Twenty20 debate overshadows start to county campaign

By AFP, London

Only in England, perhaps, could a competition that's still at least three years away provoke so much passionate debate.
Yet that is the situation the English game finds itself in on the eve of the 2017 County Championship, its domestic first-class tournament, that starts on Friday.
Rather than talking about whether Middlesex can retain the title they won in dramatic fashion last season, when a hat-trick from paceman Toby Roland-Jones completed a victory over defending champions Yorkshire at Lord's on the final day, English cricket has been consumed by talk of a new eight-team Twenty20 tournament.
This is due to start in 2020 -- not a marketing trick but rather the year after the England and Wales Cricket Board's existing broadcast agreements expire.
The ECB, 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 encourage more families and, above all, children to become cricket fans.
But the plan has proved hugely controversial as, if enacted, it will mean that for the first time there is a major domestic tournament in England that does not feature all 18 first-class counties.
As with the ongoing debate in Britain over Brexit, the fact that the new Twenty20 competition is yet to come into being hasn't stopped those in favour proclaiming it to be the salvation of county cricket and those against insisting it will sound its death knell.