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This post comes out of Twitter exchange with @LegsideLizzy, @ErikPetersen and myself on the subject of comments made by Muttiah Muralitharan on England’s domestic Twenty20 cricket competition. I hope I don’t misrepresent them in any way, and thank them for planting the seed in my head on a day when I had nothing better to do than end up thinking about this way to much.
The jist of the comments from Murali, which can be found here (the BBC website) are that the current T20 set up in England is “old fashioned”. He advocates a move to franchise teams and even merging counties.
To my mind, these are separate and distinct possibilities and are mutually exclusive. Both have enticing pro’s and both are fraught with potentially damaging cons, but both have the same end game, an English version of the IPL, with around 8 teams containing the cream of the county game and a half dozen of the world games top stars.
On the face of it, this would seem like a good thing, and indeed the model has been pretty successful around the world of the major cricketing nations. England however, may just be it’s nemesis.
In no other of the major nations is cricket so firmly entrenched. None of the other countries have an equivalent to the County Championship consisting of 18 teams. None of the other nations has such a small window of optimum weather to play all their cricket in. A window which seems to be opening and closing more over a longer period, but leaving fewer days where play is possible.
So, what do we need to get an “EPL” up and running?
On the basis that any team owner, whether it be a merged county set up or a franchise, is going to want to maximise their gate money and associated concession sales, then it would make sense to host these games at the existing venues. There are international class grounds available in Durham, Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham, Cardiff, Bristol and Southampton with a further two in London. The issue here is that these grounds are in use by the resident counties, and also for international commitments. A merger of existing counties would bypass one of these problems, and the necessity for star players would also alleviate the second as there would have to be a time frame created for this tournament with no clashing international cricket being played.
One of the points put forward this morning would have been the potential, within a franchise based model, for minor county areas such as Cornwall to bid for a franchise. Whilst a laudable aim, the lack of facilities would be a stumbling block that would need time to overcome. An investment of that ilk would also likely need guarantees of usage beyond the short EPL season. Franchise owners will need to be able to negotiate use of these grounds. Opening up the potential for regular franchise movement as each owner looks to sign a sweetheart deal with a city eager for a piece of the pie.
This last is one of the reasons “franchise” is seen as a bad thing in the UK. Clubs in the UK have a history and a sense of place generally because the have grown up organically there. MK Dons are derided as “Franchise FC” because the parachuted in from elsewhere. Fans, set in their ways with their county loyalties are unlikely to take to a merged set up because of the tainting of their team by a rival, nor are the likely to have an affair with a franchise. The fear of it moving as ownership chase greener pastures of cash being just part of it. Yes, rules could be drawn up preventing that sort of cash grab, but, that would just make the investment even less attractive to any prospective owner.
Any league needs teams. Currently the T20 is made up of the 18 First Class Counties, split into 3 groups of six, each team playing ten games. There are then quarter finals, and a finals day where both semi-finals and final are played.
For any move toward an IPL model, 18 is too many. The talent pool is left thinner as the best players have to be spread between the clubs. Looking at the other world leagues, numbers range from 5 in Zimbabwe to 11 in Pakistan. Of the key competitions any prospective EPL would look to be modelling itself on, in South Africa they have 7 teams, Australia 8 and India 9.
The simplest thing to do would then be to follow Murali’s lead and merge counties. This could conceivably cut the numbers to 9 or 8 with minimal fuss. A quick scan of the county cricket map could give:
- Leeds – based on Yorkshire
- Manchester – based on Lancashire
- Durham – initially felt they could merge with Yorkshire, but as I had no-one merging with Lancashire, there’s no way Yorkshire would’ve taken “help” if Lancashire weren’t getting any!
- Birmingham – taking in Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire
- Cardiff – Glamorgan based
- Southampton – joining Hampshire with Somerset and Sussex
- Nottingham – joining Notts with Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Northants
- North London – Middlesex and Essex
- South London – Surrey and Kent
Nine teams all playing at current international venues! Wait, did I say “with minimal fuss”? Hmm, anyone who saw the kvetching from the FA’s of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland over Team GB at the Olympics, knows this bird will fly about as well as the Dodo did.
So, we have to go to a franchise set up, right? Nine new sets of colours, nine city identities no doubt with an animal mascot bearing no resemblance to anything seen in that city. Sorry Superleague, but the only Rhino’s ever to have been in Leeds are plastic and on the shelves in Toys’r’Us. At least the clubs can generate publicity by having a naming competition, just so long as the Durham Durhams is one of the teams.
The obvious source of players for any merged counties is the county squads themselves, augmented by the overseas stars. The main gripe against the current system is that only two overseas players are allowed, and no England, or by extension, touring team players are included. Merging could solve one of those problems, in that, the best of each counties squad would become available, long with the finance for multiple overseas players, up to a limit of five or six if the IPL model is followed. Getting the England etc players in would require a change in the calendar to make this happen. A fully franchised model would mean practically everyone being put into a put to be auctioned/drafted, which is fine for those selected, but what about those many who would be surplus to requirements? A county cricketer’s lot is not an easy existence without making him surplus to requirements for a month in the middle of the season. None of the counties are going to want to play any form of cricket if the are shorn of their better players during this time period.
Administrators and ideas people love to talk of the potential of untapped wallets just waiting to be emptied into their laps, and there is no shortage of deluded people in these industries. One look at the “Apprentice” illustrates that. This idea does not rest on the “County Tragic” being enticed along, it’s all about the new audience, the young, sexy, cash to burn professional types. Oh…..
On the face of it, having counties merge, pooling their T20 budgets and resources would appear to make sense. For many, the share of the profits would probably be higher than it currently is. The theoretical bigger gates garnered by them playing at the bigger grounds, the possibly increased TV money would all aid this. But would it? There is a potential for fans to stay away. They identify with their counties and are likely to vote on any dilution/pollution of their team by staying away.
Similarly, a franchise model may not bring the fans flocking. For reasons mentioned above they may struggle beyond the initial curiosity phase to attract an audience. The big ticket for franchisees is the TV deal. SKY are the existing broadcasters, but would have to renegotiate regardless of the model used. The change in number of games and format would see to that. They’d also be likely to have competition. ESPN have links to Indian broadcasters and given the IPL nature of this venture it would seem to make sense to capitalize on increased interest from the sub-continent by getting broadcast rights. Even little ITV4 who go a bundle on the IPL might look to dip a toe in.
However, this all relies on finding 9 men or women with money to burn on a cricket tournament. In the middle of a recession.
The final conundrum, is when to play it. The English domestic season is already a Dante-esque mish mash of little windows for it’s various competitions, interspersed with International cricket, and regardless of how the teams are formed, this is going to be the single biggest stumbling block.
This years T20 contest runs from 12 June to 8th July, with quarter finals on 24th and 25th July and finals day 25th August. This won’t work for either of the new models. In order to keep all the big name players around, the tournament will need to be structured so it starts and ends within a single timeframe.
The initially run of four and half weeks ought to be enough to get a reduced format tournament played. With 9 teams, each team would have 16 fixtures. Add in the knockout games and it’s a 5 week window.
In that time frame, England play 3 ODI’s and a T20 against the touring West Indians. They then spend roughly two weeks playing a bolted on series of 5 ODI’s against Australia. They have a week off before starting a test series with South Africa.
There are very few fans, administrators or broadcasters who would have that program put on hold to allow players from England, West Indies, Australia or South Africa to play in a hit and giggle contest. I’d surmise most of the players would rather play in the international stuff too.
To my mind, the timing of this is the biggest stumbling block, as no matter which model is used, the clash with international cricket needs to be worked out. Something for greater minds than mine.
As indeed was this “article”. Maybe someone can make sense of it, but I wrote it, and I can’t.
It’s that part of the summer again, where cycling takes up time in the public consciousness. Yep, July meant one thing. Le Tour De France, the daddy of the grand tours. Normally, the coverage tends to focus on doping, who has taken something, who is suspected of taking something, who has failed a test or simply that “cyclists are all drug cheats”.
So far, this year has been a bit different. Yes, there was a police raid on the bus of the Belgian Quick Step and the Team Katusha domestique, Alexandre Kolobnev, was removed by his team when he failed a test for a diuretic (not proof of doping in it’s self, but the presence of a potential masking agent raises suspicion), but they have been the exception. Instead, much of the coverage has been for the racing itself, and what a tour it was.
Week one is normally the week for the sprinters, lots of nice simple finishes comprising wide, flat roads where the bunch can be wound up and the fast guys sprung off the front in the last few hundred meters before disappearing from the race when the mountains come into view. To a degree this held true, however some of the finishes did not fit the model, being narrower or having some nasty little climbs in the final kilometres that shake things up. It made for some interesting finishes and the traditional bunch sprint rarely materialised, as teams struggled to get the right level of organisation in their “trains”.
The biggest single talking point of the first week though was surely the number of crashes. I’ve been following Le Tour since the mid 80’s when Channel 4 started coverage, and in more detail over the last 10 to 15 years thanks to Eurosport. I just don’t remember there being so many cyclists hitting the road as there were this year. The carnage began on Stage 1 when a spectator looking the wrong way managed to cause a ripple effect pile up that split the peloton in two and led to some of the favourites losing almost two minutes of time. “Chutes” came thick and fast after that, with a motorbike rider being thrown off the tour for being involved in pulling down a rider (to be fair to him, he had been instructed to pass by the race commissaire, found the peloton beginning to hem him in and nowhere else to go when the incident occurred), numerous occasions where rider’s wheels have touched in the bunch and caused pile ups (one of these taking out Bradley Wiggins with a broken collarbone).
Stage nine was the one where everything seemed to come to a head. The first of the really hilly stages through theMassif Centralsaw roads that were damp, but with a dry line, coupled with high speed descents cause utter chaos. There had already been a couple of minor ‘chutes’ leading to a couple of domestiques being forced to withdraw, as well as other riders hitting the deck before two of the fancied riders for this years Tour were despatched in the same incident. Jurgen van den Broeck laid on the road with a broken collarbone was one thing, but the sight of Alexandre Vinoukorov catapulted into a tree, breaking a leg and his pelvis was altogether another. Poor David Zabriskie was pretty much an afterthought in this one!
That wasn’t to be the end of it though. The five man breakaway were obviously having it too easy 5 minutes up the road as this driver from France TV decided to take matters into his own hands.
The rider side swiped was Juan Antonio Flecha and the guy catapulted into the fence, a barbed wire fence at that, Jonny Hoogerland. Amazingly both men got back on their bikes and completed the stage. Hoogerland some minutes behind the main bunch, but inside the cut off time for elimination, though had he been eliminated on this case I hope there’d have been an outcry from the other cyclists.
The driver was thrown off the Tour, but he’s likely to face any number of law suits from Flecha, Hoogerland, Team Sky and Vacances Soliel as both would’ve been in with a shout of a stage win, and indeed large time gains overall. The belief that cyclists are a different breed is lent further credence by the fact that both men completed the race.
The remainder of the race was thankfully relatively free of these type of incidents and the competition took centre stage. While the main contenders eyed each other warily through the Pyrenees, Thomas Voeckler rode his heart out in the yellow jersey, keeping it through the Pyrenees and much of the Alps, only surrendering it when, in perhaps the most unexpected move of the Tour, Andy Schleck went on the attack! He rode a long solo break, took the stage and the subsequent break up behind meant that the top order overall was shaken up. The time trial set up the final positions as the final stage intoParisis more processional than competitive (at least in terms of General Classification). All that remained for the final stage was finalising the winner of the Points Race. The leader was Mark Cavendish and he was fully expected to be the winner and so it proved, as he won the Champs Elysses sprint for the third straight year. The first man to do so, he thus became the first Briton to win the Green Jersey, and the first Brit since 1984 to win any jersey, Robert Millar having taken the Polka Dot King of the Mountains award being the only previous jersey winner from these Isles.
I hope that this tour continues to be talked about for the excitement of the racing, the unpredictability of each stage and the shear bravery of the men who ride it. This is what the Tour should be about. Not about needles and EPO and haematocrit levels. Man against man, and the elements. .
Music to Pass Your Life To
In a new addition to the blog, as if the intermittent speed of updates wasn’t enough to classify everything as a new addition, I’m going to put up the odd bit of music that’s been significant in my life.
This first selection is a little different to my usual listening. Being the age I am, I was a child of the three channel television era. Not to mention the fact that those three channels were on for only parts of the day.
One of my early memories, and I make no claims to the absolute accuracy of this (I can barely recall what I had for breakfast), is of being in my grandmothers house (maternal side) in the small Borders town I was raised in, during the early/mid 70’s. The TV was on in the front room, but as there was no programming on at the time, music was being played. This track always seemed to be on, and it has stuck with me for whatever reason, I think it may have been the contrast between the slower, quieter set up and the loud crashing guitar section. Hearing it now, I’m back in that warm front room with the smell of homemade vegetable broth coming from the kitchen.
The Jets “Cinderella” season came to a crashing halt on Sunday night and it may have been my fault. I had my haircut on Sunday morning. It hadn’t been done since before the Jets went on their win streak and got into the AFC Championship game. Thing was, I was starting to feel a bit untidy and I the missus couldn’t face the thought of me waiting another couple of weeks until post Superbowl. So, off it went, then we lost!
In all fairness no one was stopping Peyton Manning. He was unstoppable, showed exactly why he was MVP. We had chances, and the injury to Shonn Greene didn’t help, but Manning was on another level.
What it does show though, is that there might just be hope for the Jets in the future. The core of the side is young. Mark Sanchez developed in the playoffs and will be all the better for it. Shonn Greene too. The offensive line is a solid unit that should be together for a while yet, Alan Faneca may be the exception. A bit more receiver depth, to go with Cotchery, Edwards and Keller would see the offense alright, as the ground game should be good with Greene, Washington returning from injury and possibly Jones sticking around.
Defensively, despite the stats, there are some areas to consider. Pass rush needs to be upgraded, and we have to find someone to go opposite Revis Christ.
The offseason promises to be interesting…particularly if I can get a Wembley ticket on Monday!
When did it become the done thing to wander about town in your pyjamas?
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…or Twitter at any rate. Just playing with TwitterFeed, trying to see if it links properly to here….
Ooh, *titter* this BATE Borisov team have a player called Shitov….haha…
On the twelfth day of Christmas, my travel agent gave to me,
Twelve mincing stewards
Eleven missing cases
Ten inflight meals
Nine check-in desks closed
Eight planes a-grounded
Seven baggage handlers
Six bendy bus drivers
Fiiiiive hour delays
Four miles to the gate
Three spare seats
Two cancelled tickets
And a BA cabin crew strike.
It’s not quite Christmas time, but it is that time of year when houses in every town turn into some sort of celebration of all that is Las Vegas. As someone with an aversion to tinsel and the assorted fripperies of yuletide decoration, I quite frankly, can’t see the point. This isn’t just bah-humbuggery though. (Well, maybe a little bit).
I’d like to know where all the carbon footprint fascists are. It’s all very well attacking those who like to use their cars, or take flights, or import their foodstuffs from Asia, but the amount of light, heat and electricity wasted on these homages to Blackpool never merits a mention.
These people delude themselves into thinking they are celebrities in their community as they painstakingly drape their homes in bulbs, making sure each one works. (How do they do that by the way? The tree light phenomenon is well know, yet it doesn’t seem to affect this lot). Let’s not forget the inflatable Santa and the Santa figure that spends all day and all night climbing up and down a rope dangling from the roof.
Round our way there are a couple of houses in competition with each other. Each year adding more bulbs, baubles and tat in an attempt to out do the other. Given they are now outputting more light than the sun, and are warming the air at an equally powerful rate I worry for the safety of the neighbourhood kids.
In these days of carbon emissions, global warming and Copenhagen walkouts shouldn’t we be taking these peoples fuses away?