August 28, 2011

The international game needs an overhaul

Australia's review has been window-dressing, and India are unlikely to have one at all, but international cricket as a whole needs thinking about, if it's not to be reduced to just Twenty20

Following a comprehensive defeat by England, Cricket Australia ordered a major review of its structure. England then crushed India, so does that mean their cricket system is also headed for a major overhaul?

The group who should most favour such a move is India's selection panel. They should hope a review sees them lose their jobs, and with it the daunting task of picking from the rubble a competitive side to tour Australia. The Indian selectors have backed themselves into an alley so blind a maze expert would have trouble negotiating a way out.

I doubt India will follow Australia's example, though. Both countries have in common a recent thrashing by a rampant England but that's where their cricketing DNAs diverge. And anyway, Australia's review appears to include a good deal of window-dressing.

The announcement that CA had ordered a review of its performance by an outside agency provided a major clue as to where the problem lay. If CA had utilised the right balance of expert cricket knowledge and business acumen, it would have been alerted to looming problems. The shortcomings noted, it would then only require making adjustments to limit the short-term damage and take far-sighted decisions to ensure an upward swing was not too far in the future.

Any review of a cricket administration needs to most importantly make sure there's a system in place producing skilful, competitive young cricketers, and a constant supply of proficient leaders. Then it only requires an efficient selection panel with the nous to choose the right combination. With those pieces of the puzzle in place the national team will win regularly, and the rest pretty much takes care of itself.

If the Argus review is saying - in a long-winded, jargon filled document - that the right structure wasn't in place, then there is no solution to the main issue yet. The people who oversaw the crumbling structure are the same ones now charged with the responsibility of implementing the changes to the system.

CA named its major money-spinning tournament the Big Bash - a name that conjures up visions of lunchtime cricket in the schoolyard. It further trivialised the competition by miking cricketers on the field and allowing a celebrity player to represent an interstate team. These moves suggested a not-so-serious competition at a time when cricket was busily trying to stamp out player corruption. Now the revamped Big Bash is encouraging players to cast aside loyalty and follow the dollar wherever it leads.

Why, it was only last decade that the best cricket blueprint was to note what England did and do the opposite. Now everyone wants to copy the English system

While CA has unwittingly diminished a valuable commodity, the rest of the cricket world lavishly rewards players competing in the shortest form of the game. Maximum pay for minimum exertion could well be the theme for the Twenty20 pay structure.

There are exceptions, but in general, human nature will gravitate towards the least demanding option. Not surprisingly, outlandish rewards in T20 cricket (which in many cases don't match ability or effort) are leading to self-interest among the players.

T20 cricket will not stand alone. This is not purely a business enterprise we're talking about, it's a game. If T20 is eventually the only form of the game played, you'll have cricket without artists or artistry. There's already growing evidence that T20 cricket is eroding batting skills.

It's a general rule that cricket administrations fail to fully think matters through before implementing new ideas. Another given that you can bet on as surely as a short-priced favourite: cricket doesn't have a grand plan to provide a cohesive and prosperous future for all three forms of the game.

If there is a mood for restructuring cricket, first rebuild the system that's really failing - the international governance of the game.

To think all this upheaval has been brought about by a rampant England. Why, it was only last decade that the best cricket blueprint was to note what England did and do the opposite. Now everyone wants to copy the English system.

If only the structure of the international game could be turned around so quickly and successfully.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator and columnist