Merry Ashesmas!

The biggest rivalry in cricket? Comparing The Ashes to other cricketing rivalries is like comparing Sir Donald Bradman to other batsmen. It beats everything else by a huge margin.

With about three hours till the start of the Ashes of 2017-18, both teams have their vulnerabilities. I’m predicting with some degree of confidence that Australia will regain the Ashes yet with the knowledge that fortunes could change at any time in this seven-week journey.
Continue reading “Merry Ashesmas!”

Why do I love cricket?

This morning I was completing a “fan survey” commissioned by the ICC which they had publicised through their Twitter feed. Amid the feedback about the website, complaint about the lack of archival material on World Cricket League tournaments, and the likelihood they will have no idea why I referred to J.Barton King, I gave an answer to the question “Why do you love cricket”, the simplicity of which shocked even myself.

Let me repeat it here:

It is a unique sport, rich in competitiveness, diversity, heritage. It can unite people through a summer’s day and night like no other sport can.

Test cricket is not dying — the five day game still has a unique place in world sport

Is Test cricket dying? (Spoiler: No.)

But before I explain, here’s a couple of short videos to watch. Firstly, Moeen Ali’s hat-trick ball to seal England’s Test victory over South Africa at The Oval on July 31:

Second, eighteen year-old Rashid Khan taking the first ever hat-trick of the Twenty20 Caribbean Premier League at Brian Lara Stadium, Trinidad on September 6:

Which game had the bigger crowd and the better atmosphere, and which hat-trick do you think will be remembered in twenty years’ time, or even next year?

Test cricket is not dying, but in many ways it has failed to grow at the same rate as the sport’s newer versions, the one-day game and Twenty20. The Ashes, starting in Australia in November, are close to selling out, and most England Test tours are a major event for the Barmy Army.

Christmas and New Year Tests in Australia, regardless of the opponent, attract big crowds and massive TV ratings.

Day-night Test matches are increasingly becoming part of the mix. The first two at Adelaide in the past two years have attracted large crowds and healthy television audiences. England’s first day-night Test – against West Indies at Edgbaston in August – has also been seen as a success, despite the visitors losing two days early.

While the boards will continue to pursue the commercial imperatives of day-night Tests, there are still bugs to be sorted out, the biggest being that the players simply don’t like playing with a pink cricket ball in changing light conditions.

We are yet to see how the popularity of “pink ball” Tests withstands either a dull fifth-day draw or the frustrations of constant rain interruptions. Not once, in the four day-night Tests played in Australia and England to date, has a match extended into a Monday evening.

The biggest threats to the viability of Test cricket have arisen with the exponential growth in the number of matches played in the past three decades, in which period the number of Test teams has grown from seven to ten (and soon to twelve).

Traditional encounters like the Ashes or India’s home Tests remain popular, and indeed have grown in popularity with the extended reach of live television and the internet.

Other series have failed to deliver the same growth. It’s difficult to argue, for example, that the rivalry between South Africa and Bangladesh (who have just completed a lop-sided two match series) is dying off when it never existed in the first place.

But there needs to be a reason for being if Test cricket is to be more than just the cash cow of a handful of nations.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) board is meeting in New Zealand later this week and is set to approve a World Test Championship structure that would involve the nine leading Test teams playing each other in a two-year cycle beginning in 2019 with the top two meeting in a Final at Lord’s in 2021.

Exactly how this would function in the instance of India’s fixture with Pakistan is not clear, but it otherwise guarantees each team a minimum number of Tests, with competition points up for grabs in each series.

This would mean, for example, that Bangladesh would have split competition points with Australia in their recent 1-1 Test series, but would have taken none from their 0-2 loss to South Africa last week. Every Test would have some degree of broader context.

Test cricket deserves to survive, and will, alongside Twenty20 just as the marathon is as much a part of the athletics calendar as the 100 metres sprint. It will never be the major money-earner of the game, that is the role of Twenty20 these days.

But the advent of a functional world Test league, together with some smart scheduling including the occasional day-nighter, will reinforce the five-day game’s unique place in world sport.

(This article was first published on October 9 2017 by iSportconnect).

Why the ICC’s revenue sharing model could harm growth of new members

It has taken 108 years for cricket’s world governing body, the ICC, to grow to the point that it has but a dozen full members. That landmark was achieved on June 22 when the ICC Board approved the promotion of Afghanistan and Ireland to full membership status. But what does full membership mean for Ireland and Afghanistan?

My latest column for iSportconnect:

Why the ICC’s revenue sharing model could harm growth of new members

Taking the game backwards

Recently an email arrived in my inbox from the World Baseball Softball Confederation. It was telling me all about a new logo for the Under-12 Baseball World Cup. They’re playing in Taiwan this July, twelve teams, every continent represented. It’s the fourth time the WBSC has staged this biennial global event for the world’s best 11 and 12 year-old baseball players.

Just over three months ago, Papua New Guinea played host to the FIFA Under-20 Womens World Cup. Sixteen nations competing over a fortnight in four stadia with a full house for the final.

Cricket, meanwhile?

No thought of international under-12 competition, let alone anything resembling a Little League World Series. Players in the last global under-15 tournament would be 32 this year. Age-group womens events are not even a blip on the horizon, and only in the past year has PNG had even one cricket arena of sufficient standard to host international games on home soil.

The World Cricket League has contracted from eight divisions to five. Global qualifying tournaments for the Under-19 World Cup have been dispensed with. The ICC’s flagship event – the men’s 50-over-per-side World Cup, has (after much resistance) been reduced to a ten-team round-robin in 2019 at the insistence of media rights holders, scared of letting lesser quality teams dilute their compelling TV content.

While baseball and softball went to enormous lengths to restructure their organisations to win re-entry to the Olympic Games, cricket still murmurs occasionally how nice it would be to take part, and then does nothing about it. Cricket appears set to be cut from the Asian Games in 2018 while the prospect of even a women’s event in the Commonwealth Games looks shaky with the axing of Durban as 2022 host city.

Since the International Cricket Council’s controversial revenue-sharing restructure in 2014, which essentially shared revenue back towards the three wealthiest members (India, England and Australia), international cricket competition has actually gone backwards on a global scale.

This year, the ICC was making serious noises about reversing that outrageous financial model skewed in favour of “The Big 3”. Those moves have been placed in jeopardy following the sudden resignation of ICC Chairman Shashank Manohar, who had been a fearless champion of ICC reform. Whatever the circumstances of Manohar’s departure – and the chronological order of events in the preceding days does raise some eyebrows – all will not be lost provided the ICC can find a strong independent chair to take Manohar’s place.

Outcry that the ICC is about to strip India dry of much-needed money is both wrong and laughable. What ever the revenue sharing model finally settled by the ICC, there is no doubt that India is entitled to the largest proportionate return, on the basis of its participant population (players and support volunteers of various nature) and on the size of its economic input to the sport.

The question, and perhaps haggling point, is how much that return should be. However, there can be no doubt that India will, and must, be a nett exporter of revenue to the ICC if the sport of cricket is to be a mature leader on the world stage. As a developing global sport it still has a long way to go.

The BCCI’s committee of administrators, now as much as ever, has a fiduciary duty to its board and its members to negotiate the fairest deal for itself with the ICC. But it also has the responsibility to accept its place in the world and get on with improving the productiveness of its own, often dysfunctional, organisation. Indian cricket won’t go broke unless its own administrators are so incompetent as to let that happen.