Somerset coach Jason Kerr backs T20 despite sluggish Blast ticket sales

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Harry Trump/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Harry Trump/Getty Images

Over the last 20 years Twenty20 cricket has risen from obscurity to dominate much of the cricketing world, but still the 20th season of the competition currently known as the Vitality Blast starts on Wednesday in the midst of a potentially existential crisis.

Though all available tickets for finals day have long since been snapped up, disappointing sales have been reported for many of the less high-profile fixtures, and some are questioning its place in an overcrowded calendar since the England and Wales Cricket Board’s laser focus has switched to the Hundred, the rival micro-format which launched last summer.

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“The Hundred is completely on its own, but people want to play in T20 competitions around the world and the more successful they are in the Blast, the more likely they are to find opportunities abroad,” says Jason Kerr, head coach of a Somerset side that after losing to Kent in last year’s final start this year’s event against the same opponents on Wednesday evening. “They are very different products, but for me the Blast is going from strength to strength.”

Somerset were also in action on the first-ever day of domestic T20 cricket, in June 2003, when they lost to Warwickshire and all-rounder Wes Durston rather missed the point in declaring “I only wish that it could have gone on for longer”. Kerr insists there has been “a huge improvement” across the competition over the last two decades.

“The depth of batting in the majority of sides is massive – there’s no tail-enders any more, anyone can come in and clear the rope and win games,” he says. “So many players bat 360 degrees now, their strength is enormous, the advances have been huge – and the attention to detail, the statistical side of T20, has been completely transformed.”

So too have the potential rewards. Somerset’s Will Smeed is a good example of the opportunities T20 success can bring: the 20-year-old – who has never played a senior match longer than 20 overs a side – did well enough in last year’s competition (and also, it must be said, in the Hundred) to secure winter contracts with Bangla Tigers in the Abu Dhabi T10, and with Quetta Gladiators in the Pakistan Premier League, where he hit two 90-plus scores in six innings and departed with his reputation further inflated.

Quetta Gladiators' Will Smeed hits out in the Pakistan Super League in February 2022.
Quetta Gladiators' Will Smeed hits out in the Pakistan Super League in February 2022. Photograph: Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images

It increasingly seems a young man’s game: nationally six of the top 10 run-scorers in last year’s competition were 25 or under, and three of Somerset’s top five in the final were under 23, players who have never known life without T20 and for whom the skillset required comes naturally.

This will be particularly tested this year, with the competition moved earlier in the season and many clubs going into it with little more than a day’s format-specific training. “I’m hoping there’ll be big crowds and actually better cricket,” Kerr says.

“A couple of years ago when the 50-over competition was earlier in the year scores were high, the pitches a bit fresher. There are advantages. There’s always a natural buzz at T20, a different crowd, a different atmosphere and a different kind of pressure. More than anything it’s an opportunity to entertain the public. I’m expecting the standard to be higher than ever.”

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