T20 Blast follows close on the heels of England’s World Cup win and will look to win over new fans © Getty
The cricket keeps coming thick and fast in England and that is no bad thing. After the success of the men’s team in winning their first ever World Cup in the most remarkable of circumstances that more than eight million watched on television, cricket is unusually on the front pages and the TV screens. It is a prime cross-selling opportunity. Whilst we have you, the great British public, can we show you some of our other products?
Thankfully, there is plenty of cricket to show off, plenty of chances to try and sustain the momentum of an unforgettable day at Lord’s. The women’s Ashes Test begins in Taunton on Thursday while the men’s team begin their red-ball summer with a four-day Test against Ireland at HQ next week ahead of the Ashes. And domestically, the Vitality T20 Blast, the most vibrant of all the county competitions, also starts on Thursday.
Following hot on the heels of the World Cup, the timing of its beginning could not be better. There is likely to be a bump in ticket sales as those who got the taste after Sunday look to see what else the game has to offer and if there is any domestic competition which may keep the attention of the casual observer, it is surely the Blast although it remains on pay TV and will have no easy task in competing with the Ashes.
Despite its detractors, the Blast has been a huge success in recent seasons with attendances steadily increasing and the quality of play matching any other T20 league in the world. Tickets for this year’s Finals Day sold out in record time back in May. It may not have the glitz and glamour of the IPL, but it has developed into a fine competition nonetheless.
This year’s tournament will certainly not lack for quality. Many counties have done decent business in securing the services of high-class imports. AB de Villiers will play his first stint of county cricket for Middlesex while Rashid Khan, Glenn Maxwell and Aaron Finch are set to take part for Sussex, Lancashire and Surrey respectively. Elsewhere, Mohammad Amir will play for Essex, Darcy Short for Durham and Babar Azam for Somerset. It is the best collection of overseas players in recent years.
Given the talent on show, who will emerge victorious on Finals Day on September 23 is not easy to predict. Worcestershire won last season’s competition after Moeen Ali led them to two superb, if slightly unexpected, victories on Finals Day at Edgbaston and they look well placed to challenge again this year with Riki Wessels, one of the most destructive players in the Blast in recent seasons, Callum Ferguson and Martin Guptill making for a spicy batting line-up.
Somerset, who won the 50-over Royal London Cup earlier this season, will be looking to make it a white-ball double, just as Nottinghamshire did in 2017, while Sussex’s attack of Khan, Tymal Mills and the newly signed Reece Topley will make them a tough side to beat. Lancashire, who Worcestershire beat in the semi-final last year, also look strong with Maxwell and his fellow Australian James Faulkner bringing plenty of experience and leg-spinner Matt Parkinson back to full fitness.
An outside bet? Glamorgan, flying high in Division Two of the Championship and with new coach Matt Maynard guiding the ship expertly, might surprise a few although it remains to be seen how much the Australian Marsh brothers, Shaun and Mitchell, play because of injury and potential international selection.
Those victorious England players not involved in the Tests against Ireland and Australia will be on show. Tom Curran, James Vince and Liam Dawson will be straight back into things after playing bit part roles in the World Cup while others, such as captain Eoin Morgan and fast-bowler Liam Plunkett, will be eased back in after some time off. Alex Hales, dropped on the eve of the World Cup and with only a white-ball contract at Notts, will want to use the tournament to state his case for re-inclusion in England’s white-ball squads.
This year’s edition of the Blast will be the last as the focal point of the summer. As with so much of English cricket, the implementation of the Hundred next season is set to push the Blast down the pecking order. Rather than enjoying the benefit of the best weather and being played during the school holidays, as it does now, the Blast will be moved to the beginning of the season.
What effect, if any, that has on the tournament remains to be seen. It is quite possible that it continues as a high-quality product. After all, unlike the 50-over competition, which will be played at the same time as the Hundred, all the best county players should still be available to play in the Blast next season.
However, there are risks with moving a tournament which has finally found a settled and successful place in the schedule. In England, you cannot guarantee the weather at any time, but there is more chance of inclement weather in May than there is in August so pitches and quality could be compromised.
Outside of the school holidays, attendances might also be adversely affected although the counties will do their utmost to prevent that from happening given the Blast ticket sales will remain a vital revenue source. The tournament will also struggle to attract the same quality of overseas player it has in recent years when it is likely to overlap with the IPL.
Since the new tournament was first mooted, there have been calls for the ECB to back the Blast instead. Critics of the Hundred say the governing body’s goal of greater engagement could have been realised with the Blast if it had just been shown some more love. It is certainly true that it could have benefitted from better marketing and more funding from the ECB. What would the GBP 200million being spent on the Hundred have done for the Blast one wonders?
However, the ECB have decided to go in a different direction. They have research that says the Hundred is what is needed. Whatever the justification, it simply must work.
For now, the Blast should simply be enjoyed for what it is because it may not be the same again. And rather than worry about what might be lost in the future, right now it is time to look at what can be gained in the present. If the Blast shows the best of county cricket over the next two months, as it has done for the last five years, it can do its bit to help cement the legacy of England’s World Cup win. As a final act in its current state, that would be no mean feat.