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    'England's T20 format is lagging behind'

    London: Former Sri Lanka spinner Muttiah Muralitharan believes that England's domestic Twenty20 format is lagging way behind its worldwide equivalents, and it will benefit hugely if it adopts the same franchise format used in the Indian Premier League (IPL). "They introduced it [Twenty20 cricket] worldwide but now England is old-fashioned. I think they need a big change," Muralitharan was quoted as saying to BBC.

    In its current format, 18 county sides - featuring a maximum of two overseas players - are split into three groups and play 10 games before entering the knock-out stages - formed of the top two in the groups and the two best performing third places. Since its inception in 2003, the game has been adapted worldwide, taking on several different guises.

    IPL - the biggest brand of 20 over cricket - is made up nine franchises and attracts cricket's biggest international names, worldwide TV rights packages and sponsorship deals - meaning a huge increase in revenue. "They [English cricket] need to change and become franchised teams and each county would benefit financially. If it happens like that, it would be huge in England. I think the market is there, and the TV rights will come," Muralitharan, who plays for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL, added.

    "Bangladesh launched it [Bangladesh Premier League] big and their crowds have been 30-40,000 for every match. Australia has merged [Big Bash] into eight franchises rather than the teams, so I think England should also do that and it could equal IPL."

    Muralitharan, who is due to start his second stint with Gloucestershire on Thursday against local rivals Somerset, believes merging the two counties to become a T20 franchise will be a good move. "That would be good as they are close counties and they would benefit financially. At the end of the day the public will see good cricket and enjoy it. Money will be spinning from the competition and they can sustain the other forms of the game within county cricket.

    "It would be one of the best things to happen if they do that. It will make sure the competition is more successful than what it is now," said the 40-year-old Sri Lankan.