingly the start of the Vitality Blast, the highly successful 20-over format, which saw 28,000 at Lords on Thursday evening, has grown year on year. The County Ground at Taunton sells out for the majority of its T20 games. But next year this format will also be, because of the investment in the new competition be condemned to poor relation status.
We are beginning to hear of big names being signed to coach the franchises. We hear of huge sums being set aside by the Board to set up this new competition. No one it seems thought, even for a moment about instead of spending these sums of money they accept a marginal reduction in income from Sky to allow some T20 games to be screened free-to-air.
That investment allied to a smart marketing campaign aimed at explaining the established short form format to this alleged “new audience” would surely have been a far more sensible step.
So, given all this, and there are many more arguments I could put forward to illustrate the stupidity of the ECB’s decision, what it the real motivation.
To answer that gets to the heart of why Somerset fans
Somerset of course are not part of those plans. We are the annoying country bumkins who keep punching above our weight, keep producing outstanding local talent and keep filling our ground. Whereas Cardiff and Durham, Middlesex and Lancashire all host division two cricket this season plucky old us just keep finishing at the business end of Division One.
While I am not suggesting this whole scheme is aimed to castrate Somerset, that would be paranoia of the highest order, it does seem convenient to the test match grounds if they can avoid the hassle of having to perform well on the pitch each season to earn a place in the top division.
The good news is that England’s success last Sunday is beginning to open the eyes of many cricket followers to the mess that the ECB is creating. The full implications of the Hundred are becoming common knowledge. Whether this will be enough for the ECB to realise the folly of their ways is yet to be seen.
So forgive us Somerset supporters if we look ahead to 2020 with some trepidation. Forgive us if we are worried that this wonderful club, with its proud identity and outstanding record in the last 10 years in all formats, will lose its status as part of the county elite.
And if you do happen into the county I suggest you don’t mention “The Hundred”.