The launch of the European Cricket League in 2019 made real waves. Apart from crowning V.O.C. Rotterdam as the inaugural champions and turning Pavel Florin into a cricketing cult hero, the ECL laid a platform to develop grassroots cricket in Europe. 2020 had promised to deliver more. More teams, more nations, more matches, and a bigger platform. Sadly the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the tournament, which will return in 2021.
Of course, nothing is perfect first time, but there were certain aspects of the would be 2020 tournament, and of the project as a whole that could be better. I’ve proposed 5 tweaks or additions that would help the ECL build cricket in Europe. Without further ado here is my list in order of attainability:
- Push match starts back 1 hour
For the eventually cancelled 2020 edition, the match starts were scheduled for 11 am, 1, 3 and 5 pm CEST, which would translate to 10 am, 12noon, 2 and 4 pm in the UK and Ireland. Since the involvement of the representative clubs of England, Scotland and Ireland are likely to bring a significant audience with them, it would make much more sense to push start times back to catch a greater proportion of fans in the prime-time slot in the UK.
- Put key fixtures in prime-time slots
So, we’ve pushed back the start time to catch a greater proportion of the population working standard office hours (both in the UK and mainland Europe). When they get home and put the TV on, they’ll want to see the flagship games. This looked like it was going to be the case in 2020 as the Swardeston vs Darmstadt ‘England vs Germany’ game was pencilled in for the 5pm slot on the Monday, but the rest of the fixture reveal made it look be more by coincidence than by design.
Placing the games with the highest impact teams in the prime-time slots is key to building and maintaining the audience. A great example of this is in Football, the dominant sport in Europe, where key games are invariably scheduled for Sunday afternoons and weekday evenings to maximise TV viewership. It’s certainly something the ECL could mimic. Using these timeslots to focus on local clashes (of which there would have been several cross-border games in ECL 20) and historic rivalries is a great way to capture the attention of a casual fan.
- A Women’s Championship
Women’s cricket is an exciting and rapidly developing market, including in Europe. Football doesn’t have quite the same grip on the women’s sport market as it does on the men’s game, giving cricket more room to move. A women’s ECL would be an excellent point to build a platform to grow the game, particularly in places where the men’s game brings an association of British imperialism or subcontinental heritage.
How far away is this? It’s hard to say, but a women’s edition of the European Cricket Series could happen very soon, and may act as a litmus test for the viability of a continent wide tournament.
- Venue rotation
Sadly, I wasn’t able to experience La Manga for myself this summer, but I’ve no doubt that the facilities – both the Rachael Heyhoe-Flint Oval and the accommodation – are first class. It’s certainly the first point of call for hosting a cricket tournament such as the ECL, but is it the only possible venue?
It’s understood that one of England’s Test Match grounds offered to host the ECL after the success of the 2019 edition, and whilst porting the fledgling tournament into a 15,000 seat stadium with large boundaries might not be the best choice, there are numerous venues in England – both first class and club – that could make for a suitable host.
International quality grass wickets can also be found across Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands, and each would make an excellent host for the ECL, but we can also look further afield. The Moara Vlăsiei Cricket Ground in Ilfov County, Romania, and Svanholm Cricket Club in Denmark represent two grass wickets in ECL nations. Both a stone’s throw from their nation’s capital cities, both have the potential to be ECL hosts.
Whilst it may be a few years away yet, a policy of venue rotation between ECL nations would add another layer to the ECL, each nation would get to showcase cricket in their country to the rest of the world. If the ECL achieves its ambition and leads the growth of cricket in Europe, it may have the knock-on effect that federations upgrade their existing facilities in order to host the ECL.
- Other Language comms
Okay so this is much more of a long-term pipe dream but one of the sticking points for popularising cricket in Europe is the language barrier – cricket knows very few languages, and is predominantly discussed in English, Hindi, Urdu or Afrikaans.
So, if bringing cricket to Europe, why not bring it in the native language(s)? The ECL could provide alternative commentary in languages based on who was playing – ie German comms for games involving German teams, Italian comms for games involving Italian teams. It’s something we’ve seen a little of in the Alicante edition of the European Cricket Series, where elements of Spanish were mixed in with predominantly English comms. For a new or casual fan in Europe, it would remove a barrier as the viewer would not have to translate what they hear as they watch.
How many languages can you translate “Maximoooooo” into?