County shake-up won't meet IPL threat
A committee charged with delivering English cricket's response to the Indian Premier League will propose that the counties play two 20-over competitions every summer from 2010 - an idea described as "absolute madness" by one irate insider.
The first would be early season, and would run along the lines of the old Benson & Hedges Cup, featuring the minor counties, the universities, Ireland and Scotland. The other tournament, to be known as the English Premier League, would take place in high summer and consist of 21 teams, in three groups of seven. The 18 first-class counties would be supplemented by national sides from India, Australia and South Africa.
The proposals are the work of the Domestic Structure Review Group, chaired by Glamorgan chairman Paul Russell. They will go before the England and Wales Cricket Board on April 9.
Just over a fortnight ago, the ECB's chairman Giles Clarke asked the DSRG to give special consideration to bringing in a new team structure along the lines of the IPL model, in which Twenty20 teams would be encouraged to field three overseas players and four players under the age of 23.
While Clarke's suggestions have been taken on board, some observers feel that the rest of the proposals represent an uneasy blend of old ideas and new ones.
"We wanted to see something radical come out of this committee," said an insider, "but instead it is as if they have put all the same balls into the hat, shaken them around a bit and taken them out again.
"The idea of restoring the old Benson & Hedges Cup under a different name is just crazy. What this needed is some vision, a different pair of eyes. The DSRG should have gone out and sought the input of the players, the press, television. What about city teams, for instance, rather than counties? If we don't take this thing by the scruff of the neck, we will find that the game has been pinched off us by other operators."
Clarke stresses that other ideas will be considered at the ECB meeting on April 9, and has encouraged the counties to make suggestions. At first sight, though, the DSRG's recommendations have the look of a compromise reached by a committee. They do not give the impression that the English game is ready to meet the challenge from India.
It will be in Clarke's interest to put other proposals on the table, as a lack of initiative from the ECB could provoke a breakaway by the more radically minded counties, who want to take advantage of the 20-over boom. At an unofficial meeting of the Test counties this month, there was talk of an independent 20-over competition, possibly built around city franchises.