Why the ICC must act to prevent burnout
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The ICC has recently released the details of its six-year Future Tours Program.
The FTP is the outcome of the ICC's Review of the Structure of Cricket. This review was embarked upon by the ICC approximately 24 months ago largely in response to concerns over player workload.
At the time Malcolm Speed, the CEO of the ICC , remarked: "I believe that we have come very close to saturation point in terms of the volume of cricket, not only in a commercial sense, but also in respect of the demands it is placing on international cricketers."
So, how did the review fare?
Despite the easing out of the FTP requirements from a five-year cycle to a six-year cycle, and no matter what "smoke and mirror" spin-doctoring that the ICC employs, the raw and indisputable fact is that the new FTP contains more cricket in the six-year period than in any six-year period in the game's history.
So much for the saturation point!
A more detailed analysis of the FTP will demonstrate even further concern for player workloads. The lengths of tours scheduled in the FTP make it difficult - and in some circumstances impossible - for the required number matches to played in accordance with principles established by the ICC.
More and more, we will see three or more Test matches played back to back, without any concern for adequate rest periods for the players. More and more, we will see ODI series being condensed into the tightest timeframe possible. It will be the common theme for matches to track a play-travel-play matrix.
More and more, we will see cricket being scheduled at times of the year that represent dangerously high temperatures, as administrators search for timeframes to extinguish their playing obligations.
Those players from teams that are presently being stretched to the absolute physical and mental reserves are publicly making their displeasure known. In the last month or so, we have seen Ricky Ponting , Graeme Smith, Brett Lee, Adam Gilchrist, Virender Sehwag and Shahid Afridi express their growing concern at the ICC's FTP - the same FTP we all thought was being constructed to reduce the demands on our game's stars.
Indeed, the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board spoke publicly of his concerns, Ehsan Mani, the ICC's president, warned countries of scheduling even more cricket, and the ECB continues to flag resting vital players during one of ICC's premier competitions, the 2006 Champions Trophy.
This is hardly support of the FTP and, in particular, the issue of player workload.
Still the ICC in a recent media release maintained: "The FTP was put together on the basis of guidelines supported by the ICC Cricket Committee, players at the captains' meeting and by player representatives, including FICA."
No, it was not!
The ICC agreed at its first programming summit to abide by the FICA guidelines when constructing the FTP.
The FICA guidelines state the following:
The recently-released FTP contains numerous breaches of the above guidelines - yet the ICC continues to maintain that the Program supports the above principles.
The scary part of the FTP, as crammed as it is, is that it does not provide any mechanism to prohibit a country from scheduling any number of matches in addition to the released FTP. The ICC are completely powerless to stop countries from agreeing to further series.
Countries continue to contemplate even more tours, and attempt to mitigate the impact on players by informing players that they can rest and the boards will employ rotational policies.
In the interests of the players, in the interests of all those who played before them and don't want the value of being selected for your country to be devalued, and in the interests of the spectators who want to see the best at their best - this must stop.
It is high time that the ICC is empowered to protect the game from the self greed and top-line-driven policies that now abound the cricket landscape. Only then will cricket be able to protect the value of the game, protect the value of an international cap and allow its present stars to prepare and participate in matches to the best of their ability.
Tim May is the chief executive of FICA, the international players' association