Better late than never

The return of the Indian Premier League is a timely reminder of how ECB’s recent plans to implement a city-based T20 tournament can’t come soon enough.

We’re well underway. Six weeks of seemingly back-to-back T20 coverage, played out in front of arguably the most passionate fans in world cricket. Views on the impact of the T20 over the last 20 years are as diverse as this year’s rosters but there can be no denying that, when it comes to box office entertainment for the sporting masses, the IPL continues to blaze the trail.

Australia’s Big Bash continues to go from strength to strength, both in the men’s and women’s game, and has grown to be a serious rival for the IPL when it comes to claiming precious airtime in today’s arena of wall-to-wall sport coverage. The Pakistan Super League and Caribbean Premier League are both attempting to ride the same wave and stake their claim in the sport’s increasingly congested calendar. With more and more big name veterans like Kevin Pietersen and Brendan McCullum now travelling the world cashing in on their talent without the strain or distraction of international cricket this is a format that will only grow in stature.

The IPL is now a truly global spectacle. It may feature predominantly Indian players but by securing the world’s most talented and engaging players they have ensured that for these six weeks the eye of world cricket are firmly pointed at the subcontinent. The quality of fielding may not be that high, and cow corner will certainly see a lot of action, but there can be no denying that the sight of seeing Brendon McCullum bumping gloves with Aaron Finch as Lasith Malinga prepares to steam in to bowl is an electrifying spectacle.

Seeing the mix of young or fringe Indian players, striving to break through into the international set up, playing alongside established world stars is surely an advert for the merits of this kind of tournament. Surely our homegrown players like Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes mixing it with the world elite will provide much needed experience for when we reach the high stakes situations of knockout tournaments. Credit must go to Andrew Strauss for finally freeing up these players for exactly that reason.

I have also been struck by just how collaborative the broadcasting is in the IPL this year. It features a multinational commentary team that is conspicuously short of English names given the wealth of broadcasting expertise we have in this area. Only the excellent Isa Guha joins usual player Kevin Pietersen who seems to be relishing his new role as the man with the mic. This comparative lack of representation in the commentary box adds weight to the feeling that this is almost a joint venture between the IPL and Big Bash. A kind of club for the ones brave enough to go out on their own, with the rest watching on, trying to catch up.

All of this serves to underline just how behind the times the ECB seems to be by only recently confirming a city-based T20 tournament to be implemented in 2020. There has been plenty of debate on the subject, which is a discussion for another day, but this reactive attitude means that the ECB are now playing catch up. There could be an argument to say that because of the delicate county situation the ECB required seeing models like the IPL and Big Bash flourish before committing to a new tournament, but by waiting we have now condemned ourselves to be followers on the world stage, rather than leaders. The irony of the situation is that it was only 14 ago that the T20 game was introduced by the ECB. However, the relatively tentative introduction, driven mainly by the governing body’s desire not to damage the balance of formats played in this country, has left us on the outside looking in.

Yesterday’s news that a host of white ball specialists will feature in a new South African T20 tournament further cements our place, for now, as one of the chasing pack. My enthusiasm is reliant on the promised free to air television coverage, as any way to get cricket back into the mainstream sporting conversation more than during Ashes series can only be a good thing for the growth of the sport. I for one am looking forward to seeing these giants of the game going head to head on our shores but I can’t help feeling that we’re a little late to what looks like one hell of a party.