Cricket urged to embrace new T20 contest

Enda Brady, Sky News Correspondent

English cricket must seize the opportunities offered by a proposed all-new T20 competition or risk losing fans to other sports, according to one of the game's top executives.

England already has the NatWest T20 Blast involving 18 counties, but the England and Wales Cricket Board wants to launch another one featuring eight city-based teams playing 36 T20 games over the summer, starting in 2020.

Warwickshire County Cricket Club chief executive Neil Snowball believes the controversial plans are a brilliant way of getting young people into the game and "must be embraced".

"There are so many other sports out there right now, all competing for fans, from UFC to wrestling and Monster Trucks, it's a hugely competitive world," he told Sky News at Edgbaston, as Warwickshire played Yorkshire in the County Championship.

"The County Championship is the bedrock of the game in our country and always will be, but we need to attract younger fans and families to cricket and the excitement T20 offers is just perfect.

"The next three years are hugely important and we need to create a sport that is sustainable and even more popular."

Each first class county would receive a guaranteed £1.3m in extra revenue if the plan gets the green light.

There would also be a players' draft to build excitement and a play-off system similar to the Indian Premier League, with incentives for finishing higher up the league.

Division One counties will play just 14 games this summer instead of 16, and some purists are against the planned changes to the cricket calendar.

"Broadly I'm in favour of the competition, but a lot of traditionalists are worried it's the thin end of the wedge, which will end with the disbandment of various first class counties," Lawrence Booth, editor of Wisden, told Sky News.

"I think it's a step English cricket needs to take if it's to stay relevant. That's a horrible word, but it's an important word for a sport that has lost some interest over the years.

"Player numbers are down and competing with football in this country is a nightmare battle for any sport

"This is a chance to attract a new demographic to the sport. If it doesn't work, fine, they have had a go. But it's something cricket needs to try."

IPL games finish in three hours as opposed to four days in the County Championship, but fans at Edgbaston gave the impression it will take a lot to win some of them over.

"T20 is great for the kids, yes it's exciting, but it's like baseball with cricket stumps, if you ask me," one elderly fan said.

Middlesex is the only county so far to publicly voice opposition to the proposals.

The results of a vote on the changes will be announced in the summer.

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