Tag Archives: t20

City-based T20 is the future, says international fielding guru

By Sam Blackledge


County cricket must move with the times and embrace city-based T20 franchise tournaments, according to an international coach.

Former baseball player Julien Fountain, who has coached top cricket teams around the world in all formats of the game, says administrators should recognise a growing “instant gratification culture” while keeping sight of the appeal of Test matches. 

“I think the city-based T20 option is the one that works in most places around the world,” Fountain tells Learning is Fun.

“You only have to look at other sports and the majority of teams are city-based. Spreading the entire tournament across an entire summer and eighteen teams makes it impossible to involve large numbers of foreign international players, which is part of the T20 attraction.

“A one-month condensed tournament suits everybody and is the way forward. County cricket must move with the times.”

The 46-year-old, who played baseball for Great Britain between 1988 and 2002 before moving into cricket coaching with the West Indies, Pakistan and Bangladesh, says the way fans watch the game is changing. 

“Cricket has to contend with the same social factors as everything in this era,” he says.

“People have different expectations for their leisure time. Back in the 80s when I was a kid, it was completely OK for boys and men to spend their entire weekends at a local cricket club or watching a professional county fixture.

“Now, the thought of spending an entire day watching cricket draws gasps of amazement from many people.

“This culture of immediate gratification, whilst not being the best attitude, must at least be understood and factored into the enhancement of cricket in all formats.

“T20 is a great platform for introducing people to the game, but the precise nuances and the depth of tactical battles in a Test match should also be marketed.”

Fountain’s specialist area is fielding, an aspect of the game which has changed beyond recognition over the last 20 years. 

“All coaches are working towards creating the most athletic and skilful fielding team possible,” he says.

“Practices involve skill execution and often involve stop watches and speed guns. The margin for error is so small that everybody is striving to achieve the fastest and most accurate piece of fielding possible.

“The speed of the ball; the distance of the throw versus the speed of the batter: margins are incredibly tight

“I always tell fielders: ‘If we can make the runners stutter through indecision, it increases the time for skill execution, and consequently increases our chance of success.”

Expectations have changed, Fountain says, to the point where every player is required to be athletic.

“In the 70s and 80s if a fielder dived to stop a ball they were in the minority,” he says. 

“Now it is considered the norm. Having players that simply cannot field at all has become virtually non-existent, as captains and coaches have realised each run saved in the short format is vital and errors can be very costly as the game reaches a conclusion.”

Fountain believes that while crowds love to see sixes raining down into the stands, the balance between bat and ball has shifted too far. 

“I hope the powers that be start to take the bowlers into account when they think about game improvements, as there currently seems to be a batter-friendly attitude,” he says.

“Fans want action, but it must come from both batters and bowlers. Bowlers are not merely glorified bowling machines and should be treated fairly by legislators.”

He warns against the assumption that successful cricketers will go on to achieve great things as coaches. 

“Having played cricket at a high level can help a coach, but it can also hinder them,” he says.

“Many coaches today are awarded their positions because they have played the game at a high level. Which is great because they bring with them some first hand experience of competition.

“But you should consider that their career has been spent looking after themselves and not worrying about how other players do things.

“Good coaches are able to enhance the performance of a cross-section of players with varied abilities. It is not about simply ‘Do it my way’, because their way may not be appropriate for some players.”

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Once a Bear, always a Bear

Here’s a handy tip. If you are planning to break down on the M5 in the middle of an almighty rainstorm on a Bank Holiday Monday, try not to do it when there’s a vomiting pregnant lady in your passenger seat. It really takes the gloss off that winning feeling.

Let me start at the beginning. It’s September 4th, 1993. An eight-year-old boy is in the top tier of the Warner Stand at Lord’s, peering through the gloom to make out the figure of Roger Twose spooning the ball over cover point. Minutes later Dermot Reeve lifts the NatWest trophy, sparking a lifelong obsession with Warwickshire County Cricket Club.

Fast forward to August 2014. The little lad looks on as another piece of silverware, sponsored by that very same bank, is raised aloft by Varun Chopra on a soaking plastic podium in a soggy corner of a freezing Edgbaston. The time is approaching 10pm. The crowd have been waiting for this moment for more than 12 hours. For the little lad, it is more like 21 years.

IMG_3701People talk about memories fading over time, growing blurred and out of focus. But back when my love for cricket was taking shape, long before HD TV, everything was happening in technicolour and surround-sound. I would pore over programmes, scorecards and autographs, absorbing every detail, feeling every crack of willow, every bead of sweat. In the 1993 semi-final, Reeve collided head-on with Somerset keeper Piran Holloway, leaving them both flat out on the square. I wasn’t there and I’m not sure I even watched it on TV, but I can still hear the ringing in my ears.

The glory years are well documented. Woolmer the mastermind, Reeve the talisman; Donald the enforcer, Lara the genius. Loyal journeymen like Small, Munton, Moles, Ostler, Penney and Piper. The champagne kept flowing and the trophies kept coming. As the team song went, wailed out of tune to ‘Perfect’ by Fairground Attraction, “It has to be…Warwick!”

The descent was quick and painful. Nick Knight dragged us through the turn of the century on willpower alone. In 2000, as we lost a rain-affected Lord’s final to Gloucestershire, we roared Donald on as he cupped his ears provocatively to the Edrich stand. It felt like the noise would make Old Father Time fall off his plinth. Watching it back on TV we could barely be heard.

I lost interest as I moved away to become a student, frowning wearily at online scorecards as a succession of captains tried and failed to establish a new identity for the club. There were moments of light – Championships in 2004 and 2012, a one-day trophy in 2010 – but my passion was fading. I had discovered drama and girls and guitars and snakebite, and later work and trains and smart trousers. There was no room for cricket.

IMG_3707I have never cared much for national identity. I don’t revel in England’s green and pleasant land, extol the virtues of a full English breakfast or grow misty-eyed at half-imagined memories of Shakespeare, Churchill or Princess Diana. I’m not familiar with the furthest branches of my family tree, and don’t have much desire to go digging for its roots. Since leaving Birmingham I have moved around a lot, every trip back to the Midlands just a smoggy reminder of awkward pubescence. I was almost embarrassed to call it my home.

I will turn 30 in a few months, and now realise I have measured out more than two-thirds of my life through cricket. On Saturday morning I drove my wife and unborn child to Edgbaston and parked in the very same spot my dad used when he took me to my first Test Match in 1991. It was a thumping victory for West Indies over an England team featuring Ramprakash, Lewis, DeFreitas, Hick and Atherton. The programme is available on Ebay, but I don’t need it. It was all ingrained into my six-year-old head.

IMG_3705I don’t remember much about what happened on Saturday evening. I watched most of the final through my fingers, squinting anxiously at the required run rate more often than the action itself. Flintoff hit two sixes and everyone around us went nuts. They saw the headlines. The journalist in me admitted what a story it would be. I sank in my seat. But he couldn’t finish it off, and then it was over.

Fireworks exploded at the city end. We elbowed our way round to the blue spaceship where the crumbling old pavilion used to be. Back in the day we would run on to the pitch and look up as a sweat-drenched Reeve – he always looked exhausted, whatever his role in the match – celebrated another triumph. They don’t do balconies anymore. Now they do selfies. I got one with William Porterfield. I wanted to grab the trophy and run away. Instead I patted him on the shoulder and muttered “Well played”.

I left empty-handed but for a bundle of programmes, a memory card full of fuzzy photographs and a sore head. On the journey home to Cornwall we came to a juddering halt somewhere between Bridgewater and Taunton, a pair of old plastic Lidl bags bearing the full brunt of my wife’s morning sickness. “Don’t worry,” she gasped between heaves, shivering on the hard shoulder. “At least the Bears won.”

IMG_3715This was about more than just another game of cricket. This was my childhood, my heritage, the little lad rediscovering a lost treasure. People love to disparage my home city, and there was a time when I would have joined in with them. Now I want to puff out my chest and defend its honour. Whatever name they attach to the team, it doesn’t matter. I want to wrap that bear and ragged staff in my arms and protect him from the world. You don’t have to be a trained psychologist to work out the hidden meaning. Witnessing your team winning a trophy as an eight-year-old is impressive. Not many people can claim to have done so at the age of minus six months. Here’s hoping it’s the first of many. Come on you Bears.

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New name, same old game

by Sam Blackledge

Next year’s domestic Twenty20 competition will have a new title. The counties will line up for the start of the NatWest T20 Blast, re-branded to “attract a wider audience” who will “combine a weekend night out with watching cricket”, according to ECB chief executive David Collier. Fair enough, I suppose. T20 was invented ten years ago as a way to liven up the English game, to inject some razzmatazz into what was seen by many as a slow, dull and stilted sport. At first it seemed to work – shorter matches, more sixes and extraneous entertainment put bums on seats, and the T20 model exploded worldwide. In hindsight it may be seen as the most revolutionary idea of the sport’s modern age. But the authorities clearly feel the original format needs an overhaul.

Next year every team will play 14 qualifying matches, up from ten previously. They will mostly be played on Friday evenings, to fit in with the “night out at the cricket” theory. So rather than a short, sharp competition slotted in between the longer formats, T20 will be integrated as part of the regular season. The intentions behind all this seem sound – cricket is entertainment, and the more people enjoy it the better, financially and otherwise. The problem is, the ECB don’t seem to know their target market.

Are they, as Collier suggests, aiming T20 at adults looking for a Friday night out? Or do they, as the poor embattled soul who controls the ECB’s Twitter feed said, see it as “a great way for families to spend time together”?

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The ‘Blast’ re-brand smacks of just another pointless fiddle, a blue-sky boardroom brainwave that will only confuse fans. I am loathe to make a comparison to the horrid game of association football, but there is a lesson there. Ask a regular football fan – what is the name of the main domestic cup competition? After discarding his Millwall scarf and smashing a pint glass in your face, he will look at you like you have just arrived from Mars and say “the FA Cup”. As long as that competition exists it will always be the FA Cup, no matter who sponsors it or how many suited dignitaries line up at Wembley for a photo op with the winning team.
Over the last 35 years English cricket’s cup contests have had so many name changes it’s hard for even the most ardent fan to keep up. Deep breath…

The Gillette Cup became the NatWest Trophy, which became the C&G Trophy. For one year it was known as the ECB Trophy due to lack of a sponsor. Then it became the Friends Provident Trophy. Then it died.

The John Player Special League became the Refuge Assurance Cup (I had to look that one up). Then it was the Sunday League, then the Axa Equity and Law League, then the National League, and finally the Pro40 Cricket League. At the end of last season it too was put to sleep, to be replaced by a new 50 over tournament called the Royal London One Day Cup. Still with me?

The CB40 became the YB40. The good old Benson and Hedges cup retained its smokey sponsor right through from 1979 to the moment it spluttered its last cough in 1992. And domestic T20 action was propped up by Friends Provident, then Friends Life. Which may or may not be the same thing.

My point, if you’re still awake at the back, is that too much faffing makes people lose interest. Cricket fans – real fans, who will invest in the game’s grass roots and whose children will be the real fans of the future – don’t care about all this. Sure, the coloured clothes are nice and the odd bit of music as the stumps fly out of the ground can be quite exciting. But what will keep these people coming back is not whether the billboards outside the ground say ‘Blast’, ‘Boom’, ‘Big Bash’ or ‘David Collier’s Big Bad Cricketing Extravaganza Sponsored by Pot Noodle’.
(Actually that sounds quite good).

What will keep the turnstiles turning and the cash registers chiming is good quality cricket. Money should be used to invest in clubs, infrastructure and young players. Writing back in April, The Telegraph’s Scyld Berry put this all better than I ever could.

Oh, and in next season’s T20 whatever-it-is, Warwickshire are no more. Instead they will be known as the Birmingham Bears. I was planning to make that the subject of this rant. But I suppose it can keep for another day. For a flavour of what fans have made of the announcement, type #BirminghamBears into Twitter. They are not happy.

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