Chris Waters: Is the T20 golden goose being overcooked?
THE popularity of the T20 Blast has never been higher.
Pending official data, this summer’s tournament, which continues this weekend with the last two quarter-finals, is set to break all attendance records.
Last year, the competition drew an aggregate attendance of 902,000.
Even the most dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist would have to admit that the 20-over format is drawing in the crowds.
Although I am a dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist myself, I have grown to enjoy T20 over the years, at least when it comes to covering Yorkshire.
Granted, nothing would compel me to watch a game of Indian Premier League cricket on television, or the Australian Big Bash – save, perhaps, for a gun to the head.
But I enjoy the T20 Blast as a diversion from the County Championship, which remains, in my eyes, the creme de la creme.
The game does – and needs to – cater for all tastes, although it has to be argued whether that should extend to the preposterous proposal for 100-ball cricket.
My only gripe with the Vitality Blast, in fact, now that Yorkshire’s involvement in it is over for another year after they failed to reach the knockout stages, is that the group phase, in my view, is much too long.
Fourteen group games seems – and indeed feels – excessive to me, a bit like imposing a capital penalty on someone for stealing a copy of The Yorkshire Post.
I would have no more than 10 group games per county at most, thereby freeing up another four days in the calendar – days that could go towards pushing the Championship programme back up from 14 games per county to 16, from which I believe it should not have been reduced in the first place.
At present, the winner and runner-up of the Vitality Blast play a whopping 17 games each summer (14 in the group stages, followed by a quarter-final, a semi-final and the final itself), which seems more like a sentence to me than something to be savoured.
This is not just about pandering to my own personal tastes, even though those are, of course, of paramount significance. Rather, it would help to keep interest levels high and the quality of cricket high, too, which is always in danger of deteriorating if you prioritise gate receipts over the actual product.
Given the choice between seven home games per season and, say, five under my idea of 10 matches per team (I would place the 18 counties into three groups of six, with each side playing the other home and away), no chairman or chief executive is going to say: “Actually, Chris, you’ve got a point there, old chap.”
On the contrary, there are now disquieting rumours that the counties actually want to increase the number of group games from 14 to 16, helping to generate further revenue.
Money, alas, is the be-all and end-all, which is why The Hundred was dreamt up in the first place.
But, if anything, the sheer folly of The Hundred has only increased the reputation of the Vitality Blast, as though 20-over cricket is being stoutly defended in its face with the sort of relish that traditionalists use to defend the County Championship from the white-ball game.
Indeed, the very raison d’etre of The Hundred, which would see matches consist of 16.4 overs per side, is only serving to make people cherish T20 even more, an ironic twist.
Whether we like it or not, T20 is now firmly established and an integral part of the cricketing landscape.
It has also, whether we like it or not, progressed far beyond the “hit-and-giggle” mentality that was very much in evidence when it first came in; indeed, it is as professional now as any longer version of the sport.
But when T20 was introduced, many of us warned, myself included, that it would be wrong to overcook the golden goose.
One example of that happening – among myriad others – is the length of the Vitality Blast group stages, which would benefit from a bit of a trim as opposed to yet more extension.