Traditional, slow cricket is dying in England. Will making it faster save the game?

Now all we need is an audience.
Now all we need is an audience.
Image: Reuters/Philip Brown
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Cricket is a slow, sedate affair. Matches between the 18 counties in England that maintain ancient enmities despite only being a few miles apart, last for four days and attract an increasingly gray-haired audience. Ten of the 18 teams in England’s County Championship lose money. Many fear for the future of a game that goes back to 1890—and probably much earlier.

The new chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, Colin Graves, helped save one county club, Yorkshire, from bankruptcy in 2002. He thinks he has a solution to the problem of how to sustain English county cricket: Do what everyone else is doing.

Graves is looking to start an English version of the Indian Premier League and Australia’s Big Bash tournaments—both of which use the Twenty20 form of the game, in which the match is settled within hours. (For more on the different forms of cricket, read Quartz’s brief guide to the game.)

Driven by the huge demand, mainly from South Asia, the Twenty20 form of cricket has transformed cricket’s fortunes but until now, it has largely left English county cricket alone. Graves wants to change that. “We can’t ignore [the IPL and Big Bash],” he told the BBC. “It’s been successful in India and Australia, so why shouldn’t it be successful over here?”

Such a setup might mean a return for English teams to the Champions League Twenty20, an annual tournament between the best domestic teams in the world that hopes to replicate the incredible financial success of European soccer’s Champions League tournament. That would mean more money for otherwise struggling county cricket teams in England.

But to do that, English cricket may alienate its traditional audience. When asked what he thought of other forms of the game at a county cricket match, one member of the Kent County Cricket Club since 1960 told the Daily Mail:

I like county cricket. I don’t like Twenty20—too much razzmatazz and heave-ho. I like traditional cricket.