Harsha Bhogle’s fair minded preface to Cricket 2.0 makes the point that the T20 revolution will carry its ageing parents, others with a preference for the red-ball game, for a while yet. Good for those of us who appreciate the game in England’s green and pleasant outgrounds, but also what to make of The Blast given the shift to a city-based game in other parts of the world?
Tim Wigmore and Freddie Wilde’s impressively detailed book makes little direct reference to it, beyond its place as the original among T20 competitions. The IPL is, of course, the big centre to the story in Cricket 2.0 and while it would be an exaggeration to say there is no team in the(ir) world view of T20, much of the attention is on its stars; player auctions and the energies of capitalism a good thing for cricketers, particularly those born outside ‘the big three’.
Yet in a changing cricket world the merits of the mother Blast actually stack up pretty well. England’s domestic T20, in its various guises, has expanded from 48 matches when it started to the current number of 133, an historic structure, but an adaptable one, and given that the IPL has ‘lost’ five franchises out of 13 in the last decade, to date at least, an existentially stable one.
Nor is there any shortage of stats that point to how competitively well-balanced it is. Since 2003 most counties have a win % of 50+/-5, most of the trophy winners have been one of the smaller, non-TMG, and the split between those who are and aren’t getting to finals day near even. The Blast does sporting merit so to speak; relatively equal central distributions to the 18 counties and a salary cap, broadly speaking, working well.
So what’s the problem? A lack of star quality, that the future direction of global sport is cities not countries? Cricket 2.0 brackets The IPL with US sport, sense in a continental context which is how the (mainly US) scholars whose ideas were an influence in its development conceived of things. In Europe, the Champions League in football is on a scale to fit this framing; cricket, rugby in England not so much, if at all.
And The 100, better and there for a new audience? It will be ‘heavily reliant’ on the existing one to make it a success said Tom Harrison last month, ‘not about that ultimately’ (.. a new audience) commented Michael Atherton recently, who went on to suggest that its creation is about the ECB owning something that it can exploit. So mother Blast futures to be offloaded and (failable) franchises the new black? At some point, maybe.
All rather unfortunate given that cricket does need to attract newcomers. The decline in recent times can in large part be traced back to the unpopular decision to end FTA coverage in 2005, taken, in 2020 parlance, to ‘flatten the (revenue) curve’; flattened interest in the game as well, of course, but a difficult decision for those who had to take it, faced otherwise with a drop of 30% or more of TV monies.
But no question that it is also fair warning about the size of the risks going from one TV contract to another, and in 2020-4 almost entirely putting money before exposure. Who needs peak risk, when there were obvious messages from the WCF last year about how cricket becomes the subject of bus stop conversations?
Background details on the stats page.