Exclusive: Somerset fans say “no” to T20 franchises

Viva smallSomerset fans have said a resounding no to the introduction of T20 franchises in English cricket, with a large majority saying they would not back the idea.

In an exclusive survey for The Incider, three quarters of Somerset supporters also say they would not travel to Bristol to watch a combined West Country franchise, even if it featured a handful of current Somerset stars.

We publish the results of the survey, which was completed by a total of 177 people, on the day that the ECB officially launched this year’s NatWest T20 Blast competition with a media day at Edgbaston.

Stars from each of 18 counties at today's launch of the NatWest T20 Blast at Edgbaston
Stars from each of 18 counties at today’s launch of the NatWest T20 Blast at Edgbaston (Photo by the ECB)

The support for the current county competition expressed in our survey seems to have been borne out by advanced ticket sales for this year’s tournament, which are 41% up in comparison to April 2014. The ECB announced today that a total of 88,090 tickets have been already sold, with aggregate attendances expected to exceed last year’s record of over 707,000.

Despite fears that the season-long format would fail to attract the best overseas talent, some of biggest global superstars in the game will be playing in this year’s Blast, led by New Zealand’s outstanding captain Brendon McCullum who has signed for defending champions Birmingham Bears. He is joined by arguably the most exciting talent in cricket in Chris Gayle at Somerset, the only player to have achieved the milestone of Test triple century, an ODI double century and a T20I hundred.

Other legends of the game such as Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and  Shahid Afridi will all feature, as will ICC Cricket World Cup champions Aaron Finch, Glenn Maxwell and James Faulkner. As well as Chris Gayle, Somerset can also boast Corey Anderson, Tanvir Sohail and Abdur Rehman among its squad this year.

Yet this year’s Blast will be played against the backdrop of a root-and-branch review of English cricket, ordered by incoming ECB chairman Colin Graves.

The first fruits of its labours, an initial paper designed to stimulate ‘discussion’, made it clear from the outset that radical change is on the agenda and includes a streamlined T20 competition involving eight or 10 teams, as “a dominant T20 tournament”, as one of a number of possible changes.

The review has taken on a new urgency following England’s apparent descent into one-day obscurity during the World Cup, despite many blaming England’s management for the team’s troubles down under.

In fact many of those who responded to our survey refuse to lay the blame squarely at the door of the current format of county cricket. Most people think some changes are necessary to improve the strength and competitiveness of the English domestic game, but there is little agreement as to what form that should take, and very little support for any major change.

In total 68.48% of the 165 people who answered the question on franchises in our survey said they would “not be at all likely” to support a streamlined franchise T20 competition with only 10.3% saying they would be “extremely likely” to support such a tournament.

The ECB consultation paper has put a number of options on the table for discussion. How likely are you to support each of these?
  Extremely likely Quite likely Moderately likely Slightly likely Not at all likely Total
A streamlined franchise T20 competition, involving 8 to 10 teams 10.30%

(17)

4.85%

(8)

7.88%

(13)

8.48%

(14)

68.48%

(113)

 165

There was little support for some other suggestions in the ECB discussion document with almost 80% opposing a return to three-day matches in the Championship and nearly 70% against a return to a single-division.

Meanwhile, there was mixed support for day/night championship cricket with a white ball and an FA Cup style 50-overs one-day tournament.

Proponents of the franchise system have suggested using Bristol as the base for a combined West Country franchise. Yet in our survey, 75.76% of respondents say they would be “not at all likely” to travel to Bristol to follow such a team, even if a handful of Somerset stars like Pete Trego were taking part. 12.73% said they would be “slightly likely”, while only 3.64% said they would be “extremely likely” to make the trip.

How likely would you be to travel to Bristol to watch a West Country T20 franchise, featuring a handful of Somerset players such as Pete Trego?  
Answer Choices Responses
Extremely likely 3.64% (6)
Quite likely 4.85% (8)
Moderately likely 3.03% (5)
Slightly likely 12.73% (21)
Not at all likely 75.76% (125)
Total 165

Somerset chairman Andy Nash has already made it clear that the club will have “no truck” with a move to franchise T20 cricket.

Speaking at the club’s recent media day, Nash was unequivocal that Somerset had not invested millions of pounds in developing the club only to see T20 cricket in the West Country move away to a Bristol-based franchise.

PC2In response to a question from The Incider, Nash (right) said: “Somerset will have no truck with franchises whatsoever. Let’s be absolutely clear. We haven’t built what we have here in recent years to see the game move away to Vodafone Bristol.

“Somerset play a very exciting brand of one-day cricket. It’s clear there need to be changes to ensure the players are able to hone their skills in one-day cricket and we now see those skills being taken forward from T20 into the longer form of the game. But it’s vital the counties are given the chance to compete in whatever reshaped T20 we ultimately conclude is right.”

Nash admitted that England’s performances in the World Cup had been “abysmal”, but he felt it was unfair to lay the blame at the door of county cricket.

He pointed out that it was not that long ago that Australia were beaten in successive Ashes series, something which didn’t precipitate change at a domestic level in that country.

He said: “I’m sure the conversations that we know are going on at the ECB will be very mindful of what is required to make sure we don’t again fail to turn up at a World Cup or an Ashes series and play such an embarrassing brand of cricket.

“When you look at the Australian team, they were being completely lampooned by their own media only about two years ago.

“But I don’t think the Australians sought out to blame the (domestic) state cricket set-up for the shambles they had. It hasn’t changed one jot and they’ve completely transformed their national team with largely the same players and the same captain. And I’m pretty clear that’s the challenge for Team England too.”

Nash accepted that if some counties were to decide they couldn’t afford to compete in any reshaped T20 competition and wanted to merge with a neighbour then that was up to them.

But he added: “I don’t think you’ll find anybody at Somerset arguing for a merger with Gloucester or anyone else to play with a white ball.

“It’s just not going to happen.

“We know we can play a brand of cricket here, with the squad that we’ve got, and the youngsters coming through, to win an English Premier League – if that’s what’s coming. So I couldn’t be clearer from the chair’s perspective that that’s what we will set out to do.”

The other key debate has been whether games should be played in a block in midsummer or played throughout the season to a regular schedule. The change to this format, known as ‘appointment to view’ followed a poll of county cricket fans by the ECB two years ago. The ECB will also be aware that the last time T20 was played in a block, bad weather badly affected the competition with attendances plummeting as a result.

In our survey, 26% of respondents supported the current schedule with T20s on a Friday night, while 30.3% enjoy Friday night games, but would like some games on a Sunday as well. 6.67% would like all games to be played on a Sunday, while 30.3% would prefer a return to games being played in a block in midsummer.

We were extremely grateful to all those who took the trouble to complete The Incider survey. Dozens of you took the trouble to send in detailed comments as well as respond to the questions, which shows just how much people care about county cricket. Thank you.

We’ll be looking at the results of the survey and your comments in a lot more detail on The Incider next week and share them with the ECB to consider as part of its review of English cricket.

t20 launch flintoff

As per last season, 70 per cent of fixtures will be played on Fridays between May 15 and July 24, with fans able to make NatWest T20 Blast part of their summer weekend’s entertainment. The quarter-finals will be played on four consecutive days between August 12 and August 15 with the 2015 Finals Day on August 29.

T20 launch Dockrell interviewSpeaking at today’s media launch at Edbgaston, ECB Chief Executive Officer, Tom Harrison said: “This year’s NatWest T20 Blast will feature some of the most famous names in world cricket – and our first class counties are already reporting excellent advance ticket sales for the group matches. With the majority of fixtures again scheduled in a fan-friendly slot on Friday nights, NatWest T20 Blast action will be at the heart of what promises to be a hugely exciting summer of domestic and international cricket.”

Rhidian Taylor, Head of Brand Management, NatWest added: “NatWest’s long association with cricket provides great opportunities for our customers. Through our T20 partnership we will be offering our customers the chance to win tickets and money can’t buy experiences all season. We’re looking forward to another exciting NatWest T20 Blast season.”

Each of the 18 counties was represented at today’s media launch, with George Dockrell there in his Somerset colours.