LONDON (AFP) - Former England captain Michael Vaughan has given his support after officials on Monday set in motion the procedure that could lead English cricket to have a new eight-team Twenty20 tournament.
England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) chiefs, having seen the success of the Indian Premier League and especially Australia's city-based Big Bash Twenty20 tournaments, believe they need something similar to help them reach family audiences and encourage children to become fans of the sport.
However, the proposal has proved hugely controversial as, if enacted, it will mean that for the first time there is a major domestic cricket tournament in England that does not feature all 18 first-class counties.
At present, the ECB's rules state all those clubs must be involved in its competitions - the first-class County Championship, the 50-over One-Day Cup and the Twenty20 Blast. But ECB chairman Colin Graves will formally ask his board on Tuesday to trigger a change in those regulations in a bid to initiate the process for creating the new tournament.
"This new Twenty20 league is a risk but sometimes you have to gamble to grow a sport," wrote Vaughan in his Daily Telegraph column published online on Monday. "Australia, India, Pakistan and the Caribbean already have big Twenty20 tournaments. We are just playing catch up and it is about time too.
"Those of us close to the game think cricket is the centre of the world. But people outside cricket are not talking about our sport. It just does not grab the country's attention often enough outside Ashes series," the former Yorkshire batsman insisted.
The IPL and the Big Bash are the only senior domestic Twenty20 events in India and Australia respectively but the ECB plans to keep the Blast going alongside its new tournament, which it hopes to launch in 2020.
Monday saw the ECB present what it says was a "detailed overview" of its plans to its 41 members, comprising the counties, recreational boards and MCC.
It looks as if the ECB will get the 31 votes they require for a rule change, with the first-class counties guaranteed £1.3 million (S$2.28 million) annually for five years if the tournament comes into being.
"This is about growth and securing our future," said ECB chief executive Tom Harrison. "As guardians of the game, it is the responsibility of all of us to steer cricket to a strong future and to pass it on in even better shape."
Although the identities of the eight teams in the new event have yet to be revealed, it is expected that they would be city-based, with two in London, two in the north of England, two in the Midlands and one each in the west, including Wales, and the south.
Although the teams won't have any formal link to an existing county, they could all be based at an existing Test match ground, although there has been talk of playing matches at larger venues such as the London Olympic Stadium.
The ECB said the event would see each of the sides involved have a 15-man squad featuring three overseas players, selected by a draft as happens in the IPL. They would compete in a 36-game tournament played over a 38-day window with four home games per team.
Vaughan, who said the new tournament might not have been needed had the Blast been shown on terrestrial television, added: "Now cricket has to try and grab new fans. I am convinced they are out there. "It (the new tournament) will be a huge success, it is just a pity that it was not done years ago."
The 2005 Ashes, which England won under Vaughan's captaincy, was the last home Test series to be broadcast live on free-to-air television in Britain, with many pundits claiming the switch to satellite coverage has meant cricket has become less 'visible' to the public in its birthplace.