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Rebooting domestic T20 cricket in England

Roar Pro
28th December, 2014
6

Sure, they invented the format, but in a world where franchise-based Twenty20 competitions are the new black, few would argue that the current English domestic T20 setup is ideal. This is how I would fix it.

As it currently stands, the format for the T20 Blast in England involves 18 county teams split into two groups of nine. There are 126 group matches over about three months, before the top four from each group compete in a knockout finals series.

The competition finishes with a finals ‘carnival’ with both semis and the final played on the same day.

There are three main issues with this current arrangement – too many games, too many teams, which leads to a lengthy tournament.

All of these issues can be tackled by ‘rebooting’ the English domestic T20 competition with a shorter, more dynamic tournament based on the models that have seen success in India with the IPL, and in Australia with the Big Bash League.

I propose that only nine teams take part, split into three groups, with 45 regular season matches followed by a four-game finals series. The competition would run over six weeks.

The teams and venues
The nine franchises would be based at the nine existing Test-level venues across England and Wales.

These are the largest venues available, with capacities ranging from 15,000 to 28,000 and are reasonably evenly spread across the country.

Teams would be split into three equal divisions (North, Mid and South) and associated with cities (or regions) complete with new names, colours and kits, rather than aligning with traditional counties.

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North Division
Manchester – Old Trafford (22,000)
Leeds – Headingley (20,000)
Chester-le-Street – Riverside Ground (19,000)

Mid Division
Birmingham – Edgbaston (25,000)
Nottingham – Trent Bridge (17,500)
Cardiff – Sophia Gardens (15,600)

South Division
London 1 – Lord’s (28,000)
London 2 – The Oval (23,500)
Southampton – Rose Bowl (25,000)

Imagine a London derby featuring two strong T20 sides, in front of a packed crowd at Lord’s during the English summer. It would have to be big, right?

There would also be the possibility, or perhaps necessity, of having some matches played at other smaller county grounds in the case of clashes with international matches, or simply as a way to ‘compensate’ for the reduced number of teams.

The squads
As far as squads go, some IPL teams have close to 30 players and BBL teams have 18, so given a player pool that would cover 18 counties, 20 seems a reasonable starting point for this new English tournament.

A maximum of four international players per squad, with only two allowed to play per match, and a supplementary list of six to eight players to cover injury replacements or player development opportunities.

Players would be signed to regular yearly or multi-year contracts (as they are in the BBL), rather than using an IPL-style player auction.

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The tournament
Each team would play both home and away within their division (derby matches), plus all other teams either home or away (with venues alternating annually) for a total of 10 matches per team – five at home, five away.

The 45 group matches would be spread across nine rounds, with each round of five matches featuring two inter-divisional derby matches, three cross-divisional matches, three teams playing two matches and two teams having a bye.

The finals
At the conclusion of the nine rounds, the top four would qualify for a finals weekend, continuing the basic concept that they currently use.

The weekend would consist of four matches played across two days, with a double chance for those finishing first and second, rather than a traditional semi-final arrangement.

Day 1
Qualifying Final – first versus second (winner to final, loser to preliminary)
Elimination Final – third versus fourth (winner to preliminary, loser eliminated)

Day 2
Preliminary final – elimination winner versus qualifying loser (winner to final, loser eliminated)
Final – qualifying winner versus preliminary winner

Scheduling
This tournament should be played in a single block – with a number of double headers, and having games every day – so the entire thing could be condensed into about 37 days.

By condensing the tournament into just six weeks the whole tournament can take place during the school holiday break – taking the place of the domestic One-Day Cup.

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Each of the nine rounds would span three to five days depending on the organisation of fixtures, with two double headers per week (played on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays).

Assuming afternoon games are part of the double headers, they would likely need to be planned around Test matches to avoid potential broadcasting overlaps.

Impact on County Championship and One-Day Cup
The County Championship and One Day Cup would need slight realignment to allow for the six-week T20 tournament.

The One Day Cup could revert to a season-long fixture alongside the County Championship, while the championship itself would be split – having 13 rounds before the T20 break, and the remaining five after it ends (this assumes each team playing 16 first class matches, with two byes)

If the ECB wanted to keep the One-Day Cup as a single block tournament like they did in 2014, the only way to fit both it and this T20 tournament in – without lengthening the overall cricket season – would be to shorten the County Championship, but I don’t see that happening.

TV coverage
Sky Sports covered just 41 out of 133 matches in 2014, but with only 49 in my suggested format they surely should be able to broadcast all of them.

The Big Bash League in Australia has shown there is interest in nightly prime-time cricket, with the BBL games also being broadcast back in the UK where it appears to also be a hit.

I would also like to see the matches broadcast back here in Australia, live broadcasts would be of limited use given that the time difference doesn’t really work so well, but I would be satisfied by a replay the following night.

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T20 Champions League qualification
Just to get it out of the way, my preferred option would be to scrap the Champions League entirely (at least in its current form), and return that time to the cramped international schedule, but that’s an article for another time.

However, if it is going to persist – preferably as a proper ICC run tournament for actual champions, and not a BCCI-CA-CSA operation that serves mostly as IPL 2.0 – then the winner of this new English tournament should qualify automatically.

So, what do we think Roarers, could this work? What do you like, what don’t you like? Anything different that you would suggest?

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