Right, I'm going to stick my neck on the line here with my proposal for the future of Twenty20 cricket in England. I would like to add a few caveats here; it is not a comprehensive proposal, because there are men in the ECB who know more about it than me, so they can do the leg work. And before anyone accuses me of abandoning the traditions of county cricket, I would say that this Twenty20 setup would not prejudice the current county structure, that would carry on regardless alongside it. Finally, its just a suggestion, I'm sure its riddled with many a problem!
Ok, so now the Terms & Conditions are set, here is my suggestion. There are nine test match grounds in England, so lets say we'd have a 9 team competition. There are some issues already because two of them are in London, so one ground outside of London that is not currently a test ground would have to be used. Currently there are 18 counties, so that works nicely, each one has to combine with another to create a city franchise. I know there are local rivalries, but Surrey-Middlesex isn't exactly El Classico is it? This is likely to annoy a lot of county members, but this is how I'd do it:
London (two teams - it is a city of 10 million people!) - Surrey and Middlesex combine with games to be played at the Oval and Lord's, and another team formed of Kent and Essex with games to be played at the Olympic Stadium or the Oval and Lords. Not sure what to do about the naming of two London teams though!
Cardiff - Glamorgan and Somerset combine with games to be played at Cardiff.
Nottingham - Notts and Leicestershire combine with games to be played at Trent Bridge.
Birmingham - Warwickshire and Northants combine with games to be played at Edgbaston.
Southampton/Portsmouth - Hampshire and Sussex combine with games to be played at the Rose Bowl.
Manchester - Lancashire and Derbyshire combine with games to be played at Old Trafford.
Leeds/Durham - Yorkshire and Durham combine with games to be played at Headingley & Chester Le Street.
Bristol - Gloucestershire and Worcestershire combine with games to be played at Bristol - the one non-test ground on the list - a possible major issue!
I would suggest that all proceeds are pooled and then shared between the 9 franchises and then filtered down into the county system. Now I know this sounds suspiciously like a certain other competition, recently finished in India, but that has brought a decent amount of success, even allowing for Modi's transgressions (alleged!).
I haven't really thought through the format, but I think the IPL consists of too many games, so perhaps three groups of three, followed by a Super Six group and so on. That actually makes for a pretty short competition, but if the games were played on Friday nights through the summer I think they'd draw big crowds starting at 6.30 or 7pm (allowing people to get there from work, the 5.30pm starts at the Oval are crazy, I work 10 minutes away and can't get there on time!) - and big crowds are precisely the goal of this operation.
I haven't quite worked out how the players' contracts would work, but it could either be that the teams combine and select a single T20 squad from their combined squads, or we could go down the IPL auction route. As for the overseas slots, perhaps three or four, and a requirement to play two or three England qualified players under 23.
What we do know is that the current county structure doesn't make all the counties enough money and they are beholden to Sky's TV money. This system might make more money - overseas investors might even be tempted, and you never know it might spark a renewed interest in domestic cricket. I refuse to accept that making it a city franchise system would detract from the County Championship - those who go and watch that will still go and watch that, it would still prepare players for England and we might even earn extra fans.
It might be workable, it might not, but I don't think its wise to just continue muddling on with the system we have as it isn't doing much good for the smaller counties, and it isn't doing as much as it could for the bigger ones.
So....over to you Giles...