A REVOLUTIONARY city-based Twenty20 tournament took a giant stride towards reality at an historic meeting at Lord’s on Wednesday.
The counties voted overwhelmingly to pursue an event based on the Aussie Big Bash League and it is likely to start in 2018.
The tournament will be condensed into a four-week period in July and the existing T20 Blast, which features all 18 counties, will continue.
The teams will be based at the Test grounds in London (two), Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Nottingham, Cardiff and Southampton.
Although the counties (plus MCC) did not actually vote for the new tournament, the 16-3 majority in favour of exploring the idea shows that it is virtually a done deal. Surrey, Sussex and Kent are believed to be those against.
Now the ECB must nail down more details – such as the team names, colours, the number of overseas players, the availability of England players, the division of money and how many matches will be on free-to-air TV.
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There will be further presentations by the ECB next month and the event could be 100 per cent confirmed before the end of the year.
Plenty of hurdles remain – but the ECB hierarchy are confident they can be overcome.
The biggest of these is that the constitution of the ECB states all 18 first-class counties must be involved in any competition under its jurisdiction.
It requires a three-quarters majority to re-write the ECB’s constitution. But the 16-3 show of hands yesterday suggests that can be accomplished.
A city-based T20 event - pros and cons
The case for:
1.At least some matches will be shown on free-to-air TV, which should attract more youngsters to cricket.
2.Good crowds are likely because all matches will be played at Test grounds. The Big Bash city-based event in Australia has been a phenomenon.
3.All counties – and especially those strapped for cash – would receive a surge of TV money.
4.The four-week block of matches make it easier to sign big overseas stars. Players and coaches say playing T20 non-stop improves standards because players can do concerted specific practice.
5.England players should be available, but perhaps only after 2020.
The case against:
1.Weather could ruin the tournament. What if it is a wet July? The climate here is different from Australia.
2.There is no evidence that fans will support new, invented teams. The Birmingham Bears (Warwickshire in T20) don’t attract big crowds.
3.What happens to the rest of domestic cricket in July? Is it put on hold or does a water-down county championship continue with all the top players missing?
4.The existing T20 Blast, which is so popular with fans, will be reduced in prestige.
5.County members won’t like it because, with the championship likely to be reduced, they will see less cricket.
Counties such as Durham and Northants are in desperate financial straits and have little choice other than to accept the ECB’s financial inducements.
These include an estimated £1.5million per year from TV rights.
Yorkshire and Surrey have already said they don’t want to stage games under the banner of Leeds or London – so the naming of teams is another delicate issue.
ECB chairman Colin Graves said: “We’ve been looking at how we can use domestic T20 for an even bigger purpose, especially getting more young people to play.
“This format was invented here and is successful worldwide. It can excite new fans, attract the best players and fuel the future of the game, on and off the pitch.
“The need to grow interest and participation in the game we love is at the core of our thinking.”
The tournament is different from the Indian Premier League – where teams are privately-owned franchises – but a near-copy of the Big Bash. It will be operated by the ECB and effectively owned by the counties.