June 3, 2012

Cricket's schedule is unsustainable

Like a certain international currency, it is under threat of collapsing unless administrators ease the strain

The head of the European Central Bank has just warned EU leaders that the euro currency union is unsustainable. I wonder what he'd make of international cricket.

The news that Kevin Pietersen will no longer play the limited-overs formats for England and will probably join the growing band of cricket mercenaries should be enough to prompt a change of thinking by the game's hierarchy. But I wouldn't advise anyone to hang by the neck while waiting for that change of heart.

Nevertheless, the administrators must realise that international cricket needs the limited number of top-class players to perform on that stage as well as ply their considerable skills for domestic T20 leagues. It's their unworkable schedule that in many cases forces players to make harsh choices.

Pietersen's preferred option was to play two versions of the game for England - Tests and T20s. However, the ECB is adamant players must be prepared to commit to both short forms of the game or else play neither. I've long held the view that something has to give if the game of cricket is to survive as a global sport and that the most likely casualty will be the 50-over game.

At the time the IPL was mooted, in order to combat the rebel ICL, I felt the timing was right to have a round table meeting involving all the game's stakeholders, from players and administrators to television executives and sponsors, to hammer out a workable blueprint for the future so that all versions of the game could progress cohesively. The foresight and unity of purpose necessary were lacking and that golden opportunity was missed. Soon the administrators will have no choice but to accept the second-best option, of being forced into making changes. The game seems destined to experience an occasional eruption resulting in a power struggle between players and administrators.

There was the occasional 19th-century battle of wills over bowling actions, but the first major stoush occurred in the early 20th century. Up until then, certainly in Australia, the players had largely controlled the purse strings. The signs were ominous in 1909 when the Imperial Cricket Conference was formed. Then in 1911 there was a player revolt when Australia's "Big Six" refused to tour England in a futile attempt to retain the control they had over the split of the takings. When the Australian players lost that battle, the administrators gained the upper hand and, consequently, a strong hold on the purse strings. This rapidly became a vice-like grip until the World Series Cricket split in 1977, when the administrators' stranglehold on the finances was finally broken.

In the aftermath of that revolution the players received better pay and conditions improved. Nevertheless the administrators retained control over the players, because representing your country was still a cricketer's best way to fame and a moderate fortune.

That balance changed dramatically with the advent of the IPL. Unwittingly the administrators ceded firm control to the players in devising the IPL, and once the inaugural auction was held the cricketers had more choice. Representing your country became only one of the options, and in many cases it was far from the most lucrative one.

With T20 leagues popping up like daisies in spring, not only are the players spoilt for choice but the now seriously overloaded international schedule wouldn't be workable even if the administrators decided to adopt the Martian year to avail themselves of an extra couple of hundred days. The current cricket schedule is on par with the euro: it's simply unsustainable.

If Pietersen does embark on a mercenary's career and it leads to further erosion of administrative power, it will underline the shift: the European Central Bank endures the acronym ECB, the same as the England board, which until recently laboured under the misapprehension that it controlled Pietersen.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jay on June 6, 2012, 1:17 GMT

    (Cont) Like it or not, IPL is here to stay. It's a sanctioned sport: the ultimate destination for many of the world's best. So, what needs to be the "change of thinking by the game's hierarchy"? For starters, ICC must establish a 6-7 week "IPL window". Look at the major sports leagues (MLB/NFL/NBA/NHL) in USA. Each league has 30 teams with a continuous schedule - training camps, regular season & playoffs - of about 8-9 months (NFL 6 mos). The regular baseball season: 162 games each team, 3 hours or so each game. It's a long arduous season with a team in contest every 1-2 days, incl. a grueling travel schedule across far-flung USA/Canada (+ harsh winters for NBA/NHL)! It's physically/mentally taxing with fatigue, injuries, slumps & attrition. Cricketers shouldn't complain. So, what's needed? Optimal scheduling. ICC must do a better job of balancing all 3 formats, especially FTP. Many good ideas have been posted: ICC must apply them! Ian, the cricket calendar is workable & sustainable!

  • Jay on June 6, 2012, 1:07 GMT

    (Cont) Today's youth & kids know it: Modern cricket is not your father's Packer-WSC union of rebel players. Nor your grandfather's bowling revolutionaries & body-line head-hunters. Today's reality: The IPL genie is out of the bottle. It's hard to put it back in, given its relentless can-do spirit. Yet, Ian claims he would have called a "round table meeting involving the game's stakeholders" re: IPL so as to "combat the rebel ICL"! What hypocrisy! The same Chappell who played a dubious central role in organizing the breakaway WSC & poaching players for Packer; not to mention the rebel tours of South Africa. And now he's worried about KP joining the "growing band of cricket mercenaries"? It's vintage Chappell - the "rebel skipper" - on his high horse preaching about player revolt and how it might throw cricket into turmoil! The bottom-line: Misleading sermon based on erroneous premise that "cricket's schedule is unsustainable"! When Europe has a relapse, Chappell gets paranoid!(TBC)

  • Jay on June 6, 2012, 1:04 GMT

    Ian - You know the old saw, when the Europe economy catches cold, the Euro-Zone gets pneumonia. Thankfully, the head of ECB (bank) does not have to worry about cricket: Soccer is undisputed king in E-Z land. The head of ECB (cricket) can breathe easy (no pun intended): England is not part of E-Z; plus KP still wants to play Tests! Whew. But seriously, does Ian really think that, like the looming E-Z meltdown, cricket is also "under threat of collapsing"? Really? Sounds like the same old half-baked "Bubble is Bursting" Chappell logic. Also like his doom-and-gloom prophecies. Even if Ian's all mixed up - confusing the "Martian year" with the Mayan calendar - his estimate is dangerously close: His Martian "extra couple of hundred days" to the schedule pushes cricket to the brink of the Mayan Doomsday of Dec. 21, 2012! OMG! Again, does Chappell seriously believe that cricket's schedule is as "unsustainable" and cataclysmic as the sinking E-Z union? LOL! Are you kidding, Ian? (TBC)

  • Dummy4 on June 5, 2012, 3:04 GMT

    Simple fix Ian. 50 overs cricket doesn't have to go. It has to be reduced, it's not very lucrative outside of Asia. I support the format of 3 test (less or more if needed), 3ODI's, and 5 T20's. The one and two T20 per tour is simply Icc stifling their conscience. You can not get rid of 50 overs cricket or else there will be no world cup. You can't do a world cup with test cricket, and a T20 world cup doesn't prove much. 50 overs cricket is the perfect test (no puns) to determine the worlds best cricket team. What cricket boards need is to be able to compete with T20 leagues financially. If T20 becomes the second main event to the 'test series', instead of being a couple of exhibition matches per tour, boards can make more money whilst giving int' limited overs some teeth and players some rest. I'm not doing away with 50 overs. Instead the 5 ODI series norm would be reduced to 3 matches. Give int' T20 some glamour hence making T20 leagues inferior. Can't win with IPL being superior.

  • Dummy4 on June 4, 2012, 16:30 GMT

    I am big fan of you Ian, but very very disappointed with your calling Pietersen a mercenary........hahaha ,its a big faulth by ECB,everybody know.u cant call KP lik this word. so mind it IAN........

  • Girik on June 4, 2012, 14:10 GMT

    I think 50 over cricket is important for developing cricket nations like Ireland and Afghanistan. It is too hard to jump from 20 over cricket to tests. But having said, it can definitely be cut down. 5 game ODI's max for bilateral series (but should be 3 most of the time, only if both teams are very even) and for tri-series each team plays the other twice. 50 over cricket is also the best way of determing a multi-team champion. A year 4 Test league won't work, even if there was no greedy or corruption in the game. I suspect that there will be lots of breathing space as long as the FTP isn't duplicated again and again (by that I mean says Ind playing Aus in 3 ODI series in 5 years and that just the ones in India!). And like some others have said, more ODI series should be played agains the emerging teams. At least Australia vs Ireland would be a breath of fresh air. Afghanistan should start touring countries as well or at least "host" games in the Middle East.

  • Venkat on June 4, 2012, 13:56 GMT

    The importance is revenue - not legacy, not purity. The viewership, especially television is paramount. Tests fail on that miserably. ODIs was a good solution (from 60 overs to 50 overs) and even that got boring - the middle overs. We have a generation that wants action, action, action and get it done in 3 hrs. NFL. NBA, MLB, NHL, All types of soccer, Rugby Tennis , Formula 1 - any widely popular TV based format. (Also I hate the ads in cricket - that is a diff story). And TV producers want that audience with FB, SMS, Twitter with limited time to do zillion things. Not the 50 something watching Dravid play a perfect defensive stroke. The only format of that is 20/20. IPL proved it. ICC should quickly abandon the other formats and prepare the gladiators for more engaging 20/20 battles. And 20/20 should stop hiring the aged (like Sachin, Murali, Gibbs ..) to play the gladiators - though the format extends their lifespan. Aggressive batting, fielding makes it a SPORT to WATCH. Not ODI.

  • nalin on June 4, 2012, 13:44 GMT

    I agree with Meety that test championship is impractical and t20 world championship is too slapstick to have any validity and by default ODI 50 over world cups are the only way. We could leave t20 be a franchise based with test and 50 overs as the international matches of substance. i am not a fan of 2 test series and if it comes to that they should have such series in neighboring countries like the subcontinent or AUS-NZ where they could play 2 tests in either country for a 4 test combined series. I don't know how they can justify 15 tests between Aus and England in a short period. Australia can play all teat teams in a 4 year cycle if they play England one season and the other big six two per season and schedule Bangaladesh and Zimbabwe in the outback during winter.

  • Ramesh on June 4, 2012, 13:35 GMT

    The market should decide. The format which is least popular with the fans worldwide (except England) is Test Cricket. ODIs still bring in big crowds. Today ODIs and T20s are subsidising Test Cricket. On its own Test cricket is incapable of sustaining itself.

    C'mon we are living in a world where everything is moving faster and faster and we have a game played over 5 days! Come the next generation and Test cricket will be dead. Tell me, how many youngsters (people in the 10-25 age group) are followers of Test Cricket?

  • Dummy4 on June 4, 2012, 11:22 GMT

    a) noone can blame players for following the money. Plan and assume they have little loyalty other than to the current paymaster - and the higher the paymaster, the higher the loyalty b) when the 'silly' money dries up, cricket will move on c) who at ICC 'insisted' that there must be 3 clear days between matches, even ODIs? it drags out meaningless series interminably. Play 2 in one location in 1 place in 2 days and move on d) accept that throughout the majority of the world (except England and Australia) test cricket is played in front of nearly empty stadia. Learn to live with the need for T20s to generate money for the game. If that means compromise, so be it e) as with earlier suggestiions re test cricket: 2 groups of 6; home and away 3 match series over 2 years. Top 2 promoted, bottom 2 relegated

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