Steven Finn says the proposed new T20 competition is a necessary step to broaden cricket’s appeal in this country, with free-to-air TV coverage an essential component.
England fast bowler Steven Finn has given his backing to the proposed new T20 competition and believes the prospect of live cricket returning to free-to-air TV for the first time since 2005 is the shot in the arm the game needs to boost ailing participation figures and compete with other sports.
The competition, slated to begin in 2020, will feature eight new city-based teams playing 36 matches in 38 days and the ECB have pledged that a number of fixtures – the aim is eight – will be broadcast free to air.
“Cricket was more readily available when I was growing up,” said Finn, speaking to All Out Cricket at NatWest CricketForce. “You could just switch on Channel 4 and I think through pure accessibility more people watched cricket back then than they do now.
“I think the money that Sky have pumped into cricket has been awesome for the game over the last however many years they’ve been doing it but it’s probably time to take it to the next level now and look beyond that to try and capture the imagination of young people.
“It’s important that we do try and drum up interest in the game because it’s an amazing game, and you can learn a lot from playing it and being around it. It would be a real shame if those virtues would go to waste on the youth of today. We have to do something to get them interested again.”
The ECB’s plans have been greeted with a mixed reception. Most of the initial dissent at county board level has been silenced by the promise that each of the 18 first-class counties will receive a minimum payment of £1.3m per year through the competition, but many fans have been vociferous in their opposition, particularly those who support counties whose grounds won’t host fixtures in the new tournament and fear that it could spell the beginning of the end for the domestic game in this country as we know it.
Finn acknowledges there are potential pitfalls but insists the new competition is a step that needs to be taken. “First and foremost, it can only be good for the standard of cricket in this country because it’s going to have the best players playing with the best overseas players. It’s something to aim for, because not everyone’s going to get picked up to play in it.
“And we needed to do something to buck the trend, to increase the participation of young people in cricket, and I think this is a great step in the right direction towards getting people interested in a different style of cricket, played in a smaller block where they really buy into it at a certain time of year. I very much see the benefits.
“County cricket is still very important and I don’t want to see it die out as a result – I think that’s an extreme view. We have to try and maintain the integrity of county cricket in and around this city T20 because that is still the breeding ground where England players are produced. I’m not saying that the integrity will be lost, but you don’t want to see that drop off over time.”
While supporting the T20 restructure as a means to expand cricket’s appeal, Finn accepts that responsibility also falls on the shoulders of the players to inspire a new generation of fans, and to keep the existing ones entertained. With a tantalising new Test leadership duo of Joe Root and Ben Stokes, and Eoin Morgan’s limited-overs sides playing box-office cricket, he believes the England team are in a great position to do that.
“We have a responsibility to play attractive cricket for people who want to come and watch us, most definitely. You do feel a duty to try and entertain. We’ve got guys – Stokes, Root, Buttler, Morgan – who play exciting cricket and I think people will naturally want to watch them play.
“Stokesy’s attitude to try and show off and entertain is something that a lot of us, especially some of us who are a little bit older, can learn a lot from. Since watching him operate I’ve tried to take that into my fielding. As a fast bowler you can go and hide at fine-leg sometimes but it’s something that I want to make a big effort with this year and I’ve said to the guys at Middlesex when I’m playing for them that I want to be involved in the action all the time, like Ben Stokes is.
“If we make an effort to play at a high intensity like Stokesy does, then it will take our cricket to the next level.”