Back to the Future

In the ECB’s brave new world there is very little to please the poor, beleaguered, run of the mill cricket supporter. The County Championship is being ever more marginalised, the calendar is re-shuffled almost every year whilst the ECB is intent on wooing a new crowd. Old or current supporters are just expected to shut up and continue paying their money. How very Football.
Maybe the ECB could placate its current, loyal fan base though rather than treat them with such disdain. The fifty over competition, likely to be sponsored by somebody other than Royal London three years hence if sponsored by anyone at all, is to be virtually downgraded to a Second XI competition due to being run alongside the new shiny, shiny toy. If such a scenario does indeed prove the case, how about sprucing it up a bit? The current summer’s edition has proved entertaining but the format is staid and lacking in excitement. If the competition is to be a proving ground for young players, how about returning the competition to a straight knock-out format? How about going one step further and include the Minor Counties and the likes of Scotland and the Netherlands?
Many a cricket fan can remember the days when Middlesex were required to visit Shropshire or Nottinghamshire trekked down to Cornwall for instance. Most matches ended, as expected, in victory for the first-class county but, on occasion, the minor county produced a surprise to freshen and ignite that year’s competition. Similar to the FA Cup in football, surprise victories are still likely discussed with verve and gusto amid supporters in the non first-class counties. Arguably that was part of the charm and nuance of the limited overs competitions in the olden days and still remains the charm of the FA Cup in Football. If the fifty over tournament is effectively downgraded to a de facto second team competition then the non first-class teams will potentially possess a better chance of emerging victorious.
Ponder also what effect such contests could have on cricket as a sport in the non first-class counties. Cricket fans in Cornwall are unlikely to hike all the way to Bristol or Cardiff to watch the new T20 bonanza but playing Sussex or Lancashire at Boscawen Park in Truro could prove a very palatable alternative. In some respects, such a scenario could re-create the big day out atmosphere, providing an event in a location where it would likely be appreciated rather than another non-descript contest in a locale already saturated by a lengthy summer.
Of course, kudos for any non first class county victories would not quite prove the same due to the diminished quality of the first class teams whilst much planning would need to be thought through with regard to the already busy schedule currently incurred across the minor counties summer. On the flip side, knock-out cricket seems to frighten first-class cricket administrators due to the potential loss of matches and income. Nevertheless, if the financial projections are to be believed then the brave new world, and its resultant financial bonanza for counties, presents an ideal opportunity to provoke the curiosity and interest of the cricketing public at large; to provide a competition of genuine cricketing interest rather than another designed to squeeze every pound out of the punters in attendance. If the brave new world really is about growing the game, then how about growing it in nigh on forty counties rather than just eight cities.

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