Reaction to Flintoff's contract refusal September 16, 2009

End 'meaningless' tours - Graeme Smith

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South Africa's captain, Graeme Smith, believes that Andrew Flintoff's decision to turn down his ECB central contract in favour of a "freelance" career has set a precedent that the ICC cannot afford to ignore.

Speaking to Cricinfo on the eve of the Champions Trophy, the second-biggest event in the ODI calendar, Smith said that the international game was going to have to adapt to its changing environment and cut down on the current glut of "meaningless" contests, if more of the world's leading players are to be prevented from following Flintoff's example.

As tournament hosts and the No. 1 ODI nation in the world, South Africa start next week's Champions Trophy as favourites, and with a proper challenge to whet the appetite after a rare three-month break, Smith reiterated that international cricket remained his absolute and over-riding priority. But, he added, unless the ICC tackles the thorny issue of the Future Tours Programme head-on, the riches on offer in the IPL and beyond will prove an even more tempting alternative to many cricketers who, by the very nature of their careers, have a finite period of time in which to make the most of their talents.

"I don't think you can blame the individual, but it's an interesting time for cricket, and interesting to see where it goes now," Smith told Cricinfo. "The crucial aspect is the decisions the leadership makes in the future. The ICC needs to give cricket a good direction, and crucial to that is how they look at the Future Tours Programme, because the decisions they make around that are going to be so important for the future of the game.

"For me international cricket is still the pinnacle," he said. "But you can't hide the fact that huge financial rewards and benefits for players have come into the game in the last few years, and it's obviously such a short career, so you want to make as much money in that time as possible. But I think playing for your country is the best, and the most important thing for us is to carry on being as successful as possible and try not to be distracted by other things that are taking place."

The FTP is a six-year calendar during which all nations are required to play each of the others, home and away, in at least two Tests and three ODIs. However, it expires in 2012 and a replacement has yet to be agreed upon, with some nations favouring the implementation of a World Test Championship to replace the often haphazard bilateral arrangements that are currently in place. But whatever solution is reached, Smith believes that a greater importance has to be attached to future international matches, and cited the current seven-match ODI series between England and Australia as a classic example of poor scheduling.

"With the greatest respect, the seven ODIs taking place in England at the moment are more for financial benefit than meaningful cricket," he said. "People want to see strength for strength, they want to see international sides trying their best in competitive tours. I mean, the Ashes was great to watch, it was competitive down to the last Test match, and speaking for myself as a cricketer, that's how you want to see all cricket being played.

"But all these meaningless tours just sap your body, especially when you are playing away from home for a long time," he added. "I think the ICC needs to really look at the format going forward, and really take control of the international game."

In the absence of such leadership from above, Smith was sympathetic with Flintoff's reasons for taking his career into his own hands. "I don't think you can blame Fred for the decision that he's made," said Smith. "He's had a very successful career, and at this stage of his career, he wants to maximise his worth and really take control of things. He's had a number of injuries, and for his own good, he needs to take control of the few years he has left in him."

Smith's immediate priority, as South Africa's captain, is to lead his country to glory on home soil in the Champions Trophy, and he is determined to put all other thoughts about the future of the game out of his mind.

"It's a terrific time to be a sportsman in South Africa, and to be a role model," said Smith. "When you think about our readmission after the apartheid years, we've got a young country in many ways, and our sport is going from strength to strength at the moment. The opportunity is there to grow, and the better that South African teams can be, the more the youngsters will want to be the heroes of the future. The Champions Trophy is another opportunity for that."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Freeflow on September 21, 2009, 7:41 GMT

    Being a sportsman doesn't only challenge you in the field of play. Look there's two sides to this coin. What are meaningless tours? Are we referring to lower ranked test playing teams? If so, then does it mean only top 8 teams will play among each other?South Africa, Australia, England, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and New Zealand? what about West Indies? So countries like Bangladesh will only play Zimbabwe and Kenya or Ireland, Canada, Bermuda etc.. Well I'd say continue with 10 test playing nations with the last two spots always up for grabs. Look Bangladesh have quality players although maybe as a unit not challenging enough. That's the only way other countries can improve by playing the best in the world. Smith has a double hundred vs Bangladesh. Is that going to be striken off the records?Why don't high ranked teams rest their top players when they play lower teams, just as to provide a rest for the players and to provide a larger pool of international players.

  • Garson007 on September 20, 2009, 0:40 GMT

    What about turning dead rubber ODIs into 20/20 games (kind of like how the Davis cup turns dead rubbers from 5 sets into a best of three affair), instead of totally scrapping them, and scrap scheduled 20/20 matches.

  • SatishT2105 on September 18, 2009, 16:42 GMT

    One of the suggestions up there about the Champions Trophy being restricted only to 5 teams was brilliant. Maybe, there is scope to include 1 more team thus making it a 6 team event, with 2 groups enabling elimination and sorting teams for the semifinal. Also, for the World Test Championship to take over the Future Tour Program, there is a need for uniformity in the number of games played. Each team should play the other in 3 Test matches & 5 ODIs as well on a home and away basis. The Champions trophy and World T20 need to be strictly played in alternate years as biennial events thereby not taking the sheen away from the World Cup.

  • andyrao1971 on September 18, 2009, 14:14 GMT

    Cricket has to take a leaf out of soccer in terms of a meaningful co-existence between club (IPL-style) and international cricket. Let's face it - The IPL is here to stay. The ICC would do well to smell the coffee and strike a balance and allow a clear 3-4 month window every year for club cricket.

    My proposed solution is as follows: 1) Limit test cricket to 8 nations (no B'desh). Each nation plays a 3-test series against the other 7 once in 2 years so that over a 4-year cycle, each nation would have played all the others home and away. That should form the basis of the World Test Championship. 2) Each international series should consist of 3 Tests and 5 T20 games (scrap ODIs). Each series should be 6 weeks in duration. 3) Each Test nation plays 2 home and 2 away series every year - this should consume 24 weeks 4) Create a 16-week window for club cricket. This would still leave 12 weeks time for international cricketers to rest and recuperate.

    4)

  • celeberate on September 18, 2009, 7:59 GMT

    Graeme Smith is definitely one of the leading ambassadors of the game and what he says need to be thought seriously. One of the best ways to revive 5-day and 1-day formats of cricket is to provide result oriented pitches throughout the world. Get rid of the benign pitches where bowlers are always on the receiving end. another concern is the role of toss in deciding matches; which is directly influenced by the nature of the pitch (apart from the climatic conditions of course). probably cricket is the only game where 22 people occupy the playfield for 5 days, watched by 22,000 spectators and at the end of the game no one wins. isnt that a bit strange and boring? the 50 over format could be experimented with ideas like 4 innings (as SRT suggested) or reduced to 40 overs to revive more commercial interest in the game. That would bring back the attention to Test and One day cricket!

  • Chiragsenyork on September 17, 2009, 19:38 GMT

    He is true in some ways actually.Adaptation is the key for survival of anything and ICC has to adapt with current scenario of Cricket and allow cricketers to earn money from other sources as well ,after all they work so hard for the national pride so their interests should also be taken care of.Also, limited cricket preserves it freshness and keep spectators interested , meaningless cricket should be minimized ...even Aus or Ind playing cricket in Bangladesh is merely waste of time.

  • howizzat on September 17, 2009, 19:37 GMT

    I agree with Smith. Reduce work load and imbalace by, 1.Scrap meaningless triseries and quadrangulars. 2.Limit ODI bilateral series to a maximum of 4 ODIs.3.Stipulate at least one full home and one away series of 3 TESTS and 4 ODIs for each nation against each other in FTP. 4.PLAY c'trophy immiadiately after within 90 days of WC and restrict to top 5 nations on a round robin point system.

  • AC.Radix on September 17, 2009, 15:44 GMT

    Smith talks about many ODIs (principally the current seven between Eng and Aus) being only there for money .... "With the greatest respect, the seven ODIs taking place in England at the moment are more for financial benefit than meaningful cricket" then he says this .... "it's obviously such a short career, so you want to make as much money in that time as possible" What is he on? Flintoff will now only be playing "meaningless" cricket... I mean IPL...does anyone care (apart from those with ties to the Indian cities) who wins ... do people even know who Pietersen, Flintoff or Ponting play for in that competition.

  • cricketchand on September 17, 2009, 13:24 GMT

    surely what he is saying is correct. the persons who are controling are just interested in money.india has toured srilanka 3 times in just 12 month.this shows the greed of the administrators.ftp needs a complete revamp or else more players would follw flintoff

  • swartshaun on September 17, 2009, 12:02 GMT

    Come on popcorn, the issue is not about Graeme Smith being scared, he is just expressing his concerns about world cricket (the adminastrators mostly) . I don't know where you get your assumptions from but anyways.... I really think and agree with a lot of you that the only way forward is a strength vs strength system. To see the likes of a Dale Steyn and Sachin battling it out or Ponting vs Mendis on a regular basis would be great.

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