Martin Williamson
Executive editor, ESPNcricinfo, and managing editor, ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa

ICC must face up to a problem of its own making

Record ... what record?

Martin Williamson on how the media have started shunning one-day internationals even though the ICC maintains they all count in the record books

Martin Williamson

July 4, 2006

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At Amstelveen today, one of the game's major records - the highest team total in an ODI - was broken when Sri Lanka scored 443 for 9 against Netherlands, surpassing the 438 for 9 scored by South Africa in March. You might be forgiven if it slipped by without you noticing.

Whereas South Africa's achievements produced headlines across the world and a commemorative DVD, Sri Lanka's feat will barely register. Despite the ICC according the match the status of a full ODI, there were no TV cameras present, nor was there commentary on the radio.

It is unclear if any journalists made the trip - certainly those from Sri Lanka who had followed the side on their tour of England chose to give the two bolted-on matches in Holland a miss. It attracted less media attention than a low-key end-of-season county match.

For the first time in the internet era, even Cricinfo did not carry live scores. We were refused access by the Netherlands board. Clearly we cannot be expected to look at this with complete impartiality, but one would have thought that the Dutch might have been glad for any publicity they could get. Judging by the banks of empty seats at the VRA Ground on a gloriously hot day, the message had not been got across even locally.

The Sri Lankans were not the happiest visitors, with claims that the matches had been arranged by their board at the end of a tough tour of England without any consultation with the players. It was also reported that the wives were being asked to pay for the privilege of watching their spouses pinch sweets from babies.

The ICC's decision to award full ODI status to the six leading Associate countries last year was done for the best of reasons. By increasing their exposure to the big guns, so the argument went, they would only get better. However, once that had been decided, the follow-up to make sure that everything went smoothly simply did not happen.

With no financial support from the ICC for hosting the matches - and this has to be distinguished from annual funding which is used to promote the game itself - the local boards were left to milk the events for all that they were worth, and who could blame them?

But if there was an assumption that TV would flock to the games and underwrite the costs - and that certainly seems to have been the case - that has proved to be wildly inaccurate. There is a glut of cricket on TV without anyone coughing up for what will almost certainly be one-sided affairs of variable duration.

Of the 15 ODIs since the status change on January 1, only five - four in Bangladesh featuring Kenya and England v Ireland - have been televised.

It gets worse. It now seems unlikely that Bangladesh's three matches in Kenya later this month will be on TV, and there are doubts about their five subsequent games in Zimbabwe which are between two Full Member countries. In August there are another nine full ODIs which will not be televised.

In a world where TV is king, this means that matches will be played and records broken without anyone noticing. Cricinfo spoke to a source in Sri Lanka who said that there was no interest whatsoever in today's game. And that in one of the most cricket-mad countries on the planet.

In any sport, the one thing that will kill it is apathy - whether it be from spectators or the media. After the blur of indifference which greeted Sri Lanka's 5-0 drubbing of England last week - and the chances are that across the cricket-playing world the headlines will again be dominated by football tomorrow - the ICC needs to do some serious thinking.

Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo

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