Decade Review 2009

What can we expect from the 2010s?

City-based franchises or a world Test championship? Best- and worst-case scenarios for the new decade

Rob Steen

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IPL commissioner Lalit Modi watches the game, England v India, ICC World Twenty20 Super Eights, Lord's, June 14, 2009
Thanks to the IPL, it is easy to envisage a future of city-based franchises ruling the economic roost © Getty Images
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So that was the Naughty Noughties, eh? A decade that will look wonderful in Wisden (has any 10-year period in the game's history donated so many delicious records and luscious landmarks?) and repugnant in newsprint (has any 10-year period supplied us with so many villains and so many moments worthy of instant deletion from our hard drives?).

But what of the Tens? What can we expect of them? Much as one deplores the modern tendency to deal exclusively in extremes - history, after all, is more about the steady, cumulative impact of greys and beiges than a noisy procession of blacks and whites - let's consider the best- and worst-case scenarios, the better to find a reasonably happy medium.

Through A Glass Darkly
"With the match-fixing scandal temporarily swept under various carpets, the English crisis is now the greatest crisis in world cricket." So lamented Matthew Engel in the 2000 Wisden, the deadline for his Editor's Notes having been brought forward by the need to produce an edition celebrating the recently departed 20th century, and hence too early to mention Hansie Cronje's fondness for leather jackets. Oh that such a tiny quandary as the unfitness of the England team should be our gravest concern now. Cricket has never been more profitable, nor followed so widely, nor so lacking in unity and direction.

The most grievous fear is that the Gordon Gekkos running the game will continue to believe that fixture congestion is good, that quantity is more important than quality, that greed is good. Among those of a certain age, paranoia reigns: will our beloved anachronism, the five-day Test, be sacrificed on the altar of artifice and wafer-thin concentration spans?

The coming decade promises to ask two searching questions above all. Come 2020, it is fiendishly hard not to wonder: will Twenty20 be the only game in town? And if so, will the domestic game gain precedence over the international model? Thanks to the IPL, and Lalit Modi's recent hubristic pronouncements about expansion and the availability of contracted players for national service, it is becoming all-too easy to envisage city-based franchises ruling the economic roost.

In itself, this may not necessarily be an entirely bad thing. Nationalism, after all, is scarcely an untarnished creed. But will the profits hatched by our latest golden goose be deployed to ensure that the representative game, so long the inspiration for the highest standards and the most straightforward means of identification and source of support, remains viable?

We cannot look to the players to take the lead, nor should we. Not since the 19th century have they enjoyed such bargaining power. The security of board contracts is gradually being traded in for the instant gratification of the quick buck. Given the choice between flying the flag and making the most productive use of their limited shelf life, who can honestly blame them for following the scent of the almighty pound/dollar/rupee? The Modis and Stanfords, therefore, will continue to tempt and seduce. And so long as the Full Members of the ICC persist in pulling in different, self-serving directions, and refuse to see the players' unions as partners to be valued and respected, the prospects for harmony and common purpose, even a vestige of selflessness, are dim to non-existent.

In this context, moreover, to imagine that match-fixing will not disfigure the game anew would be the height of naïveté.

Through A Glass Brightly
Lord's, September 2014, and the summer-long celebrations for the 200th anniversary of the first match ever played at the St John's Wood pleasuredome are reaching a fitting, palpitating crescendo.

Every member of the rapt packed house hovers on the edge of their floodlit seat as Mohammed Aamer surges in to serve up the first offering of the final over, to Adrian Barath, the white ball he is gripping almost luminous. The West Indies require seven runs with one wicket standing. A London lass, 10 years old if she's a day, leaps to her feet in the pavilion and screeches her support: "I love you, Ay-dreee-aaaan!" All around her, black, brown and white faces beam in unison.

Barath defends the first ball, tucks the second off his pads for two, then plays and misses at an outswinger as keeper and slip cordon howl. Aamer shrugs and stalks impassively back to his mark. Barath nods and smiles, acknowledging his luck and the bowler's skill.

The next delivery, pitched on middle-and-off and moving away, sees the opener adjust late and guide an educated cut beyond gully: he and Kemar Roach sprint one and seem destined to complete a second, only for Danish Kaneria's return to detonate middle stump at the striker's end. An 11-man chorus rends the twilight air. Aleem Dar consults his replay assistant and the verdict comes down: the toe of Barath's bat has broken the line just as the bails vacate their groove. The crowd roars. Two balls to go, three runs to get.

The penultimate delivery is an inswinger that clobbers Barath's front toes. Another raucous appeal. Dar lifts his right forefinger a shade too quickly. The Pakistanis celebrate as Barath shakes his head vigorously, utterly convinced the ball had pitched outside leg. A year earlier he would have been entitled to refer the decision, but those shameful scenes in Perth the previous November, when Phil Hughes expressed his fury at a rejected challenge by jabbing Dar with his Mongoose bat, had prompted a refinement. The buzzing in the umpire's ear indicates the need to consult the replay assistant. The ball, he is speedily informed, had indeed pitched outside, albeit by the slenderest of margins. Barath is reprieved. Another 30,000-strong chorus of approval, not so much because the assembled masses favour West Indies but because they want to see the drama prolonged.

Aamer trudges back to his mark, dismayed but stoical. After everything he and his team-mates had endured in reaching this point - the kidnapping of Umar Akmal in 2010, the ball-tampering allegations in Mumbai in 2013, the defection of Mohammed Yousuf to India later that year - coitus interruptus of this ilk is a minor distraction.

In spurts Aamer once more. At a loss as to what to expect, so varied is Aamer's arsenal, Barath is tentative. Play safe and ensure survival, and hence the most honourable of draws, or chance his arm in search of glory? Yes, immortality has its appeal, but to lose now might undo all the efforts of those who had sought to bury the memory of all those barren, disputatious years. He decides not to decide.

Aamer's head is buzzing with much the same conundrum. After all Pakistan's trials, defeat could be catastrophic, yet victory would do so much to boost the spirits of his 500 million beleaguered countrymen. He contemplates pinging down a bouncer that would soar over Barath, but that would risk a wide. He settles on a yorker.

Barath detects the trajectory early, considers moving forward to turn it into a full-toss but then suppresses his instincts and stays back, jamming down as the ball swings late, squeezing it into the covers. He and Aamer meet in mid-pitch and hug. Thirty thousand voices bellow their appreciation. The first World Test Champions are a double act.

At the closing ceremony, Sir Vivian Richards, voice creaking with emotion, takes the microphone. "When I was asked to become West Indies coach three years ago, I thought long and hard before accepting," he begins, face creased by a toothy grin that, unchecked by his cheeks, would surely have crossed the Thames. "I asked myself: Vivi, do you really want to throw yourself back into a game so obsessed with money and so negligent of the future?

 
 
So long as the Full Members of the ICC persist in pulling in different, self-serving directions, and refuse to see the players' unions as partners to be valued and respected, the prospects for harmony and common purpose, even a vestige of selflessness, are dim to non-existent
 

"What made up my mind was the sight of this boy, Barath, playing a majestic cover-drive in an inter-island match, a shot I'd have been proud to call my own, a shot he could not possibly have mastered had Twenty20 been his sole means of education and expression. I wanted to help, to do my bit to ensure the game I love had a future beyond fast bucks and fast food.

"Now I'm the proudest man on the planet. Proud of my team, yes, but proud of Pakistan too, and proud of the game I love. We have found a way to prosper and preserve. The advent of the World Twenty20 League two years ago, after Lalit Modi was discredited for impersonating a member of the ECB, was the key: that spread the power and the profits.

"Bangladesh now have as many world-class players as Australia. The national boards have finally recognised that they all need to be rowing in the same direction. The players are regarded as stakeholders, the fixture list is sensible now we've eliminated one-day internationals, and a sense of anticipation has returned. When was the last time you heard anyone mention the word 'burnout'?

"And now this, the World Test Championship, which has proved that the game's highest form of expression can excite young people. Better late than never, eh?"

Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton

© ESPN EMEA Ltd.

Comments: 16 
Posted by Rahulbose on (January 12, 2010, 21:04 GMT)

I liked your article, but take issue with the negative portrayal of Lalit Modi. What is it with all the non sub-continent journos that they keep writing about Modi as if he was lord Voldemort incarnate? He is the most industrious and innovative administrator cricket has seen since Packer. He has created the most prosperous and popular cricket league ever. IPL has given access to international class benefits for all players regardless of their country of origin.

And yet despite all this, all you see in articles is how he must be corrupt, how his inevitable downfall must be celebrated someday.

Posted by typos on (January 12, 2010, 6:13 GMT)

Nice musings on the future. One more likely scenario would be Bharath smacking the ball down the ground looking for the win...that is what we Windians do...we don't play it safe. Remember Lara punching Gillespie through in B'dos in '99 to win the match with last man Walsh?

That is why we lose...we go for the win and that is why we are a compelling team even though we have been losing.

Posted by CrazySilva on (January 12, 2010, 2:21 GMT)

He is just a literature writer...not a cricket fan...nice review.....romantic on cricket....but useless...nothins realistic...lol

Posted by edward_smythe on (January 11, 2010, 23:50 GMT)

Windies v. Pakistan at the Lord's, in the year 2020? Well, by that time, it's a safe bet that anyone left in England will be from one or the other of these two geographical locales, so that's quite fitting :) But who's the "home" team?

Posted by Sportsscientist on (January 11, 2010, 20:34 GMT)

good article.....food for thought at least....well I have always wondered, why do we have to choose between twenty20 and tests? why can't the administrators get their acts together. why can't we have a 4 yr cricket cycle, with a 50 over ODI WC, bi 2-4yr a World test championship comp, and bi annual T20 tournaments? everything can fit, if it is negotiated. administrators & boards must allow playrs to earn a living like other sports. Also T20's must be controlled as not to overshadow all cricket and risk player burn out. tests won't generate the income of T20's, but the quality of play will always come from tests. I think the problem is that there seems to be "one or the other" concept, with T20n "killing" tests, WHY MUST THIS BE? it is concievable from my point of view that they can all live together. The ICC must not be weak - they need to organise a PROPER WOLD CRICKET CALENDER on a 4 year cycle...to include ALL 3 FORMS OF THE GAME.

Posted by Fantabulous_Sohaib on (January 11, 2010, 20:00 GMT)

Man you really painted a very nice,warm and fairytale optimistic version of the future even 50% of it actually comes true, like the test championship final West Indies vs Pakistan ! It will be fantastic !

Posted by tfjones1978 on (January 11, 2010, 19:18 GMT)

I believe by 2020 there will have been 2 Test World Cups, being 2013-2016 and 2017-2020. The Test World Cups will be something like: * Y1 Group Stage - 4 groups of 5 (1 home & 1 away X 4). * Y2-3 Super Eights - Top 8 (2 home & 2 away X 6). * Y4 Semis - 3 tests (#1 vs #4 in #1 & #2 vs #3 in #2). * Y4 Finals - 5 tests (w vs w in higher pts). * Associate & Affiliates qualify over 4 years for next Test World Cup. Domestic Cricket will become regional with "Second Class" Cricket for countries (International, Regional, Country, State, City, Club), which allows Champions Trophy to represent best 2 from each region. Movers on the latter: * Eng will move into top 3 with India moving down. * Top Associates will move up to compete with WI, Bang & Zimb. * China gains Associate status. * USA regains top 15 ranking and plays test cricket. Also, WI will be represented in tests by 1 team and in ODI & T20I as individual countries against Associate countries.

Posted by mittheimp on (January 11, 2010, 18:07 GMT)

The most unbelievable part was the speech by Sir Viv which didn't start of with the words "it has always been my opinion" and then never referred to "these particular individuals"!

Posted by Ajay42 on (January 11, 2010, 15:20 GMT)

How I wish this would come true- the second part, I mean! As we watch the Tests in SA and Australia, we know that there can never be a substitute for the 5 day game. @ Paranabashish...everyone is obsessed with making Mr Modi fall becuiase he does not love or respect the game,pal.He just uses it.

Posted by ShazabI on (January 11, 2010, 13:20 GMT)

inshallah; this decade will be a better time for Pakistan than the time of Imran Khan.

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Rob SteenClose
Rob Steen Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton, whose books include biographies of Desmond Haynes and David Gower (Cricket Society Literary Award winner) and 500-1 - The Miracle of Headingley '81. His investigation for the Wisden Cricketer, "Whatever Happened to the Black Cricketer?", won the UK section of the 2005 EU Journalism Award "For diversity, against discrimination". His latest book, Floodlights and Touchlines: A History of Spectator Sport, will be published in the summer of 2014
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