The 16.4. The Big Debate

So much has been said and written on this subject. Now it is time for some of the rank and file Somerset fans to speak

A lot has happened in relation to the ECB’s new “baby” in the last week. So it seems like a good time to draw breath and look at the emerging reality of what next season’s domestic cricket season will look like.

I have, from the outset been opposed to the 16.4 (credit again to Tim Symes) for a number of reasons but any shadow of doubt that I had been unfair or misguided in my opposition as the draft progressed on Sunday evening. I wasn’t, I hasten to add, watching the fiasco (series 5 of Line of Duty is our current box set and that took much higher priority) but you couldn’t avoid the social media announcements as it progressed. I was at my limit of people being “buzzing” well before the draft concluded. Was it just me that felt that players had been briefed and sent a template to use as they were chosen? If they were credit to them as none that I saw made Gary Kirsten’s laughable error of forgetting to “[insert team name here]”

“Manchester Original – Tom Abell

But it was the reality of seeing the cream of Somerset’s home-grown talent being ripped away from us for a chunk of peak season that really hurt. Now don’t get me wrong I have nothing against Tom, Lewis, Tom et al for their selection on Sunday. Anyone in any walk of life would be lying if they said that they would eschew such rewards for the sake of loyalty. I can honestly say that if The Athletic offered me £100,000 for four weeks writing next summer I’d be seriously tempted….

Craig Overton – “Southern Brave”

No the responsibility lies with the ECB for putting the players in such an invidious position. If you haven’t already read it I suggest you read ESPN Cricinfo’s George Dobell’s submission to Wednesday’s hearing of Parliament’s Digital Culture, Media & Sport’s public hearing. Not only does he set quantify the scale of the gamble the ECB is taking with our game but also calls into question the vested and potential conflicts of interest within the higher echelons of the ECB.

Like Somerset’s former chairman Andy Nash, Dobell has long been vocal in his concerns for the future of county cricket. But they are prominent voices in what is far from a silent majority of cricket supporters. It was astonishing to hear the assertions of Graves and Harrision yesterday in relation to the level of consultation that took place with county members. Such misspeaking* should in my opinion be scrutinised by the parliamentary authorities.

There have been numerous articles, blog posts and web stories over the past month aimed at building the excitement for next season’s inaugural competition. But without fail these have attracted overwhelming negative comment. While I understand there are those who are looking forward to a new competition for whatever reason it seems clear to me that this viewpoint is one taken in isolation rather than in the context of the wider impact it will have on the domestic game.

The 50-over format will no longer be played by the top 100 or so domestic cricketers as the new competition clashes with The 16.4. Whereas Jos Buttler had several seasons of domestic experience in this format before graduating to the England side Tom Banton will have none outside international games. Is that any way to prepare to defend the World Cup?

The Blast, which has gone from strength to strength in the last few years is also being marginalized earlier in the year and with less overseas starts. A question of fulfilling Graves “mediocre” label?

And the poor old county championship will be pushed ever more to the margins of the season to the detriment of red-ball specialists and the widening of the gp between test and domestic four-day cricket.

And that is without us understanding the dynamic of the contractual arrangements between county and franchise. What happens when Manchester Originals want Tom Abell to rest before the competition starts and Somerset refuse? Let’s guess where the ECB will side. 

I know many of these arguments are well rehearsed but I repeat them here simply because I fail to see why the ECB could not have achieved their objectives by bringing in a two division Blast competition as both Dobell and Nash have suggested. No actually I completely see why they have done this, to initiate the beginning of the end of the 18-team county structure we have known for the last 20 plus years. When you look at the actions of the ECB with this in mind everything makes sense.

It is not surprising that the likes of the increasingly discredited Messrs Vaughan, Topley have positioned them front and centre of the 16.4’s ranks of cheerleders. They seem to be on a social media patrol to jump on anyone who dares raise objections to the new competition but time and again miss the point.

I canvassed the views of readers of SomersetNorth on the competition and, as with most things in relation to the competition the response was overwhelmingly negative. Here are a few of the responses which I think speak perfectly for the feelings of county cricket loyalists.

Mark Swallow

“As far as I can see this is a way for the ECB to try to devalue the County Game and introduce a Test venue franchise system at some point in the future. I have no intention of following a “team” based in another Country let alone another County as SCCC are my team and the team I wish to see play all formats (with the exception of course of the England Team).

Every County professional will make themselves available as it’s their livelihood and you can’t blame them for looking at ways to enhance their pay but it’s not what the majority of County supporters want.

The ECB have held the Counties to ransom to vote to support this venture and no doubt Sky will make money from it so it’s the administrators and broadcasters that are driving the agenda not the cricket fans particularly in Counties where no franchise will exist.

The Blast is the established short format game and Taunton buzzes on a T20 evening. The Royal London Cup gives players exposure to 50 over cricket and we have just won the 50 over World Cup and the Championship is the pinnacle leading to Tests for those good enough to excel in this type of Cricket. Just look at the way Sir Alistair batted at Taunton, how I wish he had been playing in the Ashes!

There is no need for the 100. The IPL, Big Bash etc are not being sidelined for anything else so why are we tinkering in England? Grounds will be full through free ticket allocations not through people traveling miles to see their local heroes plus a few “has beens” playing in a format that no one will understand. It won’t bring more people to Cricket in my opinion.

I oppose the 100 and I’m proud to say it.”

Bryan Gridley

“The whole competition winds me up, it’s a joke, right down to the sponsorship deal – it squeezes too much into the calendar, downgrades the competition we have just become world champions at – imagine football winning the World Cup and from then onwards playing only five a side! The most beautiful form of the game is the longest, generation after generation of cricket fans will tell you that yet the ECB seem intent on filling grounds with drunks for a quick buck – sorry I’m ranting but I could go on ……….. (but he did!)

Arrrgghh – it’s just this ‘throw money at it and it will work’ attitude – I could throw money at the unveiling of the latest dog turd in the park and people would come and watch – that doesn’t make it right or moral and in respect of cricket the thing that needs investment is right under their nose yet they fail to see it.”

Nigel Lyddon

“OK, none of us like the format, but how can the ECB not include the West Country? As I have said before the catchment area of Somerset is greater than the whole of Wales!  We do not want to support a Welsh team, why should we, we are from the West. Nothing against Wales but it seems the ECB do not give a fig about loosing the fans they already have, OK they say they do but common sense says otherwise.  The players will want to play as it is very good money and you cannot blame them for that.”

Steve Woolaway

“Somerset and Essex are clearly the two best first class counties at the moment. The Hundred is clearly the thin end of the wedge in terms of the ECB intending to reduce the number of first-class counties. The locating of the Hundred teams at centres of population is because the ECB mistakenly think that’s where the cricket has the best chance of pulling in crowds. If it’s a success it will convince them that’s the way forward for cricket in England. Goodbye Somerset and goodbye Essex. Real cricket fans need to wake up to what’s happening and unite somehow to stop this tragedy. 

Recently I attended a session at the Henley Literary Festival which was an interview with Vic Marks and Derek Pringle related to their recently published books. I put the above to them in the Q&A as Somerset and Essex men, and these two knowledgeable cricket journalists publicly agreed that they have the same concern. We all need to heed the warning signals. The Hundred is an existential threat to Somerset, Essex and many other counties.”

Some final thoughts. 

While the ECB has clearly sought to manage the social media campaign, despite the best efforts of Gary Kirsten the way counties were clearly obliged to tweet celebrating the drafting of their best players was particularly awkward. It struck me ss curious that there were no tweets from any of the franchises.

While I accept that my social media skills are basic I wasn’t able to find official accounts for the Cardiff, Manchester of Southampton franchises (I only searched for those three).

There has been a lot of comment regarding the cost of Somerset membership on the basis of the reduced number of games our top players will be available and the complete lack of top-level domestic cricket at Taunton in the peak of summer. 

While I have no inside knowledge I say this to Somerset members. Let’s wait and see what the club says about pricing when they launch the 2020 and reserve judgement until then.

Paul Smith emailed me with the very valid point regarding sponsorship the announcement of which was unfortunately timed given the departing words of the government’s Chief Medical Officer!

“I cannot fail to see one of biggest marketing gaffes which is the unhealthy snack logos emblazoned on the shirts. When the main target market is supposedly young people, this flies in the face of everything that cricket should be promoting – it’s gone from very bad to worse. Have the ECB completely taken leave of their senses?”

You could of course look at it the other way. The whole competition is nuts so who better to sponsor it than KP.

I am going to leave the final words to the Oppose the Hundred campaign with a link to their submission to the DCMS. If you don’t follow them on twitter already @opposethehundred please do. And to Andy Nash who, after his superb performance on Wednesday tweeted that we should all be doping our bit by writing to the DCMS and our MP now.

The poor performances by Graves and Harrsion earlier in the week have left the MPs wanting answers and wondering what is going on with our domestic game. Please take the time over the weekend to do your bit. You never know there might still be a chance to avoid this terrible future for the game we love.