Thursday 26 January 2012

Common sense bypass? Yes, another...

As news reaches my ears of the scheduling of the 2012 Friends Life English domestic Twenty20 competition, it is difficult to hide my consternation at some of the proposed start times of 7.30pm set out by the counties involved. Clearly a move in keeping with a worrying trend of affability toward corporate punters, one cannot help but think that the decision-makers are somewhat missing the point of this competition.

Ask the cricketing world what they believe to be the pinnacle of the game and the majority will tell you “Test cricket” without hesitation. On the other hand, even the most ardent of cricketing purists will, perhaps begrudgingly, admit that the longer format of the game enjoys its peaks and troughs. To the ripened cricket aficionado, the archetypal ‘thou shalt not pass’ innings from characters of a bygone era were a thing of beauty, allowing them to drink in the sure, dull thud of a perfect forward defensive. Yet, even to one so utterly in their element, there would have been passages of play involving the likes of Hanif Mohammad or Chris Tavare that promptly spurred the yawns in to action. In short, growing to admire stout defence and unbreakable concentration does not happen overnight.

Thankfully, Test cricket has evolved, inching from war of attrition toward intriguing exhibition. That, of course, is the view of this author, one that has had an affinity with Test cricket since the turn of the Millennium. Perhaps the most pertinent question, then, is whether a youngster newly introduced to the sport would share that view. No, is probably the answer. What this author sees as a fascinating contest between bat and ball, watching a bowler set up his intended victim with subtlety and cunning, a youngster would likely deem worthy of the question “why is nothing happening?”, aimed in the direction of their accompanying parent.

Cricket, like any other sport, relies on popularity amongst the younger members of society in order to prosper and safeguard its future. That means accommodating their needs. As we know, youngsters like to see action and entertainment. For those with a shorter attention span, and perhaps less of an appreciation of the finer subtleties of the game of cricket, that means two things: boundaries and wickets, which is where the inception of Twenty20 cricket really comes in to its own.

Why then the English cricketing bureaucracy have decided to commence certain domestic Twenty20 matches at 7.30pm is anyone’s guess, effectively ruling many families out of attending those games. With fixtures concluding at almost 11pm, far too late for school children, it is clear that little thought was given to the next generation of potential cricket fans and players, and such a situation stinks of pandering to corporate demands. Money, it would seem, is still very much king.
Kids prefer cricketers in pyjamas

The argument that a 5.30pm start can be too early simply doesn’t wash, particularly when you consider that the original marketing strategy for Twenty20 cricket was that the early starts and early finishes were ideal for families with children. For local corporate groups planning to attend, 5.30pm should give sufficient time to arrive at the ground and buy that first pint before a ball has been bowled. If it doesn’t then that is unfortunate, but is more than made up for by the grounds being packed with families and youngsters, thus allowing for the next generation to become engrossed with the sport in its simplest format, and sowing the seeds that will hopefully grow to see them come to appreciate the sport in its purest sense: Test cricket.

As one fellow cricket enthusiast said to me, “today’s youngsters are tomorrow’s aficionados.” By placing corporate needs above those of youngsters, the hierarchy may just be removing tomorrow from the equation. Twenty20 provides the perfect platform from which to launch a youngster’s eventual undying interest in all formats of the sport, but judging by this news it may soon be firing blanks.

It is understandable that counties will be looking to maximise income from participation in the Twenty20 competition, given that it is the most lucrative in what is a barren wasteland of monetary opportunities, and corporate entertainment is one effective way of doing so. As one Lord’s member noted, however, the 6pm starts afforded the Twenty20 competition last year were ideal both in the interests of corporate entertainment and of course departing the venue at a reasonable hour; evidence, if needed, that corporate and family entertainment can co-exist.

Regardless, there is plenty of scope to achieve a satisfactory corporate to family balance, and failure to address the situation swiftly may just have more of a destructive effect on the future of English cricket than the money men would ever have cared to envisage.

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