Friday, January 31, 2014

The brave new world of international cricket


For the past ten years or so the power in cricket has shifted to India and that will now be formalised. They have dominated the ICC for some time and always get their own way. India’s cricket has been corrupt and a fierce battle ground all too often in the past. But the wise approach in trying to understand any modern sport is to follow the money and that’s in India for cricket.

The success of the IPL is based on the novel notion that City teams, playing in big stadia at a time and for a duration that spectators and (crucially) TV watchers can schedule into their lives will work financially. (This is what we should set up in England for T20 as well – but that’s another story!). For International matches this is extended to One Day Internationals which have the huge commercial benefit of lasting longer – more airtime and more advertising spots to sell.

Test matches are problematic for the Indian money men. If something special is going on (Sachin’s retirement for example) then the punters will go to the grounds and the TV audiences will be there. But mostly Test matches are a distant third in the priority of the Indian cricket moguls.

The Indians will be here for five Test matches this summer. The receipts will be good but I doubt that they will be so good that India will say that a tour to England with Test matches is a priority for the future. They are trying to scale down their Test cricket (see the recent cancellation of the Newlands New Year’s Day Test for example). I would expect the next India tour here to be a maximum of three Test matches.

With the financial clout they have the BCCI will effectively control world cricket. The idea of a “Test Championship” has gone already and India will certainly only be prepared to play a Test series if the revenues make it worthwhile. That’s versus England and possibly Australia (but reduced in number) and not much else.
“The Ashes” will remain for the time being as its financial basis is strong and it is a bilateral arrangement in which India has no interest. Other countries tours to England and Australia are far more problematic and the return tours by these two countries more so. Limited Overs cricket will increasingly be the King and Test cricket will become a rarity – the odd heritage matches and series (The Ashes) aside. For the MCC to base their ambitious Ground redevelopment plans on Test cricket is highly questionable. There is no guarantee at all that there will be a Test match at Lord’s every year in future.

The decline of Test cricket is inevitable. Top players will play more and more limited overs matches at domestic (IPL, Big Bash etc.) and international level and their skills will be honed only in this context. Domestic First Class cricket will gradually fade away. The spectators will never return to it. The players won’t want to play it or the broadcasters to cover it. In England domestic cricket will be smaller, fewer teams (maybe eight franchises), players and matches. Expect the big games in say five years to be between the Birmingham Bruisers and the Headingley Tykes – Warwickshire and Yorkshire will be distant memories of how it once was.

In England we sewed the seed of Twenty Twenty cricket to try and keep the County game afloat. It will be its death – and it will take Test cricket with it.

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