Eoin Morgan convinced Twenty20 tournament will not hurt county game

Ali Martin
Eoin Morgan, England’s ODI captain, says the Twenty20 tournament will bring new fans to the game. Photograph: Ricardo Mazalan/AP

Eoin Morgan has no concerns about an eight-team Twenty20 tournament being potentially damaging to county cricket. The England limited‑overs captain insists that the project does not represent a gamble and is long overdue.

Morgan was roped in to speak at Monday’s charm offensive when the England and Wales Cricket Board briefed representatives of the domestic game about the plan and relayed his experiences of playing in the Indian Premier League and Australia’s Big Bash – the two competitions it is hoped will be rivalled from 2020.

There are understandable concerns that the T20 Blast, which will still be played by the 18 counties, could be relegated to secondary status and a universal acceptance this will happen to their 50-over cup given it is slated to be played at the same time as the new tournament minus, on average, five first-team players per side.

Morgan, perhaps not the staunchest advocate of the county game given how little he is seen in Middlesex colours, is bullish about the concept and speaking on Thursday at an event for Chance to Shine, the charity that brings cricket into state schools, he shared his belief in a need to grow a new audience for the game.

“I don’t think it will damage county cricket at all,” Morgan said. “It’s not a gamble. It’s proven in other countries that it is possible to have it all. We are never going to lose our core cricket fans. And so even if this doesn’t work, we can always go back. Although I think it will. Change is always difficult but I don’t see this as change. It probably should have happened a while ago. The purpose of this tournament will be to grow the game. The age groups and young families the Big Bash engages with, the numbers are through the roof.”

Jealousy of the Big Bash League is certainly one factor in the ECB’s desire to create the new Twenty20 tournament, not least since, as Morgan referenced, its impact on a previously ailing domestic scene has been significant with cricket having last year risen to become Australia’s No1 participation sport.

Figures published on Thursday showed the average attendance of 30,114 in the most recent Big Bash season was the fifth highest of any sport globally.

Big Bash cricket on free-to-air Channel Ten also drew the biggest family television audience on 31 of the 35 nights it was shown and Morgan, in keeping with recent statements from the ECB chief executive, Tom Harrison, believes a terrestrial element for the new tournament in England is essential.

He said: “The intention to have games on free to air is a huge part of it. One of the biggest turning points for my generation was the 2005 Ashes. That people who aren’t involved in cricket were talking about cricket was awesome and to get that back it will need as big a change as taking cricket free to air.”

Asked if the British public would buy into invented teams, Morgan replied: “I think so, when you have big stars playing. People want to see the best against the best.” Having doubtless impressed his employers with this endorsement, Morgan now heads off to play for Kings XI Punjab as one of eight England players in this year’s IPL and claims that playing in the cauldron of India and with the pressure of their price tags – such as the £1.7m deal secured by Ben Stokes – will benefit their games. “Going over there and being one of four overseas players, being paid good money and dealing with that will be really important; to repeat the highest level of skill under pressure is better than any practice or any [domestic] matches at home.”

This is a tournament year for England white-ball cricketers, with bookmakers having them as favourites for the Champions Trophy on home soil this summer. Morgan is relaxed both with this tag and recent comments from Harrison about an attacking style of play being more important than winning. “I think we are on the same page really but with a slightly different mindset: we play our brand of cricket because it is going to win us tournaments.”

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