Australia news May 14, 2017

Give internationals context before public gets 'fed up' - Watson

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Fans love franchise T20s because they have context - Watson

The international cricket calendar, particularly one-day cricket, is under serious threat, according to former Australia allrounder Shane Watson. A player who has plenty of first-hand experience of T20 league cricket, Watson said the leagues were doing a better job of providing what the fans want: context.

"The reason why the public loves franchise tournaments is because there's a build-up and there's an outcome - there's semi-finals and a final. Whereas a lot of the time with international bilateral series - of course you're playing for your country and you want to beat the opposition - but if it's a five-match series and you win 3-0, then no one sort of watches the last two games. For the players the series is over. There's no reason to play those two games. Whereas in knockout tournaments, like the Champions Trophy or a T20 World Cup or a World Cup, if you lose you're out, you don't play another couple of games for the sake of playing the amount of games that has to be there in the tournament."

It might perhaps be impossible to ensure every game played contains a hook for the player and the fan, but Watson was unequivocal in his belief that the primacy of international cricket will come under threat if things stay as they are.

"Obviously there's a lot of politics around the future tours programme (FTP) and how they can't change the next four years in advance, which seems pretty crazy, they're going to have to," he said. "Just by sheer numbers of the people coming along to the Big Bash, for example - it's the perfect example - it shows there's a huge shift in what people want to watch and that's games with context. Tournaments with context. Not just a series that has to be played, like the T20 series that Sri Lanka played at the back end of the Australian summer when everyone thought the cricket season was over. These token games have to stop shortly because the general public is going to be fed up."

They might not be the only ones alienated either. Watson was worried about the impact participating in meaningless series can have on the current generation of cricketers.

"There's been a lot of conversations around providing more context for Test matches... The players want games with context and the fans want games with context and I don't understand why the ICC is taking so long to put these things in place."
Shane Watson

"Of course, there is the pride and privilege of playing for your country, but when it's all year round and a lot of gaps [in the calendar] are being filled for boards to be able to continue to make money - which has now come to the players which is great but in the end how much money is enough for a player to earn when they're getting burnt out, when they don't have a life outside of just playing and travelling around the world in different hotels, especially with families. For cricketers who've got young families, it's very challenging."

So, is the fact that the ICC is working towards establishing a Test championship and a one-day league some kind of consolation to Watson? Things are not moving quickly enough to make a difference, he said.

"These conversations have been talked about for the last five years, at least, that I can remember. There's been a lot of conversations around providing more context for Test matches, having relegation, having points for your wins, and having a Test championship at the end after two years or something like that. But there's only been talk. There has been nothing put in place and in the end the players want games with context and most importantly the fans want games with context and I don't understand why the ICC is taking so long to be able to put these things in place."

A big part of the problem is the ICC cannot unilaterally make decisions. A plan as sizable as changing the way the game is played around the world has to be put forward at Board meetings and then passed by a majority vote. As things stand, the member countries have disagreed to the two-tier Test championship and are instead discussing a model by which the top-two ranked teams play for the honours. A 13-team ODI league is also up for ratification in the next round of meetings in June.

The ICC is therefore aware of the need for change, but Watson reiterated it. "If they don't be proactive with it, before you know it, for the big Test series, there's going to be no one coming along to Test cricket. Unless its a knockout tournament, there's going to be hardly anyone coming along to one-day cricket and potentially Twenty20 cricket, international Twenty20 cricket outside of a World Cup. They'll all be going to franchise tournaments that have got more context.

"In Australia, for example, the best players aren't playing because they're playing international cricket at that moment when the Big Bash is on, but there's still 45,000 people coming around to the Adelaide Oval. Every ground is just about sold out, so people love what it's providing."

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • cornel0635077 on May 18, 2017, 2:44 GMT

    Some people love T20 because they are impatient

  • Danish on May 16, 2017, 12:28 GMT

    Oh please.. franchise cricket is fine, but only for the country it belongs to. If we were to watch all the leagues that take place, we would get bored seeing the same international players/stars playing again and again, only among different sets of local players, whom nobody cares about.

    The problem is that so many players from the national team go to play franchise cricket, that the boards either don't schedule a series, or they make a B or C team. I am a cricket lover and I'll watch any international game (no matter which team is playing) rather than franchise cricket.

  • Danish on May 16, 2017, 12:19 GMT

    Umm.. no. I don't feel fed up at all. There is a context in every international tour and that is to win the series.

  • Michael on May 16, 2017, 5:29 GMT

    @spintl: The solution, then, would be to encourage more exciting cricket by requiring sporting pitches (ones that are not flat batting tracks like some in Australia and elsewhere, nor impossible-to-bat-on as we have seen a few of recently) and scheduling matches outside of rain-likely periods (which tend to be earlier and later in the summer, where matches are pushed to accommodate other leagues in prime-time). Meanwhile, it's not only Tests that can be boring - I found myself quite disinterested in the BBL last season. Everything was amazing, look at this, look at that, and no time to appreciate or absorb a performance before it's on to the next thing. It's like everyone has ADHD now. Lack of time? I couldn't bear to watch more than an over or so - but I could watch the Test series for hours.

  • Michael on May 16, 2017, 4:31 GMT

    I disagree, at least when it comes to Tests. With the Australian summer, there are usually two visiting teams and hence two series each summer, and then those teams don't visit again for another 3,4 or 5 years. The Australian team then goes and plays return series through the rest of the year. Where it does begin to lose context, though, is with 2-match Test series, short ODI/Twenty20 series' that are unconnected to a Test tour, or the Twenty20 series against Sri Lanka that Australia played in February while their Test players were in a different country. Series that are shoe-horned in, or 7 match series', are difficult to support. Unfortunately, cricket boards schedule them because they generate revenue - but with domestic Twenty20 leagues now, the public only has so much money to spend and the market is saturated, so those context-less international matches aren't likely to get the same crowds they used to.

  • Andysi2416478 on May 15, 2017, 23:41 GMT

    You cannot play games month in month out and have context. Watson is correct about that. The only cure is to have once in a four year tournament and that will have context.

  • Jayaesh on May 15, 2017, 21:05 GMT

    I agree with Watson as most of the international cricket today lacks context except for marquee tournaments like WC for 50/20 overs, CT, Ashes, High profile Test/ODI series involving India and to a lesser extent Test Cricket played by Eng n Aus . I am 40 years old now and in my youth being a typical Indian Cricket fan i could never connect to concept of clubs followed by other Sports like Football , i was like Nation v/s Nation is the real thing and clubs were artificial but when my young nephew introduced me to EPL and La Liga and gradually i became a convert . Clubs/franchises provide employment and exposure to lot many Cricketers while National teams are restricted to 15 or 16 . We all agree that playing for your Country is the highest honor and the pinnacle but if your National team keeps playing every other day throughout the year then it ceases to be the ultimate, it just becomes a Daily Soap instead of being that much awaited blockbuster movie .

  • SHREYA12 on May 15, 2017, 17:28 GMT

    To me the greatest context to cricket matches is India vs England, India vs Australia, and England vs Australia in test cricket. Of course the world cup that comes every four years trumps these in some respects as it involves all nations, but in classic cricket there is no better context for me. To me League cricket does not give much context or meaning, the players are not from the region and neither do they stick with their leagues constantly, which takes any kind of connection that is collective or group based. The only context league games provide are fans of particular players. I am perfectly fine with the current context in international matches for test and ODI formats, thank you. @Cpt.Meanster, I agree with you that IPL and BBL are important to cricket and future generations will flock to them even more. IPL, BBL, etc has done a lot for the players, the development of the game is some aspects, and making cricket popular, and extending it to more fans.

  • Jay on May 15, 2017, 16:17 GMT

    And for those of you who keep criticizing leagues like the IPL and BBL, please relax cause they are the future. Cricket will be stronger with these leagues in place and they are here to stay whether you like it or not. Many players have already expressed their enthusiasm and interest to keep playing in them. It helps beef up their financial security, and most importantly, allows them to interact with and play in front of capacity crowds who love and appreciate their efforts. On the other hand, bilateral games lack meaning outside a world cup. If the ICC wants, they can schedule international 'friendlies' like soccer once in a while. But club cricket like T20 leagues are the future and a major portion of fans love them.

  • Jeff on May 15, 2017, 15:55 GMT

    lol at the 2 sets of windows idea. Do you realise cricket is a SUMMER sport? Each country only gets thier spring/summer, half of the year, to play ALL its cricket in. Oh yea, and the Ind/Pak/Ban/SL/SA/Zim/Aus/NZ summer windows mostly overlap. So these 8 teams have 1.5 months to play all thier home Tests/ODIs in, 1.5 months to do all thier road trips to each other, then 3 months for the T20 window. Then they will all want to go to England/WI for *thier* summer - meaning for 6 months of the year EVERYONE will be wanting to play England (or WI, but they are just about gone as a competitive team), but again they have a 3 month T20 window (which makes up your total 6 month T20 window), plus England will want to schedule road trips themselves, meaning apart from the one team that manage to schedule a tour (in 1.5 months you cant schedule two tours), and WI, 8 teams will have NO cricket AT ALL for half the year - not Tests, not T20s, nothing.

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