ECB reform of Twenty20 is a welcome boost to the game

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English cricket is set for a radical overhaul of the Twenty20 (T20) game as it looks to capitalise on the format’s continuing popularity.

Introduced in 2003 by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to replace the Benson & Hedges Cup, the counties are pleased with the progress that short-form of the game has made. The International Cricket Council continues to be urged to push for T20 to become an Olympic sport although plans to make the World Cup a four-yearly competition may stymie that idea.

The ECB though is looking for ways to increase T20’s presence throughout the English game. The counties report that attendances are rising and the current competition is profitable with no plans for an overhaul. With betting revenues on the sport also on the rise over here in Blighty however, there’s every reason why a reform has been actioned.

Officials have devised a franchise solution for a new cup which would run over a four-week period in the summer. Forming new teams with separate identities from existing clubs without impacting on the current county set-up is viewed as a way to create interest in the game. Ideas also on table such as players being traded or auctioned, whilst familiar for other sports, are radical suggestions for cricket.

It’s an innovative idea for a sport still perceived as genteel. T20 wasn’t popular in some quarters when it was first introduced but critics have been forced to swallow their words as it continues to breathe new life into the game. The sound of leather on willow has long been a feature of the English summer and this marked the professionalising of many scenes across the English countryside.

The threat from Australia and India, with their eye-catching leagues, has not been ignored by the ECB but finding a solution which is perceived to benefit the game is not easy. The hope is that by making the counties stakeholders in the new tournament and by using the funds to their benefit, the ECB will tap into a potential new revenue stream.

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Television is vital to the competition’s success. With satellite broadcasters taking the sport to a minority of viewers, the ECB is determined that at least one game per week will be shown by a terrestrial company. Cricket has seen its revenues rise from this source but they are nowhere near the levels by which football has benefitted. There has always been a school of thought which blames this on a decline in the popularity of the long-form game.

A bigger fillip to the sport is a successful England team. The Ashes victories in recent years have seen the test team gain more respect. A drop in results over the past year hasn’t dented that particularly with last week’s win over Pakistan in the second test generating a positive agenda in the national press.

England desperately need the limited overs sides to succeed to continue to push the popularity of the sport. Numbers of young players are falling around the country and fresh impetus is needed; T20 is ideal for promoting the game with matches significantly shorter than the other formats.

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