The only down side to England's World Twenty20 victory in the Caribbean has nothing to do with the way they played. It is not their fault that the timing was not better, that the tournament was held in May. By then, with Chelsea having won the FA Cup and no English representative in the Champions League final for the first time since 2004, most English eyes were already looking to South Africa and a football World Cup where Wayne Rooney and his teammates will aim to end 44 years of hurt.
Every English side that wins a trophy is destined for comparisons with that class of 1966. Jonny Wilkinson became a household name in England after helping win the Rugby World Cup in 2003. England's women, led by Claire Taylor, have won both the Ashes and the World Cup in recent times. Yet, next to Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton and that Geoff Hurst hat-trick in the World Cup final against West Germany, their achievements do not get the recognition they deserve. Where will this success take English cricket?
Is it a new dawn, or an aberration for a sport that long ago lost its battle for popularity with football? Will it see more English youngsters taking up the game? And will the gains be apparent only in the T20 arena? Michael Atherton, the former England captain and now cricket correspondent for The Times, was one of those that cautioned against making too much of this victory. "Take a straw poll of English professional cricketers and ask them which domestic one-day tournament they would like to win and the unanimous choice would be Twenty20," he wrote.
"But at international level, cricketers still regard the 50-over World Cup as the pinnacle of the one-day game. "Nor can success in a Twenty20 tournament be equated with success, for example, over a five-match Test series against Australia. Michael Vaughan, the former England captain, suggested ridiculously that victory over Australia yesterday would better the Ashes victory in 2009. "Ask the players involved in both series ? Paul Collingwood and [Graeme] Swann, for example ? which challenged them more as players and as human beings."
Will that always be the case? For Atherton's generation, which I am part of, Test cricket will always be the pinnacle. For a 12-year-old growing up in England now, whose parents do not have the time to take him to a Test match, T20 may be the only form of cricket that he gets to see live. If cricket eventually becomes an Olympic sport, the lure of the abbreviated version will become even stronger.
The challenge for the England and Wales Cricket Board now is to come up with a competition that can generate the sort of excitement that the Indian Premier League (IPL) does in India. The Twenty20 Cup in its current guise is not that. Anything featuring all 18 counties is likely to be too unwieldy to work, so what are the options? A franchise system based around the main cities might be the answer, as unpalatable as it will be to traditionalists.
It is no secret that the IPL franchises are looking to England in an effort to widen their fan base. The informal talks in New Delhi in March, for which Lalit Modi, the suspended IPL chairman and commissioner, has been called to account, were just the first, tentative steps to be taken in that direction. With Test cricket only marketable when England are playing four sides - Australia, India, South Africa and Pakistan - it is inevitable that those in charge of the counties look for other ways to fill their coffers. A Twenty20 league with lots of foreign stars, echoing the halcyon years of county cricket when the likes of Viv Richards, Richard Hadlee and Clive Rice spent the summer there, would not be a bad thing. @Email:email@example.com