Warwickshire director of cricket Dougie Brown has defended the club’s decision to compete in next season’s Twenty20 as “Birmingham Bears”, asserting that the renaming is “a really good idea”.
The club’s agreement to Birmingham City Council’s request to ditch their 131-year-old identity for the T20 format and play under a new name has proved highly controversial.
The move has upset many of their supporters both within and beyond Birmingham while being greeted around the country by some bafflement, accompanied by a fair bit of chortling from followers of rival clubs.
Warwickshire’s players have understandably declined to comment. “I think I’ll just sway out of the way of that one,” commented one when asked for his opinion on the prospect of representing “Birmingham Bears”.
The squad are exercising diplomacy, though it’s safe to say there is no palpable sense of excitement at the name foisted upon them for next season’s Friday-night format – they take great pride in representing Warwickshire.
But director of cricket Brown has no complaints – and hopes the change of name might even trigger a change of fortunes in a competition in which Warwickshire have a poor record.
“First of all, I think it’s really nice to see so many people who care about the club and who have actually got an opinion on this,” Brown said. “Personally, I think it is a really good idea. It has synergy with the city and fits well with the rebranding of T20 cricket as a whole.
“Let’s be honest, our T20 cricket up to this point hasn’t been outstanding. You never know, with a change in name and maybe a change in dynamic from us on the field, it might be a really good fit.
“The rebranding is not to everybody’s taste and I totally understand why people might not like it. But I’m sure the intention was not to upset people, it was just to keep up with the changing nature of T20.
“We have all seen that the game has changed markedly in the last 10 years. Look at the Australian franchises, South Australia has gone to Adelaide and Western Australia is now Perth. It seems to work okay in the Big Bash.”
There is still plenty of time, of course, for the city council to withdraw their request to lumber Warwickshire with the jarring T20 handle.
Time will tell whether they are strong enough and sensible enough to do that, but of one thing Brown is certain – there is no chance of the club’s proper name been jettisoned in proper cricket.
“I have heard people say it’s the first step to this and that – it’s not going to happen,” he said. “Warwickshire County Cricket Club has been here for 130 years and it is here to stay.
“Fundamentally, we are Warwickshire County Cricket Club – when the guys go out on the field , they are playing for Warwickshire and that will never change.”
Chief executive Colin Povey has also robustly defended the name-change.
Povey respects the views of opponents of the switch, but baulks at accusations that the club has shown a lack of respect for it’s own history – and, in recent years, neglected cricket matters in deference to commercial operations.
“Many things we have done in recent times have been about trying to protect the core cricket and ring-fence the interest of members,” he said. “Despite all the changes we have never once taken the scalpel to the cricket budget.
“We are hugely proud of the fact that the bulk of our squad comes from within our system. And where we have taken decisions on overseas players and signings it has been on cricketing, not financial, grounds.
“We are fiecely proud of the club’s heritage. But while respecting tradition, you have to move with the times. I hope people will accept this name change in that context, rather than as selling the family silver.
“In terms of team names, Hampshire are making a virtue of returning to just Hampshire and dropping the ‘Royals’. Let’s not forget the reason they were the Royals in the first place was an affiliation with Rajasthan Royals with a view to getting inward investment and covering their bases in case an English IPL emerged.
“Why were Glamorgan ‘Welsh Dragons’? Because of money from the Welsh Assembly. People are coming out of these arrangements because commercial deals have finished, not because they are pure of thought.”
If Warwickshire do play next season’s T20 as Birmingham Bears, the club will be under heavy pressure to justify the controversy by attracting big crowds.
“We know that most people coming through the gates on T20 nights will be very local,” Povey said.
“A million people live in inner-city Birmingham in a city that is ethnically-diverse, young and cricket-mad and we need to get more of those people through our gates more often.
“This is cricket’s newest, most innovative format and, like it or not, the only format which has driven up attendances in cricket in the last ten years. Now, with the relaunch by the ECB, we think we can get behind it and drive revenue.
“Surrey generate four or five times the revenue we do and other counties have been more successful than us at leveraging T20. We are one of few counties to keep T20 within our membership so we have sacrificed revenue there which means we need to get more people into games.”