The Vitality T20 Blast, which gets underway next week, remains a vital part of the English domestic calendar, according to Dawid Malan and Mark Wood, in spite of the uncertainty surrounding its future in light of the ECB’s plans for a new 100-ball competition from 2020 onwards.
Both Malan and Wood are likely to be in action for their counties, Middlesex and Durham, in the opening round of the Blast on July 5 and 6, having been overlooked for the T20I series against England. But it is that continued importance of the 20-over format at the top level of the game that encourages both men to believe that the competition remains relevant.
“I think it depends what happens in the rest of the world,” said Malan. “If the rest of the world keep playing T20 cricket and there’s a T20 World Cup, I can’t really see how 100-ball cricket is going to take over all T20 around the world.
“Fifty-over cricket has been dying for the last 10, 15 years, but it seems to be getting stronger and stronger now with the way it’s been reinvented by the players, so I think it’s a good initiative from the ECB to bring a franchise system in, but I still think T20 is your key and T20 is what everyone associates with.
“It’s not to say that it won’t work but the T20 tournament for me is the one that will be recognised around the world, that all the players will play, that you’ll be selected to play internationally in T20 cricket, and I can’t see 100-ball cricket having a place if I’m honest.
“I just think it’s the unknown of what happens if we don’t get picked up, where are we going to be, where are we going to play, will we play 40-over cricket, 50-over cricket, are we going to have five weeks off, what are we doing? No one really knows what’s happening and I think that’s why a lot of us are standing up and asking relevant questions.”
It’s a concern shared by Wood, who – while open to the concept – believes there is uncertainty for players surrounding the new and untested format.
“I think they have the right sort of filters in international cricket, you’re playing 20 overs, and it’s the same as the Royal London 50-over competition,” said Wood. “So they both filter into international cricket with the competitions you play there.
“I think with the 100-ball competition you’re not gonna play that at international level so the unknowing around that is maybe what the problem is with the 100-ball format.
“If it’s a new idea, maybe people will jump on it and if there’s new audiences and it gets people back watching cricket on terrestrial TV, I think that’s good.
But in terms of the Blast I think there’s something quite exciting about the Blast. The finals day is something quite unbelievable, for a player especially.
“We don’t get massive crowds in the County Championship and in the 50-over stuff but then we’ll play Yorkshire in a T20 and it’s our biggest game. It’s great playing in front of a full house, so I hope that that side of things can continue, whether it’s the Blast or the 100-ball format.” Wood was impressed by what he saw of the marketing of the Big Bash in Australia, something he feels could be improved on in England. He also has concerns surrounding support in the north-east for a Leeds-based side in the new 100-ball competition.
“We will have a job persuading Durham fans to go and watch a team in Leeds as it is a bit of a trek, but I hope they do… especially if I am playing!”
While the exact breakdown of overs has yet to be confirmed, Wood – who has bowled at the death in the IPL and the Blast, as well as for England – isn’t thrilled at the mooted idea of a ten-ball final over.
“I think a lot of batters are queuing up for this in the competition!” said Wood “For me personally I’m not a massive fan of that, I mean I’d give it a good go but to think you could go for 60 in ten balls … especially if the first two balls go for six, you’ll be thinking ‘oh no, I’ve got eight balls to go here’ so it’s not going to be the best.
“It’s not the physicality, it’s more the mental state of getting hit for a couple of sixes early doors and then you think ‘oh no here we go,'” Wood added. “But if it is a ten-ball over then it could change the game dramatically, couldn’t it? Why not just have two bowlers that just bowl from one end each. You play nine batsmen and have two bowlers, we’ll get smacked and you can just keep.”
Whatever lies in the future of short-form cricket in England, players like Malan and Jos Buttler have proven the T20 game has provided a new pathway into the national Test side.
“I think one of the major things in international cricket is to learn how to handle pressure,” said Malan. “You’ve got to deal with the pressure and the scrutiny from the media and the thing that T20 teaches you is that you have to be able to handle pressure.
“If you’re out there and chasing ten an over and you can’t handle the pressure, you’re never going to win a game of cricket for your country or your team and you’re never going to get close.
Malan was given his opportunity in the third T20I against South Africa last summer and, with only one game to stake his claim in the England side, his experience in performing under pressure proved vital: he scored 78 off 44 balls to help England to a 19-run victory.
“If you can handle those pressures and be able to go out there and express yourself while you’re under pressure, while you’re being judged, while you’re definitely being looked at and broken apart in every aspect, it gives you that opportunity and gives you that mental strength that you need to succeed at Test level.”
Dawid Malan and Mark Wood were speaking at the launch of the Vitality IT20 – starting with England v Australia at Edgbaston on June 27. Vitality offers health insurance, life insurance & investments