This weekend I am off down to Brighton for the Finals of the Kia Super League, the UK’s premier competition in women’s cricket. The KSL has been hugely successful in the 4 years that it has run, but this will be the final year of the competition. This is an act of wanton vandalism by the England & Wales Cricket Board.
Let me explain. Back in 2003 the ECB invented T20 cricket, a form of the game that was fast, exciting, and about the same length, time-wise, as the average baseball game. They did not take it very seriously, and promoted it badly. Then, in 2008, India created the Indian Premier League. They poured money into it, they encouraged the best players in the world to take part, they promoted it brilliantly, and it very quickly became the premier competition in world cricket.
The ECB reacted badly to this. The IPL season, while fairly short, does overlap with the start of the English domestic season, which is very long as it includes a contest for 4-day games. They didn’t like English players going out to India to play. But it soon became obvious that if you wanted to be a top-class T20 player you had to go to the IPL and compete against the best in the world.
Having lost that fight, the ECB are trying a new tactic. They have invented a radically new form of cricket called The Hundred. It is slightly shorter than T20, and has some very different rules including overs that are 10 balls long rather than 6. There is no economic justification for this. It exists solely to try to create a new form of cricket in which England would be the home of the premier tournament rather than India (even if that’s because no one else in the world plays it).
One of the problems of having multiple different formats of a sport is that players need to be able to function easily within that format. Think of tennis, for example, where some players are specalists at singles and others specialists at doubles. In rugby some players are specialists in the 15-a-side games, and others are specalists in Sevens. In cricket we have seen even the best players having difficulty adjusting their game when moving from the very fast-paced T20 to the longer formats, especially 5-day test matches. Other countries are unlikley to adopt the Hundred format because they want their players to be good in the formats that are used for international games. Meanwhile English players will be acquiring skills in a format that is not used outside England.
The men will at least still play T20. But that means that the already overcrowded English season becomes even more crowded. There will be 4 major tournaments rather than 3.
But for the women the only major tournament is the KSL. That will be discontinued, and England’s top women will only play a format of the game that is played nowhere else in the world.
Futhermore, The Hundred will be played by only 8 teams. That in itself is not a problem. One of the reasons why the English T20 tournament hasn’t been a success is that having all 18 English counties contest it makes for a very long season. The KSL only has 6 teams. But the choice of teams is important. London has been given 2 teams, and one of the knock-on effects of that is that there is no team in the South-West. There’s nothing in Somerset; nothing in Bristol. And most importantly the most successful team in the KSL, Western Storm, will be destroyed.
I’m kind of used to stupid decisions being made by the old men who run sporting bodies, but this is extraordinary. Words fail me.