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T20 Blast Shines on Field Despite Problems off It

Felix Keith@@felixkeithFeatured ColumnistJune 6, 2015

TAUNTON, ENGLAND - JUNE 05: Chris Gayle of Somerset hits to the legside as wicketkeeper Adam Wheater of Hampshire looks on during the NatWest T20 Blast match between Somerset and Hampshire at The County Ground on June 5, 2015 in Taunton, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Michael Steele/Getty Images

Before the English domestic season began there was lots of discussion and worrying surrounding the T20 Blast.

Dwindling crowds, a drop in the participation of recreational cricket and a general, if thinly felt, malaise was growing from a nagging peripheral doubt to a key issue.

In England, the shortest format has generally been viewed as a bit of fun—as a secondary competition, removed from the serious business of four-day cricket.

However, over the past five years, Twenty20 has become much more than a sideshow. T20 competitions have the potential to be at the forefront of the cricketing calendar; to draw big crowds, attract new fans and entertain the masses.  

TAUNTON, ENGLAND - JUNE 05:  Supporters of Somerset look on during the NatWest T20 Blast match between Somerset and Hampshire at The County Ground on June 5, 2015 in Taunton, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Michael Steele/Getty Images

India’s IPL and Australia’s Big Bash have led the way by championing their competitions. They have used innovative marketing, plenty of added gimmicks and huge investment to create an attractive, inclusive product.   

With these tournaments preceding the English summer there were plenty of parallels drawn, admiring glances and questioning voices. Should England adopt franchises? How can the ECB improve the overall product? And how can stadiums be filled?

This season shows the competition in transition. New ECB chairman Colin Graves has already expressed his desire for change. Whether this edition of the T20 Blast is successful or not, it will likely be altered next year. The tournament is on a trial period, but with its fate already decided.

This year, more games have been moved to Friday nights to try to draw larger crowds but, apart from that, the format has remained unchanged for a long time. Graves has spoken of reinventing and rejuvenating the English game, and T20 is at the front of his mind.

England’s game is undoubtedly lagging behind its competitors in many aspects.

The format is too drawn out, stretched over the domestic season. The marketing is ineffectual and lacking a clear brand identity. The crowds are often too small; thousands behind the average attendances in India and Australia. The games are out of reach for most, hidden behind subscription television fees.

But there is one crucial aspect for which it is more than a match. The first few weeks of this year’s competition have shown that the quality of the actual cricket is world class.

Once you cross the boundary rope, the T20 Blast has everything you could wish for. It has the big overseas stars. It has the young, exciting talent. It has the powerful batsmen. It has the skilful bowlers. It has exciting run-chases and nail-biting finishes.

Chris Gayle has already scored 328 runs in three innings for Somerset. Sam Northeast leads the competition’s run-scoring. Matthew Fisher, a 17-year-old fast bowler, took five for 22 on debut for Yorkshire in their opening game in May. Lancashire recently beat rivals Yorkshire off the last ball with 71 from 35 balls from England star Jos Buttler.

Already there has been as much excitement, quality and entertainment as the IPL or the Big Bash.

Behind the focus on the overarching problems and the continuing upheaval behind the scenes at the ECB, the competition has shown its quality.

The potential is there. It has been made perfectly clear that if the administrators can do their job better, the competition can flourish.

The willingness is present. Change seems to be in the pipeline. English cricket has been behind the curve for too long, and a modernised T20 competition would go some way to rectifying that.

The last few weeks have gone some way to reassuring those in power and the public that the problems lie outside the parameters of the cricket field.

Given a bigger audience, more exposure, the necessary razzmatazz and a more conducive format, the T20 Blast can keep up with the constantly evolving trends in world cricket. After all, the most important aspect is already in place.     

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