Tomorrow is the start of the World T20. Well sort of. In fact anyone could be forgiven for not knowing when the tournament actually starts, even with the fixture list in front of them. Indeed there are 12 matches in two groups made up of the sides outside the top eight that might be called qualifiers, or might be part of the main tournament. Or could be something else. Does anyone know what is going on here? There are two groups in the first round and then we go into into the Super 10s, where it starts properly. I think. So it starts on the 15th. Or possibly the 8th. You do have to take your hat of to cricket administrators, they do a fantastic job of trying to pretend they care about those not at the top table while at the same time making it as hard as possible for any not in the club to get anywhere.
It’s not exactly surprising it should be all confusion, given that until a few days ago no one knew for sure whether all the matches would go ahead, how to get tickets or even where the games might be. For cricket tour operators outside India it’s been something of a nightmare, two weeks notice of ticket sales before a tournament is entirely impossible to organise anything. Pointing fingers is the easy bit, the reality of things is that we go into this tournament with few outside of those paying religious attention to the thing having much idea what the hell is going on. Tournaments that begin this way tend to then struggle to catch the imagination of the wider audience. Having said that, it’s in India (well it had to be in India, Australia or England – the Big Three stitch up ensured that) which is to all intents and purposes the home of T20, despite what the ECB might think, so the crowds will be large and vocal, especially if the home team do well.
Yet how many in England are aware that it is happening, and of those how many know how it will operate? This is not an idle question, for it is the only global tournament England have ever won, and should garner attention. Yet the media coverage here remains somewhat limited, and newspapers in this day and age give their readers what they want – clickbait might be the term of choice, but there’s a commercial imperative behind that, and when cricket is buried away, there’s a good reason for that. We can of course remind everyone that with the competition tucked away on Sky, it’s also out of sight and out of mind, and all debates around cricket’s wider popularity in this country seem quite content to skirt the elephant that has parked itself squarely in the middle of the carpet.
As for how the tournament will unfold, who knows? T20 is the format above all others which gives weaker sides a chance, essentially in cricket the longer the game the more certain it is the stronger side will prevail, which is an excellent reason behind making sure that the bigger sides (by which read “wealthier and more powerful sides”) have several opportunities to make sure they get through to the latter stages.
The likelihood is that the winner will come from one of India, Australia, South Africa and possibly England or New Zealand, with the home side’s familiarity with conditions a big advantage, but it is still quite open.
Also today the ECB announced the new format for the county season, which appears to amount to a reversion to how it was three years ago. There are of course a variety of opinions around this, and those dead set against any idea of city based franchise cricket pleased with the outcome. The problem with this debate is that it’s forever around the fringes – this is not decided as some item of pure principle about the history of the game in England, it’s about county chairmen ensuring that the game’s revenues work for them primarily. Understandable of course, for turkeys tend to be reluctant to vote for Christmas, yet the claims that this represents the finest form of T20 tournament this country can host is palpable nonsense, as even the most cursory of glances at the Big Bash should demonstrate. There are always going to be opinions about what is the best thing to do, but let’s not pretend for a moment it’s based on adhering firmly to questions of integrity.
Since I’m spending the next two weeks in a variety of places around Europe that doesn’t include “home” for more than one night, I shall be mostly absent until the latter part of the month. Hooray I hear you cry…see you on the other side.