Why England's T20 side will forever be the bridesmaid, unless the ECB acts
So the World T20 kicks off in just over a week, starting with Zimbabwe v Hong Kong in Nagpur. It seems like it’s taken an age for the tournament to come around – it’s been a long two years since Sri Lanka beat India in Dhaka to win their maiden WT20 title. And yet, the tournament has, yet again, been beset with issues from the very start. The fixtures weren’t announced until a matter of weeks before the tournament started, and even by mid-February, the tickets still weren’t on sale.
For our beloved England boys, it’s fair to say that for the first time since we won it in 2009, we actually have some self-confidence and belief that we could shake things up again. We have a strong core of attacking, skilful players who have plied their trade around the world in this format and are, despite the beatings against South Africa which were a chastening reminder of our weak past, in decent form in the shortest form of the game.
It is here, however, that we also begin to see some of England’s (and more importantly, the ECB’s) failings. Whilst the roaring success of the Big Bash League in Australia has sent the cricket back into the mainstream consciousness of the Aussie public, our very own T20 Blast (even the title is a poor imitation) has failed to capture the imagination of the Brits. Record crowds may have witnessed last year’s fixtures, but they are dwarfed by their equivalents Down Under.
What the ECB continually fails to recognise is that the shortest format should be an electric blast of entertainment, to grab people’s attention and then pull them towards the longer formats. There seems to be a ‘half-arsed’ approach to it, and the end results smacks of both trying too hard, and not trying hard enough. The Friday nights and the fact the tournament stretches over the space of four months from May to August means that attention peaks and troughs. Yet again, the Aussies have nailed this with the BBL being smashed into a space of four weeks, and with every single game live on TV.
It’s fair to say that the current setup doesn’t work as well as it could – and, whisper it, it could be time to move to a similar franchise-based city format in this country. It would upset the purists, but then again, the entire T20 format is upsetting to the old-fashioned brigade anyway. The condensed format would, ideally, mean the entire focus for those four weeks would be on T20 and T20 alone, allowing players to focus their attentions on the wide-ranging skillset needed in this format. The current swaying from four-day, to 40 or 50 over, to T20 means players are constantly adjusting their mindset and this must surely have an impact on their performances.
Finally the TV coverage is also an issue the ECB need to resolve. Currently one or two games aired on one of Sky Sports range of channels does nothing to influence the floating voter. Whilst it’s probably pie in the sky, somehow there needs to be some FTA games to allow a younger range of viewers to watch without expensive satellite or cable packages. It’s probably this, more than anything else, which has propelled the T20 format into its current incredible level in Oz.
Until the ECB see this and act, the England T20 side will forever be bridesmaid. For the country that brought T20 into the mainstream, it’s such a shame to see us lagging so far behind domestically.