Friday, 18 July 2008

Welcoming the EPL and "Friday night cricket"!

The ECB have taken their time to respond to the IPL, a wise move, which suggests that the planned changes to the domestic competitions are more measured rather than knee-jerk. It was back in May when I last touched upon this subject and suggested that a two tier league structure was the best way forward. As such I am pleased that the new EPL will begin in this form and qualifying will be based on sides’ performances in the 2009 Twenty20 Cup. The major feature of the new EPL is that it will coexist with the current Twenty20 Cup, which will be played later on in the summer, regularly on Friday nights, which may not do much for the alcoholic consumption of your average Twenty20 punter, especially with 19:30 start times, which tends to attract those who are just beginning their weekend. Still, a regular time and place is good for attracting regular supporters and it may free up more weekends for some four day cricket, a revolutionary idea. The fact that the Twenty20 Cup will now be spread out over a couple of months is also good for gate revenues, as it means that people will probably be more likely to attend more matches. At present there is no way that a fan can reasonably be expected to attend all of their sides home fixtures within the three week period. Making way for the newly timetabled Twenty20 Cup will of course be the Pro40, which used to be the big money earner in county cricket, but is now so far outdated and quite frankly unnecessary that it is a surprise that it has lasted as long as it has. I think that these moves are sensible ones by the ECB and will give Twenty20 fans what they want. If you go away for holiday in June you can still watch some Twenty20 cricket now at a different point in the year!

The EPL will be held around the time of the current Twenty20 Cup and will last about three weeks, shorter than the IPL, which has been widely acknowledged to have lasted too long. This will allow England Internationals to feature, in between series, which will give them much needed experience of the format. It will hopefully attract the best overseas players, who will see the three weeks as a nice little earner. The presence of players of such high calibre and class will be hugely attractive to audiences around the globe, which means revenue for the ECB, counties and players. The particulars of the EPL are of course yet to be finalised, but the general understanding is that each county will be allowed three overseas players in addition to the one player they are currently allowed throughout the entire season. The kolpak problem will of course still exist, but this needs to be addressed separately and with more haste by the ECB anyway. The current idea is that overseas players wishing to partake will be contracted to the ECB for the competition and then clubs will bid for players with funds which will be supplied from the ECB after funding initiatives have been put into place. So that needs a little more work, but there is time! Most interestingly of all, the new EPL will feature two overseas teams, one in each division, how that will be decided goodness knows. The two teams are likely to be a Stanford IX and the IPL winners, although that is yet to be confirmed.

Overall, the proposals put forward and accepted by the ECB are good ones and are likely to be successful in this country. It was important to keep the county structure and not go down the alien road of franchises. We need to stick to what we know and what works in England. Whether two competitions is a good idea or not, well, only time will tell. However, the brevity of the EPL will add to it’s success I believe, whilst the sparsely scheduled nature of “Friday night cricket” will still lead to strong gates for the later half of the season, provided the prices are moderated though. Cricket needs to remain accessible and not go down the route of the FA Premier League. These are exciting times for county cricket and in leaving the FP Trophy and County Championship untouched the ECB has done a wise thing. The Pro40 was due to be culled and although some will point to the dangers of Twenty20 overkill I am firmly of the opinion that the ECB are heading down the correct route for the future of the counties and of the England national team.

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