Friday, 14 September 2007

All change in cup competitions

There have been a couple of announcements towards the end of this week that will affect domestic cricket next season in England.

The first, and probably most minor, is the reorganisation of the two domestic cup competitions. The Friends Provident Trophy (The C&G to most!) will be operating with a different league structure from next season, with 4 groups of five teams, (the 18 counties with Ireland and Scotland) each playing each other home & away. These divisions will be regional in the same model as the Twenty20 cup in previous seasons. This will help eliminate the farcical dead games from this years competition, but whether it will instil greater excitement is not clear. I am personally disappointed that there is so little difference between this and the Pro40 and Twenty20. I would much prefer a proper cup format with the chance of upsets, by all means with a league section (like the UEFA cup, or Champions League in football), but most importantly with all the minor counties involved in qualifying rounds. The romance level would significantly raised by the possibility of ties like Northumberland v Middlesex at Lords, than any contrived league system.

The Twenty20 Cup meanwhile will be modified so that each of the groups (of 6 teams) play each other home and away, but apart from that remains unchanged.

Both these changes raise the possibility of playing the same sides throughout the season and risking spectator apathy. For instance it is perfectly possible that Warwickshire will now be playing Northants a minimum of 8 times over the season in various competitions, when there is not really any degree of local rivalry to speak of. I am also concerned that with every competition being a league there is a chance that many of these games could be "dead games", and that is where the possibility of match-fixing rears its head. The ECB will need to be very careful that with so many meaningless repeat matches, and the low rewards on offer, that we don't get our own domestic Cronje, or Azharuddin.

The other news, which might not have a direct impact on Warwickshire next season, is that India will host a "Twenty20 Champions League" with the top two teams from Australia, India, South Africa and England (i.e. the finalists). With prize money totally £2.5m, including £1m for the winners. Considering test-match and one-day revenue is reckoned at about £2m a match, and a ODI £500k (gross - from flicking through Wisden). This raises an interesting prospect of counties aiming for a different "golden egg" and tailoring their squads for Twenty20. Although good news for the importance of Twenty20 and good news in terms of more money for a few counties, it does mean the fun of Twenty20 might start to be stamped out of the game by the administrators. It being what they are best at.

I understand that Warwickshire might be putting in an application to represent South Africa at the Twenty20 club championship as a franchise, if they can secure a couple more Kolpaks.

- "two kolpaks short of a franchise". Is that a euphemism? It should be. It is now.

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