The future of cricket

Posted: March 18, 2010 in cricket, sport, sports, T20, Twenty20, Uncategorized
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Well we all love cricket – after all, it is the second most popular sport on the planet, after football – and forget whatever the Americans say about their favourite codes – they are all way down the list. But what is the current state of play? A quite glance around web forums shows a huge level of debate about the game and how it is currently played. And just this debate shows something is not quite right.

Despite it’s mass popularity and recent attempts at global expansion, the game still revolves around the sub-continent and other former outposts of the British Empire.  It’s status as the second most popular game is largely thanks to it being the most popular sport for India’s billion plus population.  Football, however, is played in every country on the planet!

Is that due to some kind of archaic elitism associated with cricket?? The complexity of the rules? The image of play meandering for hours with little action? Perhaps… But all of us who love and play the game know that this isn’t the case.  It is  action packed, physically and mentally demanding, highly challanging, and  is a very rewarding sport to play. But how do we get over these old stereotypes? Particularly when trying to take the game into new markets??

I for one think T20 is the only way forward. I AM a traditionalist, don’t get me wrong. Bah! Traditionalists like only like first-class and test cricket, and don’t promote the benefits of T20, I hear you say…. Well I disagree. There is a place for tradition for certain, and it should, and will always remain within the game. As an Australian I will always love to watch an Ashes series decider going down to the wire in the fifth test of a grueling tour, than a silly bit of hit and giggle T20.

But actually, on the other hand I am actually starting to quite enjoy a bit of hit and giggle. The explosive shots, the sense of adventure and daring do, the crowd involved, roaring along – it all reminds me of my mid-80s youth, and the excitement I felt watching the touring West Indies playing ODI’s under lights at the MCG. The likes of Desmond Haynes and Viv Richards charging down the track to smash fast bowlers out of the attack! The coloured clothing. The boozed up (but generally well-behaved) crowd. The classic catches. That was living! But then something weird happened to ODI’s. They got computerised and formulaic.

That sense of excitement has long drifted away from ODI’s, and out of fear of losing television money, desperate cricket boards around the world are in a panic to recapture, reinvent, rejig, reorganise it. Whatever can be done, lest they lose some advertising revenue.

Well administrators, listen to the fans instead of the marketing boffins. Crowds are down in ODI’s all around the globe. Only the Ashes, and perhaps series such as India v Pakistan, and Australia v South Africa continue to draw test crowds. T20 draws big crowds all over now, and the games are fast-paced and action packed. The IPL is very exciting and the games are quite competitive and skillful.

There WILL be more T20 at the expense of ODI’s, but more T20 matches means more advertising space, not less. It is also less stressful on the players, so the quality of the ‘package’ or whatever the markerteers wish to call it, will be improved. Plus, no one has the time to watch a whole ODI on tv these days anyway. Whereas three hours in the evening to watch a T20 game is doable. I say let ODI cricket die it’s natural death. And Shane Warne even agrees with me.

We now all live ever more hectic lives, and the ability to get in a whole game in 2-3 hours on the way home from work is great. I cannot seriously remember the last time I sat down to watch an entire ODI on tv. It is now virtually impossible to get in a whole ODI, unless you want to waste all your annual leave, or are the kind of old money that would only watch test cricket anyway.

T20 is the future, as is the expansion of domestic competitions like the T20 Champions League. I am personally salivating at the prospect of my beloved home team of Tasmania, taking on the English or Indian champions in a future edition. If only they could win the Australian domestic mouthful known as the KFC Twenty20 Big Bash.

I am also in favour of a city-based English league, and similar ventures in other traditional bastions of the game. The prospect of Manchester v London enthrals me. Don’t abandon the County game, but keep it for the first-class comp, and create the T20 EPL. This is the kind of innovation the game needs to maintain its role as the planets second favourite sport, and perhaps challange football as number one. Certainly if not challenge football, it should firmly hold the role as the world’s summer game. After all, imagine if there was more baseball around the world. Urgh! In the media-globalised-techno-world that we now live in, expanding into more countries is essential as well. Countries without the first-class tradition, are more likely to grow to love an exciting fast-paced spectacle of T20, and it will be the main source of growing the game in new countries. I recently met a barman in Naples who was from Sri Lanka, and the likes of him are begging for a league to play in within Italy.

With T20 offering an easier route into the game, the ICC needs to let go of the old MCC gruffness a bit.  So what if a few associates get battered – quite a few of the current test nations got battered when the first entered the test arena, and are now competitive. The idea of watching China v USA in the cricket world cup sounds great, and playing against better the sides will only improve lesser sides. One of my favourite memories of the 2007 ICC World Cup was not my home nation of Australia winning the tournament, but of underdogs Ireland defeating established side Pakistan. We need more of that to keep the game fresh and exciting.

Test cricket and tradition will always have a place, mainly in the old empire countries where it already thrives. But with sports like American gridiron, baseball and basketball, motorsports, rugby and ice hockey all adopting global marketing strategies, cricket has to modernise and sell itself as the fast-paced, action packed game that T20 always offers. No four-day draws here please.

My thought is for the following. Test cricket remains with the current 10 teams, or with a reduced number of nations, if they cannot prove popularity requirements for the game within their country. It is a two division league with promotion and relegation of one team between divisions. Each team plays three home, and three away tests against each other, within a two year period. At the end of each two years, a test champion is crowned. The only exception is the Ashes, which should remain a five-test series, to acknowledge it’s importance as the original international rivalry. However for parity, the winner of the series still receives the same points towards the test championship as all other series. I think the popularity and demand for the Ashes in both the UK and Australia will allow this.

50-over cricket will cease entirely. It has become too formulaic, and it is clear the formula serves no purpose other than to provide tv advertising revenue. Although it still reamins viable in the sub-continent for the time being, it is already being eclipsed by the popularity of T20.

T20 will be structured as follows. The T20 World Cup should expand to 24 or 32 sides, allowing for more nations to get through to the opening group stage. The first round should see six or eight groups of four, with the top two going through from each group. With each of the test sides seeded into a group, it should avoid them meeting in round one, and should also see at least one non-test side progress from each group into round two. Imagine how much it would spark a new interest in the cup if USA or Argentina went through to the second round. Outside of the World Cup T20 should also be played at the Olympics, and regular tour series should accompany Test series, as they currently do. Regional championship tournaments could provide regular matches for non-test teams.

At the domestic level, the test teams should maintain their first-class tournaments, but replace their domestic 50-over tournaments with a second T20 series. One series should be for existing representative sides, and a second for city-based franchise sides. The victors in both series go on to play in the Champions League. New T20 leagues should form the basis of new domestic competitions in expanding market nations. City-based T20 leagues should be set up as the main form of the game in Netherlands, Canada, USA, China, Argentina, Italy etc, all of the top 50 or so countries. Perhaps the T20 champions from non-test nations could go into a qualifying round to see wild-cards play in the Champions League.

The Ashes will go on forever, but 50-over cricket, and test series involving the bottom four sides are losing popularity and threatening cricket overall. T20 is the global future of the game, and I say embrace it. It will also help maintain our game as the world’s number two sport in the increasingly franchised, globalised world of 21st century sport. Or maybe it will even move it up to number one.

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