It is 11 years since Twenty20 cricket emerged as the long-term saviour of the sport, and it’s taken 11 years for the England Cricket Board to finally work out what spectators want in the county game.
Wickets will be pitched for Yorkshire’s new Twenty20 season tomorrow night, when Northamptonshire Steelbacks roll into Headingley.
The start of the new campaign will launch the ECB’s re-branded T-20 Blast, which finally promises to give the spectators what they have longed for.
The shortest format of the game was set up for fast-paced thrills to inspire young people to follow the sport. It was meant to be something simple and against the norm. Rather than having the format as an exciting side-show, the ECB rammed it down supporters’ throats and all interest was lost. It became difficult to follow as fixtures ticked along with little consequence.
Teams were fulfilling fixtures rather than competing in them, with too many teams in their divisions having nothing to play for. It was certainly no surprise to see the crowd numbers wilt, and atmospheres rivals those of Division Two county championship matches.
The Blast has new energy. But, I do feel the ECB is in last chance saloon with the competition.
Worldwide, T20 cricket has boomed. The money floating around the Indian Premier League and Australia’s Big Bash has paid off in audience figures and attendances. But while others have it right, The ECB have been left in their tracks with the rich rivals showing exactly how to market a strong brand.
Other than the popular Finals Day, T-20 cricket in England has declined, and declined, and declined.
But, with the majority of matches to be played on a Friday evening, English counties have the perfect opportunity to get the stands bouncing again, and not only to the thud of sixes landing on the empty chairs.
The new competition might sound more like a kid’s chocolate bar than a cup competition, but it has a razmataz appeal that, if marketed well, should draw in the punters.
Friday night matches puts an ease on scheduling and provides greater interest for Satellite TV to show it. The more they do, the more it will succeed.
The mantle rests for the county’s to get people through the gates. They must go back to schools and cricket clubs and pack out the stands. Whether it makes commercial sense or not, full stadiums will create a longevity to the 20-over game, whereas rows of empty seats instantly turns the worldwide attention off.
We are lucky in Yorkshire. We have a county that have their county game in check, and are pushing on all fronts.
The signing of Australian power-house Aaron Finch suggests the White Rose county, and coach Jason Gillespie, are intending to be in the mix during this summer’s Finals Day.
It is certainly Yorkshire best ever chance to succeed in the competition. And I would make them favourites to go one better than when finishing runners-up two years ago. It’s not only the Finch-factor as to why I say that, the young, rising talents have hit maturity and it is now their chance to grab their first piece of silverware.
Gary Ballance and Jonny Bairstow have shown an ability to take the game away from opposition bowlers within deliveries let alone overs. With Liam Plunkett, Jack Brooks, Ryan Sidebottom, Steve Patterson and Tim Bresnan, there is no better pace attack in the land.
The experience of 2012 will be key to Yorkshire keeping their cool. Let’s hope they are still having a blast when the final delivery is bowled.