In 2003, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) reinvented the wheel. The birth of professional Twenty20 (T20) cricket revolutionised the sport, pumping fresh enthusiasm, and crucially, money into the game. It has, by and large, been a huge success. Now, only 15 years later, and for reasons best known to themselves, they have decided that wheel needs a “fresh and exciting” redesign.
The ECB’s desire to introduce a new city-based, eight-team competition — to help them catch up on ground they feel they’ve lost to the Indian Premier League (IPL) and the Big Bash — has not been without opposition, with fears about the marginalisation of the counties being excluded chief among the myriad concerns.
Given the various worries that many have had about the new competition, it is almost impressive that the ECB have found the one thing nobody had even considered a problem — the T20 format — and decided that was what needed changing.
Had an ethics professor tasked them with solving the trolley problem, their solution would probably have been to try painting the runway train a different colour.
In a Thursday lunchtime announcement, they presented their proposal for the new competition, one “based on the simple format of 100 balls for each team.” A sentence of two conflicting parts.
“This is 100-ball cricket, a simple approach to reach a new generation. Based on fifteen traditional six-ball overs, the other ten balls will add a fresh tactical dimension,” read the statement from ECB Chief Commercial Officer, Sanjay Patel.
Fortunately for the ECB, the statement was written in an email, otherwise it might have proved difficult delivering those words while keeping a straight face. A new ‘simple approach’ this is not.
The press release contains the word simple or simplicity five times and yet this new proposal is anything but.
T20 cricket is already simple; it’s simplicity has helped sport garner thousands of new fans since its creation — many from the younger, more diverse and family demographics that the ECB crave. In this new monstrosity, all the overs aren't even the same length.
To make things nice and ‘simple’, the ECB have decided to create an entirely new format, making it a round four for cricket now along with first-class, 50-over and T20 — at least any new fans won’t be short of options should they want to watch more of the sport.
It should be said that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the ECB attempting radical methods to try and attract new fans, from new demographics, to the game. It’s just they already did this when they introduced T20 cricket back in 2003.
The real reasoning behind the proposal can probably be found further on in the statement. “Our valuable broadcast partners under the new TV partnerships from 2020-24 are vital to the success of this competition and they will see the energy, excitement and simplicity of this approach," Patel added.
With reports that the free-to-air broadcasters the ECB lust after don’t want too much of their prime time schedule eaten up by cricket, they have seemingly bowed to that pressure with this attempt to shorten the game.
With an already agreed broadcast deal amounting to a reported £1.1 billion, it is no surprise that broadcasters would want to have an influence on things, however it seems disingenuous to pretend that 100-ball cricket has been created just to ‘simplify’ things for new fans.
It could, of course, prove to be a great success and surely everyone hopes that it will be, but with this new 100-ball proposal — a concept that seems so made up in a hurry that it doesn't even have a catchy name yet — the stakes have been raised.
The ECB were already publicly gambling a lot on the success of their new competition, now they've decided to do it standing on a table in the casino while wearing a big silly hat.