Rod Lyall 23/01/20
There are disturbing indications that the KNCB Board may be contemplating a curtailment of the 50-over men’s national championship in order to make more room for more Twenty20 matches.
These fears are inspired by an e-mail sent to all clubs last week by competitions co-ordinator Bart Kroesen, proposing significant changes to the programme from as early as the 2020 season.
The mail outlines a radically restructured T20 Cup, intended to address the widely-accepted problems with the existing format: the widespread lack of interest in the Friday-evening group matches, clubs’ difficulties in putting out full-strength sides for these games, and the disparities in strength between the four regionally-based groups.
Under the new proposals there would be four five-team pools, with a ballot largely based on last season’s 50-over rankings to determine their composition.
Since these groups could comprise teams as far apart as Deventer and Schiedam it would obviously be impractical to play the matches on Friday evenings, and Kroesen therefore proposes that the Cup be played on Saturday afternoons in July and August.
Clubs were given eight days, that is until Thursday, 23 January, to respond to this idea.
Although one might think this timescale was unreasonably short, especially in the middle of January, these proposals seem in themselves to offer a clear improvement in the T20 competition.
The sting, however, comes in the tail.
Clubs were in fact asked to choose between three options: the status quo, the proposed new-look T20 Cup, and a much more radical scheme, whereby the Top- and Hoofdklasse (the two top 50-over divisions) would be cut, ‘for example’ to a nine-match home-or-away first phase in place of the present 18-game home-and-away round robin, followed by play-offs among the top four and bottom six and a final.
This is presented as a way of avoiding double weekends with a T20 match on a Saturday and a 50-over league match on the Sunday, but its implications go much further.
We know from the Board’s consultation with the clubs back in September that there is anxiety about how the domestic competitions can be reconciled with an increasingly demanding national team schedule, not to mention the looming prospect of a month-long Euroslam T20 tournament.
So far-reaching are these challenges that the Board has established a Taskforce to consider all aspects of the future structure of the competitions.
Yet rather than waiting for that Taskforce to bring forward its recommendations – a process which is admittedly taking an inordinately long time – it appears that the Board has now decided to press ahead with a partial restructuring of its own.
The new-look T20 Cup may in itself be desirable, but a fundamental shift away from 50-over cricket towards a greater diet of T20 is another matter entirely.
It would do an injustice to the national team’s success in the ODI format, but much more important, it would ignore the importance of longer formats in the development of young cricketers, and it would threaten the longer-term future of the clubs, for whom the 50-over game is vitally important.
Coaches agree that an unrelieved emphasis upon T20 is bad for player development: if you haven’t learned the basic techniques in the longer formats you are, in most cases, unprepared for the much greater demands of T20.
Not everyone can be a David Warner, and young Dutch-produced players already find it difficult enough to make the transition to the international stage: there are many reasons why the national team contains so many players who learned their cricket elsewhere, but one of them is that they had the benefit from a young age of playing two-day club cricket.
So if the trend is to be less longer-format cricket in the Netherlands and more T20 the Board may as well come clean and abandon its declared objective of a national side with a greater proportion of home-produced players.
It’s easy to overestimate the attractions of T20: played at a level below that of the very best it can be a pretty hollow spectacle, and even in Australia there are signs that its appeal is waning.
Figures published this week show that attendances at the Big Bash have been declining for the past three seasons, even as the number of matches has increased, and this season are bumping along at barely 60% of the peak year 2016-17.
It may be that the suggestion of a reduced national championship is just a trial balloon, or an attempt to get the T20 Cup restructuring accepted by making it appear the less radical proposal, but we must hope that the good sense of the clubs will have made clear that it’s a non-starter.
And the Board should in any case do what it set out to do nearly a year ago: wait for the recommendations of its Taskforce and then come up with a comprehensive plan for the future of the Dutch domestic game.