Rebooting Domestic T20 in England
Sure, they invented the format, but in a world where franchise-based T20 competitions are the new black, few would argue that the current English domestic T20 setup is ideal. This is how I would fix it.
As it currently stands, this is the format for the NatWest T20 Blast in England:
- 18 traditional county teams (split into 2 groups of 9)
- 133 total matches (126 group matches, 7 finals)
- Spread across 3 and a bit months
- 8-team knock-out finals (top 4 from each group) culminating in a finals ‘carnival’ with both semis and the final played on the same day
There are three main issues with this current arrangement.
Too many games — 133 games is a lot, even the IPL only play 60, it was slightly better in 2012/13 when they reduced it to 97 but prior to that it was a whopping 151
Too many teams — this contributes to the sheer bloat of games, possibly also spreads the best talent too thin
Tournament is too long — it runs for three months, why? too many games, too many teams…
All of these issues can be tackled by ‘rebooting’ the English domestic Twenty20 competition with a shorter, more dynamic tournament based on the models that have seen success in India with the IPL, and in Australia with the Big Bash League.
This is my proposal:
- 9 teams (3 divisions of 3)
- 49 total matches (45 group matches, 4 finals)
- 6 week tournament
- 4-team finals series taking place across a single weekend
The Teams and Venues
The nine franchises would be based at the nine existing Test-level venues across England and Wales.
These are the largest venues available, with capacities ranging from 15-28,000 and are reasonably evenly spread across the country.
Teams would be split into three equal divisions (North, Mid, and South) and associated with cities (or regions) complete with new names, colours and kits, rather than aligning with traditional counties.
- Manchester — Old Trafford, cap. 22,000
- Leeds — Headingley, cap. 20,000
- Chester-le-Street — Riverside Ground, cap. 19,000
- Birmingham — Edgbaston, cap. 25,000
- Nottingham — Trent Bridge, cap. 17,500
- Cardiff — Sophia Gardens, cap. 15,600
- London 1 — Lord’s, cap. 28,000
- London 2 — The Oval, cap. 23,500
- Southampton — Rose Bowl, cap. 25,000
Imagine a London v London derby featuring two strong T20 sides, in front of a packed crowd at Lord’s during the English summer. It would have to be big, right?
There would also be the possibility, or perhaps necessity, of having some matches played at other smaller county grounds in the case of clashes with International matches, or simply as a way to ‘compensate’ for the reduced number of teams.
As far as squads go, some IPL teams have close to 30 players, and BBL teams have 18, so given a player pool that would cover 18 counties, 20 seems a reasonable starting point for this new English tournament.
A maximum of 4 international players per squad, with only 2 allowed to play per match, and a supplementary list of 6-8 players to cover injury replacements or player development opportunities.
Players would be signed to regular yearly/multi-year contracts (as they are in the BBL), rather than using an IPL-style player auction.
Each team would play both home and away within their division (derby matches), plus all other teams either home or away (with venues alternating annually) for a total of 10 matches per team — 5 at home, 5 away.
The 45 group matches would be spread across 9 ‘rounds’, with each round of 5 matches featuring:
- 2 inter-divisional derby matches
- 3 cross-divisional matches
- 3 teams playing two matches
- 2 teams having a bye
At the conclusion of the 9 rounds, the top 4 would qualify for the “Finals Weekend”, continuing the basic concept that they currently use.
The Finals Weekend would consist of 4 matches played across two days, with a double chance for those finishing first and second, rather than a traditional semi-final arrangement
- Qualifying Final — 1st v 2nd (Winner to final, Loser to PF)
- Elimination Final — 3rd v 4th (Winner to PF, Loser eliminated)
- Preliminary Final — EFW v QFL (Winner to final, Loser eliminated)
- Final — QFW v PFW
The suggestion would be that this tournament be played in a single block – with a number of double headers, and having games every day, the entire thing could be condensed into about 37 days.
By condensing the tournament into just 6 weeks the whole tournament can take place during the school holiday break – taking the place of the domestic one-day cup.
Each of the 9 ‘rounds’ would span 3-5 days depending on the organisation of fixtures, with two double headers per week (played on Fridays, Saturdays and/or Sundays).
Assuming afternoon games are part of the double headers, they would likely need to planned around Test matches to avoid potential broadcasting overlaps.
Impact on County Championship and One-Day Cup
The County Championship and One Day Cup would need slight realignment to allow for the six week T20 tournament.
The One Day Cup could revert to a season long fixture alongside the County Championship, while the championship itself would be split – having 13 rounds before the T20 break, and the remaining 5 after it ends (this assumes each team playing 16 first-class matches, with 2 byes).
If the ECB wanted to keep the One-Day Cup as a single block tournament like they did in 2014, the only way to fit both it and this T20 tournament in — without lengthening the overall cricket season — would be to shorten the County Championship, but I don’t see that happening.
Sky Sports covered just 41 out of 133 matches in 2014, but with only 49 in my suggested format they surely should be able to broadcast all of them.
The Big Bash League in Australia has shown there is interest in nightly prime-time cricket, with the BBL games also being broadcast back in the UK where it appears to also be a hit.
I would also like to see the matches broadcast back here in Australia, live broadcasts would be of limited use given that the time difference doesn’t really work so well, but I would be satisfied by a replay the following night.
T20 Champions League Qualification
Just to get it out of the way, my preferred option would be to scrap the Champions League entirely (at least in its current form), and return that time to the cramped international schedule, but that’s an article/argument for another time.
However, if it is going to persist — preferably as a ‘proper’ ICC run tournament for actual ‘champions’, and not a BCCI/CA/CSA operation that serves mostly as IPL2.0 — then the winner of this new English tournament should auto-qualify.