Monday, January 23, 2006

Paddy's Sports View 23rd January 2006

As published in the "Bahrain Tribune

There is an established tradition that the major international sporting tournaments take place at four yearly intervals. This no doubt originally stemmed from the modern Olympic Games which (since 1908) have been celebrated every four years (except when wars have intervened). The first football World Cup was in 1930 and has also followed the four year gap principle, as has been the case for Rugby, and Cricket has also now settled into this pattern. Other international tournaments fit in with these schedules (in Football, for example, the European Championship) which means that sports fans will have at least one big tournament every year and also that the organisers of these huge sporting festivals have time to get everything in place. But there is nothing cast in stone about a quadrennial pattern for sport and it may be that for cricket it is time for a change.

This column has commented on the problems that the International Cricket Council (ICC) is currently having with Indian cricket, problems which, it is fair to say, are mostly of their own making. One of the things that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is concerned about is the ICC’s percieved need to fit in an “ICC Champions Trophy” whenever it can. This “Turkey of a tournament” (as Wisden has called it) has been beset with problems from the start and it is not surprising that the Indians want to get rid of it for good. They are right to do so.

The BCCI’ s main gripe with the ICC is that not only are they being forced to play too many meaningless matches against weak opposition but also that they are expected to commit their One Day team to largely worthless tournaments (like the Champions trophy) at the ICC’s behest. The BCCI wants more control over their own fixture list, an ambition that most of the top cricket nations will share.

On one thing, however, the ICC is right and that is that there does need to be a structure to international cricket fixtures. Not the structure that they currently have in place, for sure, but some sort of structure. For Test matches there is a need to achieve a balance between the money spinning series (such as the “Ashes” and other series in England against the top nations, the India v Pakistan matches and the Border-Gavaskar trophy) and those Test matches which do not generate huge revenues (most of the rest). And, of course, there is a need to have the big money One Day matches in some sort of arrangement which, whilst establishing a regular schedule for contest between the top nations (e.g. India v Australia), also allows the smaller nations the chance to play against the best.

The ICC’s affection for the “Champions Trophy” is because this tournament is their only significant source of revenue (which comes mainly from sponsorship) other than the Cricket World Cup (also the ICC’s property). So to continue to finance their development programmes (not least the planned cricket academy in Dubai) they need to keep the cash coming in. How can they do this and also re-establish an effective working relationship with the BCCI and other national cricket boards? Well they could start by rethinking the scheduling of the Cricket World Cup.

If the cricket world thinks out of the box for a moment then they should see that there is nothing sacrosanct about the quadrennial programme for the World Cup. Just because other sports follow this schedule that, in itself, is not a reason for cricket to do so. If the “Champions Trophy” is abolished, as surely it must be, then why not play the World Cup more frequently? Every two years would be too often and devalue the tournament, but why not schedule it to take place every three years? From the ICC’s commercial perspective this would mean that over time they would increase their revenues substantially and sponsors would be delighted that their brands are on display at a meaningful tournament more frequently. The smaller nations would welcome the chance to compete at the top level on a more regular basis. And public interest would be held because the World Cup clearly matters, whereas other more artificial tournaments matter less. It would also mean that the tournament came round to all the main cricket nations rather more frequently than at present.