What does the future hold for cricket?
Predicting the future is difficult. Very difficult. Notoriously difficult, even with tea leaves, astrology charts, animal entrails and algorithms. In cricket, the clairvoyants use many forms of futurology: divination by wagon wheel, by pitch map, by Manhattan. And it's still nigh-on impossible (which is why assorted "game-outcome operatives" try and make things more predictable by bribing and/or blackmailing participants). But not totally so. So, if you want to place a few heavy, cast-iron bets on the cricket, or simply cannot be bothered waiting for events to unfold, then here's where the sport is heading.
The year-on-year growth of the IPL, the massive heft of both India and the BCCICC (Board of Control for Cricket in the Indian-Controlled Countries, formed from the merger of the BCCI and ICC) behind this format, and the search for even more TV-friendly forms, sees the continued proliferation and then miniaturisation of T20 cricket.
1-on-1 cricket is developed to fill the early-evening light-entertainment slot. It consists of a single super-over per side (re-named "over", then re-re-named "super-duper-over") with ad breaks between each ball and, for consenting bowlers, ad breaks within the delivery stride. R Ashwin and R Croft make a commercial killing. Tied games are decided with a super ball.
This format leads to cricket finally taking off in the USA, albeit with 31 states promptly introducing the death penalty for front foot no-balling (finally proving that capital punishment can work as a deterrent, albeit one that dissuades people from actually taking up cricket).
With all the new leagues about, top players are forced to learn how to parachute so that they can be dropped into a stadium from light aircraft to wham-bam-thank-you-mam their highly remunerated contribution, before later being picked up to go to the next city, the next game, the next paycheque.
It's not all cash cows and gravy trains, however. The spot-fixing blight grows to epidemic proportions with the appearance of meta-fixing: betting on betting.
Meanwhile, to prevent corruption by the officials, there's the introduction of a "referee referee" to referee the man who referees the TV umpire.
England react to this 21st-century miniaturisation ("trivialisation") of the game with a bit of old-fashioned 19th-century macro, reintroducing timeless Tests. And with unemployment hitting 47% in England by 2020 (a year the English try, unsuccessfully, to have renamed), there's no problem filling the grounds to ensure the spectacle looks good for the TV viewer (although the ECB's broadcasting rights deal plummets to £25.99 per Test match).
At domestic level they launch something called the English Defence League (there is some teething trouble with the branding), essentially a blockathon in which batsmen are rewarded for how closely they can kill the ball bowled to them in a playing area of concentric, graded circles. Games go on in perpetuity. Dulux and ICI enter a bidding war for sponsorship rights.
While Indian cricket gets sexy and cosmopolitan, and England hunkers down ever more into some Avalon of lost nationhood, T20 expansion leads to several new Test countries:
Holland (Full Members of the BCCICC in 2016): unfortunately, rising sea-levels mean problems for their new stadium, and they will have to relocate to the east of the country and a stadium built on stilts.
UAE (2018): the Emiratis play in a giant transparent perspex ball suspended between two high-powered jets.
USA (2021): takes to the game with alacrity [see above] albeit with a few modifications: local rules permit 100% flex at delivery, there are no stumps, they ask batters to run round a diamond, etc.
North Korea (2022): with the Korean League's batsmen having exclusively played with bats that other nations use for practising skied catches, thereby demonstrating (on a giant screen in Pyongyang each Sunday morning) their superior strength, the players come rather unstuck when they enter the international arena, not only because of standardised equipment but also because Kim Jong-Un only gets one life per innings.
Russia (2025): with local rules insisting the batsman has to spin a barrel and, to the first ball they face, play whatever shot is on the slip of paper in there ("reverse sweep Dale Steyn"), the fatalistic Russians fail to adapt to the more sedate rhythms of five-day cricket.
Nigeria (2026) develops the game after its endlessly resourceful gangster class become enticed by match-fixing possibilities. The simple of act of scoring becomes a bit fraught, leading the BCCICC to implement neutral scorers.
Scott Oliver tweets here