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October 6, 2009

Champions Trophy

A spectator sport without spectators

Kamran Abbasi
Empty stands at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium at North Sound, Australia v Bangladesh, Super Eights, Antigua, March 31, 2007
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Ricky Ponting and Daniel Vettori both declared this year's Champions Trophy a success. A shorter, sharper format meant that most matches were important. The cricket has been gripping enough, though unspectacular. The underdogs met the favourites in the final, and India met Pakistan in a game that was beamed around the world. Enough ingredients, you might argue, to please the ICC? Indeed, the ICC will profess itself to be delighted with the competition. Statistics and soundbites will be used to support their case.

But the ICC should be alarmed by this tournament. What is a spectator sport without spectators? The shoddy turnouts in South Africa are only partly mitigated by the unexpectedly early exit of the hosts. South Africans, we are told, are sports crazy. Well, they weren't mad for the Champions Trophy. It is the second major 50-over tournament to be poorly supported in quick succession.

Cricket's administrators must act. The sport is bankrolled by lucrative television deals. But half the thrill of watching a match on television is that you share the excitement of a live stadium event. A full stadium makes a dull match a thriller. A mostly empty stadium makes a thrilling match dull. Inevitably, cricket will lose the battle for television and internet eyeballs if the spectacle on our screens carries the thrill of a funeral procession. Once that happens, bang goes the business model.

International cricket that is dependent on full houses in only three countries--Australia, England, and India--is unsustainable in the long term. Short-term revenue opportunities with a pandemic of Twenty20 tournaments and gross overexposure of the big teams to each other is taking the fascination and sense of occasion out of cricket. If Liverpool played Manchester United in seven consecutive matches it would become less meaningful even for the most hardened fan. Why is cricket any different?

We all understand the complexities of the Future Tours Programme, and sympathise with those charged with organising it. But the current international schedule is taking the fascination and meaning out of contests, and something needs to be done. I'd argue for more central regulation of the cricket calendar, fewer ad-hoc events and tournaments, and better integration between the formats. More Twenty20, for example, has to mean less of something else. Currently, every new initiative is additive. Less is more. Each match has to matter.

These challenges cannot be insoluble but the ICC has never been convincing in its ability to master them. Many of the representatives on the ICC board are highly accomplished but the political nature of the organisation makes resolution difficult. That political posturing needs to be put aside urgently. International cricket is on the slippery slope to irrelevance. For the past decade, revenue has mattered more than the rude health of the game. Priorities must change.

This Champions Trophy is another serious warning to cricket's adminstrators and power brokers. Adapt or die is the message in 2009, the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. But are those in control of the evolution of cricket sufficiently selfless and far sighted to win this survival of the fittest?

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here

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Posted by Irfan on (October 13, 2009, 14:39 GMT)

The best comments on this thread so far are Pranab Sarkar's. Jamshed Dasti is a political rat, whose name wasn't even known to the guy sitting next to him in the assembly. Now all of a sudden he's splashed all over the front covers. Ramiz said the right thing which is "Politician Lay Off this Game" as screwed up as these politicians are they have absolutely no idea what is going on. This is the first time in years when I sensed an urgency in every player about every game. The right camaraderie was there the right experimentation which could be subject to debate owing the failures or success was evident. But not match fixing. Jamshed Dasti should be flogged in the media and not made a hero for god's sake. Look at what and who is getting damage and where is the fall out occurring.

Posted by Hassan Farooqi on (October 12, 2009, 17:06 GMT)

Let us focus on the point raised by Mr. Abbasi. I remember the thrill I felt over 30 years ago when I watched a match in the Stadium. It was a boring match on paper but the thrill of being part of a crowd was there.

So whenever I watch a match on TV, I feel the same sensation when I see a full stadium. So Mr. Abbasi, you are point on that "An empty stadium would bore a TV watcher!!!"

Posted by Wasim on (October 12, 2009, 14:28 GMT)

@Mohit

And whatdo you have to say about Indian media crucifying Steve Buckoner after India-Australia series.

Posted by Mohit on (October 11, 2009, 5:00 GMT)

Definition of error : Anything that goes against Pakistani interests. Note : Same error happeinig to other teams is just part and parcel of the game. source : Pakistans version of Oxford dictionary.

Posted by Sathish Reddy on (October 10, 2009, 9:30 GMT)

Its been so long and evry body has moved on and yet you guys are going on and on about the loss. You were bad and you lost - get on with life. Your stupid half baked MP's and Sports ministers for lack of work and need for the limelight make libelous statements on the team and you guys blame the Indian press for it. Its great to think that the Indian press can create so much of damage. You guys watch our channels more than your own I guess. Alam and anybody else is more than welcome not to play with us if you so desire because we are not queuing up to play with you in any case. And for your information 75 % income to the ICC is from India. Money is made whether India is involved or not. All country's are queuing up with Invitations to tour them and something tells me its because of the money. So if you guys want to cut off your nose to spite your face you are most welcome. Get on with life and stop sniggering or start watching the champions league. Its a lot of fun.

Posted by RF on (October 9, 2009, 14:47 GMT)

Sanjeev, the difference with Raina's out and Umar Akmal's out is this, Raina was OUT, the replay showed that the ball hit the pad first, then the bat. The decision was a correct one, only thing you can argue is maybe he could have gotten the 'Benefit of Doubt'. otherwise the decision was right on, and do not forget that Ghambir was plumb LBW and the umpire did not give him out. On Umar Akmal's case the ball hit the bat first then the pad, the rest is history. As far I am concerned Taufel is a fine umpire,made some mistakes. Technology should be used to correct these errors.

Posted by khalil on (October 8, 2009, 18:05 GMT)

Cricket is shrinking in the name of evolution.Any body who can hit a 6 or 4 can play/claim to be a cricketer.This was not the case sometime back.Cricket is struggling for its survival.The fascination & attraction once accompanied with the stay at the wicket by a batsman is gone.6 day games were reduced to 5 & may possibly be reduced to 4 days.The invention of 20/20,double wicket,super sixes cricket, to attract crowd may work for the time being but it is not cricket in true sense.Now someone has floated the idea of 25/25 overs a side match instead of 50 overs a side. At some stage they may reduce the number of balls per over. This will not help the game. Instead we will witness the production of cricketers,whom we may not call world class performers like Lara, Tendulkar, Gavasker, Miandad,Richards etc & many more.

Posted by MJA on (October 8, 2009, 12:41 GMT)

Sanjeev, why don't you stick to the topic at hand? :)

It is interesting how, after every few comments, we have an Indian coming in and bringing up conspiracy theories and Pakistani politics. Here's a newsflash for you. The story was first published by Indian media who, after a few hours, even published that Pak captain and coach have been sacked by the PCB. They changed their story after an hour or so. But some Indian news sites still have it up (google it). Even our coach is saying that Indian media had a horrible role to play in this whole controversy. So please, before teaching us the morals of politics (funny because Indian doesn't exactly boast of very moralistic polticians itself), why dont you go lecture your media about basic ethics? :)

Kamran, there needs to be some moderation in your comments section. Maybe unrelated comments can be erased to keep discussion to the point?

Thanks.

Posted by richardmiandad on (October 8, 2009, 10:30 GMT)

I think the Pakistani fans who are still moaning about a decision made by Simon Taufel need to get over it. Pakistan are not a top ODI outfit at present & hold no fears for any team- a half-baked NZ lineup missing Ryder & Oram easily beat them.

Posted by sanjeev on (October 8, 2009, 7:32 GMT)

amazing really right, dasti first had a suspicion and then retracts what he had told, then the governor blames india for bribing umpires well then anyone can say that pakistan bribed the umpire to give suresh raina out is it true no. such types of politicians should be banned completely, pakistan team played well but yes coming back to dismissals of umar akmal and suresh raina a single wrong decision can change the match, technology should be used if there is a doubt in both cases there was a clear cut evidence that the batter hit the ball with the bat and decision should have been reversed.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kamran Abbasi
Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He was the first Asian columnist for Wisden Cricket Monthly and wisden.com. Kamran is the editor of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. @KamranAbbasi

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