Former England captain Michael Vaughan is looking to propose an FA Cup style Twenty20 competition in a bid to boost participation in the sport of cricket.
Vaughan’s proposal is largely in response to a recent English Cricket Board (ECB) survey which suggested that the number of people participating in grassroots cricket has fallen by seven per cent in the last year, from 908,000 in 2013 to 844,000 this year.
These figures should be alarming to the authorities and the slide will need to be arrested in order to ensure the future of the game.
In light of these figures Michael Vaughan’s idea may not be such a bad innovation especially if it is going to help boost the numbers participating in our primary summer sport.
Vaughan wants to introduce a competition whereby the counties and minor counties play the leading club sides from the countries ECB affiliated Premier Leagues in a Twenty20 knock-out competition.
The first-class and minor counties would enter the competition during the latter stages allowing the ECB Premier League teams to fight it out for a glamour tie against some of the high profile first-class sides either home or away.
If successful this could be the only opportunity for club players in their careers to pit their wits against high-class opposition and a chance to cause an upset in order to progress in the competition.
Revenue is another important factor in Vaughan’s proposition. Amateur clubs do struggle at times to make ends meet and the possibility of a huge pay day against glamorous opposition at home could prove the difference between surviving as a club or not.
Exposure of the game at grassroots level is also important if we are to encourage youngsters to take up the sport instead of playing football or sitting at home playing computer games.
So what is there to lose from Vaughan’s proposals? On the face of it not a lot.
First-class counties will not have too many more games to play in their season so the risk to counties is almost minimal whilst the benefits to the game at grassroots level is huge. The amateur players will feel as though they are within touching distance of playing against some of the best players from this country and abroad which will bridge the huge gap between amateur and professional cricket which currently exists.
Grassroots cricket will have something to aim for outside of winning their own ECB Premier League, which is the highest achievement at present in amateur cricket. There is no longer a dead end for amateur cricketers and, if they perform, they could find themselves being offered contracts by first-class counties just on performances in this competition alone.
The proposed format should be an exciting spectacle for viewers as the shorter format of the game will favour the possibility of an upset. If the game was extended to 50-overs for each side, or even a four day game, then the possibility of the amateurs producing an upset would become less and less.
20-over cricket is a different animal as it only takes one outstanding individual performance in order to make the difference in a game. The chance to be a hero is within the grasp of everyone.
The FA Cup in football has provided a number of upsets and exciting moments down the years to warrant its reputation as the World’s leading cup competition. If Vaughan’s idea can instil the same excitement and drama into cricket then it will be considered as one of the best innovations the game has ever seen.
Follow snooker's lead
Snooker has also recognised the need to evolve. The UK Championships, which is currently taking place in York, has changed its format by no longer protecting the top 16 players.
Previously they had been introduced into the latter stages of the tournament but now they must start from the beginning in a 128 strong line-up, featuring amateur club players. The tournament has already seen one or two shocks in the first few days.
One thing is for sure, it wont hurt to try Vaughan’s proposal in cricket especially if it is easy to organise and all those involved are open to trying it. After all everyone could ultimately benefit from such a competition and the idea can always be refined once lessons have been learnt from the inaugural year.
The ECB’s recent findings have proven that the game is in need of more innovative ideas and needs to be more forward looking if it is to remain one of the most popular sports in this country. Michael Vaughan is highly respected in the game and his proposals should not be dismissed without careful consideration by the powers that be.