VIEW FROM THE BLUES: Is there any appetite for a franchise Twenty20 competition?

HOMEGROWN - David Willey has come through the ranks at Northants NNL-150415-220312009
HOMEGROWN - David Willey has come through the ranks at Northants NNL-150415-220312009

Lord’s had a record 178 champagne corks picked from the outfield by the stewards during the thrilling New Zealand Test, and the England team appears to be back in rude health after the Kevin Pietersen nonsense.

And for county cricket, one or two chairmen at the bigger counties may well be popping a bottle or two this spring as new ECB chief Colin Graves pushes for big changes in the game.

There is no doubt franchise Twenty20 is back at the top of the ‘to do’ list, and the county championship is also most certainly going to be cut down to make room for it.

The latest talk is of 12 first-class games each season, and the 12 biggest grounds bidding for eight franchise teams.

To soften the worries of the smaller counties, they will be rewarded for supplying players to the teams and will receive a lump sum from the takings over the duration of the Big Bash style event.

The attendance for the T20 competition is up year-on-year in Australia, with more than 700,000 attending the tournament in 2014-15 and is now too big a market to ignore. Attendances were up at least 30 per cent for six of the teams in just four years.

Admittedly, first-class cricket there, like anywhere else in the world, has a nominal following and so the demand is for shorter games.

Also, like India, they don’t have Premier League football, and so the money can flow your way if you get it right.

For Northants, it’s another reason for the ECB to try and get rid of us.

They keep clubs going with the annual subsidy and big business doesn’t seem keen to step in and replace that money.

Northants only took a reported £7,000 on the gate last year for Championship cricket, and the ECB must be now thinking what is the point of 18 counties if we pick the England squads from the big eight counties?

Because of that, the best players have to weaken smaller counties by going to those bigger counties to get picked for England.

The two-division system has increased wage inflation and teams simply have to reduce squads to survive, making them even less competitive.

I think Northants signed Rory Klienfeld as their overseas star not to increase their championship season performance, but so they could strengthen their Twenty20 team, where the money is.

Employing a Twenty20 star with most games played on Friday night for the duration of the season is an expensive problem, as these guys sit on their hands for most of that contract.

Talking with Northants fans, there is little appetite for franchise cricket with some of the older flat cap, stick-waving members still refusing to watch Twenty20 as it is.

I can’t imagine many people from Northampton going to watch David Willey play for the Midlands Marauders at Edgbaston on a damp May night.

It’s possible Northants could be the Hobart Devils of the competition and be the eastern counties franchise, but it would be doubtful due to our ground capacity.

Friday night’s game with the Birmingham Bears at the County Ground will also highlight another big issue when it comes to T20. Rain.

You don’t have wet summers in Australia and India that can massacre the crowd numbers over the competition’s duration.

When it’s a dry and warm Friday night, the NCG is the best summer sporting evening you can have in Northampton as it has found its level and the crowd is well behaved.

Why the ECB want to end that for the smaller counties is the real mystery.

The current model of the counties feeding the England team and the England team generating TV and gate money works well, and why the ECB have a reported £30 million surplus.

If they use that money to help counties bring in the top stars for a franchise, then is it really worth it if the fans are not really keen on it?

The occasional cricket fan, which is 90 per cent of all cricket fans, going to the Test for a day or an ODI match seems to be enough when it comes to seeing the big stars of the game.

Are these people really going to support six games at Trent Bridge after work at £40 a ticket for a franchise team they have no real affinity with?

As far as what Northants’ chances this year, it’s hard to call.

The policy of rotation in the championship to keep the 17 professionals fit and rested seems counter productive at times on those flat pitches where the lads have to bowl twice as many overs for little reward.

It’s fine for keeping the batsmen in nick, but you can see the bowlers have had enough of the Wantage Road square.

For me, the key is team order.

I would play Shahid Afridi no lower than eight in a run chase as he really is just a slogger and not likely to see you home from number four with a long innings.

I would also shift David Willey away from the new white ball.

We need someone to stay in and keep things ticking over, so maybe Alex Wakely or even Rob Keogh there.

Of the Twenty20s Northants seconds have played this spring, we have lost all but one, and of course the first team lost Durham Dynamos game two weeks ago.

There are runs in the team, but the bowling looks short to me, with or without Afridi.

I’m not a huge fan of his batting style of swinging at everything, but his slow bowling and experience could prove critical in these opening games.

I would have made him vice-captain.