Drop a format, or restrict T20
The concentration of T20 cricket in recent weeks has accentuated a few major flaws in the game. The first and most important is to do with scheduling. The ICC has a Future Tours Programme, but it would be more appropriate to call the overall schedule the Futile Touring Circus. It has long been an unwieldy schedule, but as every day passes and a new T20 tournament is proposed, it has become not only an embarrassing joke but also a serious risk to the players' fitness.
With two tournaments - the World Twenty20 and the Champions League - preceding the prime season of three major countries, India, Australia and South Africa, it's not surprising there has been a knee-jerk reaction in trying to protect players from injury. There's a decent amount of scientific data now available to show that fast bowlers in particular are susceptible to injury when they quickly transition from a low workload to delivering a lot of overs in a day. Therefore it's asking for trouble to programme Test matches immediately after international T20 competitions.
However, that's exactly what Australia and South Africa are facing, and both teams have plenty of fast bowlers. Surely the point has been reached where the administrators not only have to revise the schedule but also to consider separating the different forms of the game into their own "seasons".
Australia's decision to recall Shane Watson from the Champions League mid-tournament has been criticised but it's Cricket Australia's statement, not their action, that is questionable. CA said it made the decision "in the best interests of Australian cricket and in the best interests of Shane Watson".
How can it be in the best interests of the player? Watson, like all cricketers who reach a high level of performance, is a fierce competitor. No one of that ilk enjoys missing the knockout portion of a tournament after competing in the round-robin stage. It would have been better to prevent Watson from playing at all rather than pull him out at the point where the Sydney Sixers have established themselves as one of the favourites to win the lucrative tournament.
The rapid expansion of T20 cricket has further exposed the game's huge dependence on India's financial clout and the relatively small pool of marquee players. The business model is highly dependent on drawcards to make it financially viable, and the number of tournaments drawing from that small pool of players keeps growing.
These two points were highlighted by the Australian official who bemoaned the unavailability of India's star players for the Big Bash League. He indicated they were needed to attract the big-money sponsors from India and the higher television fees that can be extracted from that part of the world if their players are involved. It's time cricket administrators from other countries broadened their horizons, especially with recent signs that India is finally starting to suffer a little cricket fatigue. It's also a bit rich to quibble about the lack of star Indian players in the competition when Australia's best aren't available to play the bulk of the BBL schedule.
Many outsiders are quick to criticise India for misusing its power at the administration table. However, the other major cricket bodies are even quicker to accept its money. They rarely challenge India when it wields its power in an effort to broaden the perspective, and instead pander to India's wishes.
By definition this makes the other administrations equally guilty of any misuse of power. The administrators need to formulate a co-operative approach to devise a workable schedule, one that is acceptable to the players and that satisfies the financial needs of the game. Any discussion on a grand plan for cricket's future should include the option of playing only two forms of the game, or of retaining three versions but scheduling T20 cricket as a club-only franchise model. If they decide on only two forms, then the 50-over game is the one most likely to become extinct. This may open the way for a hybrid 30-over game to represent the shorter version.
Cricket is fortunate to have choice of different formats but only if wise decisions are made about their future.
Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator and columnist