MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JULY 20: Cricket fans cheer during the Vitality Blast match between Lancashire Lighting and Yorkshire Vikings at Old Trafford on July 20, 2018 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Domestic T20 Is The Only Way To Grow Cricket As A Sport

A week on from a thrilling Roses match between fierce rivals Lancashire and Yorkshire in the T20 Blast at Old Trafford, Manchester, the memory still lives on, which is saying plenty in this fast paced world that we live.

A crowd of over 22,000 cheering on the home side versus a rival, with both teams at full strength in a match that matters, is an exception, rather than the norm, especially in the English domestic season. However, that should not be the case and for this great game to grow, there must be much more focus on domestic cricket, in particular the T20 version.

Now, I know that traditionalists and the ICC would not want to admit it, but cricket is seen, with high justification as an elitist sport and has faced great challenges in spreading the game.

We can also say that about football and rugby as well, but while those sports have reached and surpassed the so called “Gentleman’s Game” in terms of popularity, cricket has lagged behind. Case in point, the absurdity of next year’s ODI World Cup containing just 10 teams, from the previous 16: an utter disgrace!

However, I will give the authorities some credit, for finally giving international status to all their ICC members. The announcement was made back in May, that as of June of this year and January of 2019, all members of the ICC have full status for the ladies and men’s teams respectively.

That is 104 countries who now have the respect, comfort and joy knowing that every match they play will mean something, and maybe we can finally move away from the quite ridiculous term such as “Associate Member”, which smacks of the arrogance, high society and upper class nature that cricket has been for the last 150 plus years.

However, for the sport to truly take off, the sport needs to be built from the domestic level up.

The Roses match contained not just the top level English internationals, but also high caliber foreign talent like Kane Williamson and James Faulkner. Now, we all know that there are T20 domestic leagues popping up all over the globe.
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It started in England 15 years ago, then in India with the IPL, and since then, the BBL in Australia, CPL in the Caribbean, BPL in Bangladesh and more.All of the so called “Full Member” nations have their own domestic T20 league, that attracts the finest talent in the game’s shortest version from all the world.

There was even a recent T20 tournament in Toronto called the T20 Global Canada, that had in it’s ranks such stars as the returning Aussie duo Steve Smith and David Warner, West Indian T20 World Cup winners like Chris Gayle and Sunil Narine and a whole host of other players. This is just further proof of the T20 increasing in not just popularity, but also availability and convenience.

If we can have an ICC sanctioned T20 domestic tournament in North America, we can have it anywhere.

One of the reasons that a sport like football, or indeed basketball and rugby as well, have flourished is because there are opportunities for people to make a genuine living from the sport. That is something that, until the T20 became into being, was not possible for most cricketers unless they played at the international level. This is because, frankly, a player could not earn a living though playing domestic four day cricket or even 50 over cricket alone.

In fact, as recently as 20 years ago, many cricketers after retiring had to look for a “normal job” as they would not have earned enough from their playing careers to support themselves and their families. However, now with all the T20 leagues around the world, a cricketer does not have to rely on the international arena anymore.

They will not say it, but trust me, those in control of the cricket boards, hate the idea of their national cricketers not relying on them for their living. It is a big reason why West Indian cricket is in such a mess with the WICB and the players in a constant battle with one another, and it is probably why the BCCI has not allowed Indian players to play in any other T20 league besides the IPL at home.
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However, while my piece here has promoted the T20 leagues, there must be a limit on players plying their trade in them.

Recently, there have been talks about limiting players to only three domestic leagues a year. Well, I would actually go further than that. In my opinion, it should only one league per year. All the T20 domestic tournaments should be played at the same time, have a limit of four foreigners in the squad and make it a sort of football league type scenario.

I know having all of them take place at the same time is difficult due to the weather issues, however, if we look at trends in the last 10 years, cricket is being played at times in countries that there were never played before. For example the soon to start England vs India Test series won’t finish until mid-September, while we are in late July and the West Indies are playing host to Bangladesh, not to mention the CPL takes place in August.

These events were unthinkable a while aback, so there is no reason why a suitable time can’t be agreed upon for all leagues to play at the same time.

Another great aspect of the T20 leagues, is that it will give cricketers from the lesser powers the chance to shine in front of a global audience. Teams like Ireland, The Netherlands, Scotland, Nepal, and more. They all have talented players that deserve a chance to showcase their skills on a wider scale, and participating in a domestic T20 league will give them just that.

In doing so, it will thereby raise their own games, and they in turn can help their own cricket back home to improve. They will be an inspiration to any budding young talents in their country, by showing them that, yes, they too can make a career in cricket. The chain reaction would continue, that the international game will become more competitive and we won’t have to see the same teams playing each other 50 times over a period of 10 years as it seems to be occurring now, and which is very boring.

Cricket is a great game that has been left behind because of the authorities lackadaisical, arrogant and elitist ways of governing the sport. However, there is a great opportunity here with domestic T20 to make the game truly global.

It is an opportunity that must not be missed.

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