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Adam Gilchrist's Cowdrey Lecture, 2009

The full transcript of Adam Gilchrist's Cowdrey Lecture, at Lord's, 2009

Firstly, I wish to sincerely thank the MCC for giving me the opportunity and great honour of delivering the 2009 Cowdrey Lecture. I would like to acknowledge my parents, Stan and June, who are back home in Australia, and thank them for giving me all the opportunity I could ever imagine and for instilling in me the values and qualities that allowed me to achieve in life. For that I dedicate this lecture to them both. Given I was only 3 years old when Colin [Cowdrey] played his last Test match at the MCG in 1975, I obviously never had the pleasure of seeing him play- although many have relayed to me stories of his unique elegance and poise at the wicket - his trademark cover drive and effortless timing to all parts of the ground, in all match situations.
But for many Australian cricketers of my generation, the quality most associated with Colin was his great courage and willingness to put his country's fortunes in front of his own. It is now well and truly established in Ashes folk law what Colin did in my hometown of Perth one memorable afternoon in December 1974. On the fastest wicket in the world, facing perhaps the fastest and most dangerous bowlers to have ever played the game and just one week shy of his 42nd birthday, Colin defied the Thomson and Lillee juggernaut for over 2 hours, in a display that revealed as much about the quality of the man as it did about his unique batsmanship and strokeplay. Without the aid of a helmet and in the twilight of his career, Colin selflessly and without hesitation, put not only his enormous reputation on the line, but literally his life as well, and in so doing earned the respect of every Australian cricketer and cricket fan.
Colin's bravery and skill - so readily on display for the world to see all those years ago in Perth - in many ways epitomises the very essence of what I think, still remains the greatest contest in cricket - the Ashes. Test matches between the two oldest combatants have defined not just a cricketing, but also a sporting tradition in both countries that will undoubtedly be fiercely renewed in around two week's time.
Whilst on the Ashes I'll take the opportunity to debunk the myth that myself and many of my teammates from a pretty successful era of Australian cricket, somehow took a blasé attitude when playing against England. That we took it for granted that we could just roll up and win. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only do we have the 2005 Ashes to show this was clearly not the case, but I can promise you that every time I stepped out to play in an Ashes Test match I was always nervous and desperate to do well against the old enemy.
There's no question he and his bowling tactics were inside my mind that series, and I knew I'd hit rock bottom when one night I rolled over in bed to give my wife Mel a kiss goodnight and all I saw was Freddie Bloody Flintoff
From my first game in 2001 at Birmingham to my last in Sydney nearly seven years later, every Ashes Test match I played in was always fiercely contested with no quarter given or asked for by either side. The last series here four years ago doesn't hold too many happy memories for me personally. And on reflection, I guess I can put that down to a certain tall, burley lad from Preston by the name of Flintoff. There is no doubt he was the hero for England in that successful campaign and he was also a marketer's dream. Everywhere you looked there were billboards of him, he was on all the talk shows and sports shows and generally speaking, he was standing at the top of his bowling mark every time I walked out to bat!
There's no question he and his bowling tactics were inside my mind that series, and I knew I'd hit rock bottom when one night I rolled over in bed to give my wife Mel a kiss goodnight and all I saw was Freddie Bloody Flintoff. However, what I do recall with great affection about that tour, was seeing the crowds turning up in their thousands, desperately trying to get into Old Trafford and the Oval, in the hope of seeing their side reclaim the Ashes after so many years. As the house full signs went up and people in their thousands were turned away, it reinforced to me just how resilient and important the Ashes are, both in Australia and England, and what they continue to represent for world cricket.
As I stated earlier, it all starts again in Cardiff in two weeks and like most, I can't wait, but just for the moment can I divert your attention away from the Ashes to talk to you about Twenty20 cricket.
Twenty20 cricket
I think most of us would agree that the 50-over game is slowly starting to feel the pinch. Diminishing crowds, diminishing interest in many countries and as a result diminishing financial returns for the game. Much the same thing could also be said about Test cricket - although I believe that trend began further back in time. At the same time, the last five years has seen the emergence of Twenty20 cricket. From its humble origins in 2003, it has rapidly developed into a trans-world game, particularly on the back of the highly successful Indian Premier League.
Imagine for a moment, if one-day cricket had never come along and we had to rely exclusively on Test cricket to pay our way. Even for the harshest critics of the one-day game, this is a very hard thing to contemplate
I do some work for Channel 9 TV and in the last 2 years, Twenty20 cricket has sometimes outrated one-day cricket nearly 2 to 1 in Australia. I am sure that this type of trend is repeating itself in many other countries. TV executives in Australia were initially quite cold on Twenty20 cricket, as it reduced their advertising opportunities. However with the great ratings for the game, they have quickly changed their tune. It is not surprising that pressure is already being placed on the cricketing authorities to substantially increase the Twenty20 component into our summer schedule.
It is well documented that the last 50-Over World Cup in the West Indies failed to attract the crowds and the public's imagination that many of its predecessors had done, although I do know one left-handed slogger who thoroughly enjoyed the final of that tournament and thought it was a wonderful spectacle!! Conversely, the Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa nearly two years ago and the 2009 tournament have been highly successful on all levels - crowds, television ratings and financial returns. If we're being honest with ourselves, this downward trend in the one-day game probably started a lot earlier than 2007. For a few years prior to this, I can clearly remember seeing half empty stands during one-day internationals, where previously they were sell-outs and even queues outside those grounds.
I think nearly everyone agrees that over the years, one day cricket has slowly but surely become more formulated and predictable, resulting in a less pleasing package for the cricket fan. An abbreviated form of test cricket, it is still played over an 8 hour period and certainly remains extremely difficult for people to watch from start to finish, particularly on television. Well some of you might be saying "so what?" Test cricket is the ultimate game and I never really cared much for one-day cricket at all. And that would be fine except for one problem. Even its most ardent admirers would have to acknowledge that Test cricket is now redundant as the financial driver of the game.
For the last 30 years, one-day cricket has clearly been the financial engine of the cricketing world. When World Series Cricket began in the late seventies, Kerry Packer did a lot more than just turn on the lights and put our cricketers into coloured clothing. He established a business model for world cricket that had at its core, the 50 over game. This financial template was first adopted in Australia but soon spread to England and the subcontinent and eventually to all the major cricketing nations.
Even in countries like Australia and England where Test cricket remains supreme, 50 over cricket has made substantial revenue contributions to the five day game. It has also allowed its respective feeders, Sheffield Shield and County cricket to be properly maintained and run. In the subcontinent and other major Test playing countries, one-day cricket has not only fulfilled a financial imperative, but the game itself has often proved more popular amongst fans than Test cricket.
Given this, it can be taken as read that the health and vitality of the 50 over game has the potential to affect every aspect of cricket. From the Test cricket played at Lord's and the MCG, to maintaining the viability of junior development programs in Cape Town and Dhaka. I don't think that anyone could possibly believe that cricket would be where it is today, had one-day cricket not made the enormous financial contributions to the game that it has over the past 30 years. Imagine for a moment, if one-day cricket had never come along and we had to rely exclusively on Test cricket to pay our way. Even for the harshest critics of the one-day game, this is a very hard thing to contemplate.
Whilst it seems that the 50 over game has been around forever, one-day cricket and the revenue streams it has created throughout the cricketing world - have only existed for less than one third of the modern cricket era. So where then does Twenty20 fit into all of this in a financial sense? Simply put, I believe that this format has the real potential to surpass 50 over cricket as the revenue generator for the game.
Many would argue that process has already started. Like most things, only time will tell, but Twenty20 cricket certainly has the great advantage of being able to slot directly into the one-day financial template. A bit like ejecting the one-day dvd from your player, taking it out and inserting a Twenty20 dvd into the same machine. Again I ask you to imagine, in a commercial context, if at this point in time there was no such thing as Twenty20 cricket. For starters, if Twenty20 cricket did not exist, cricket authorities would still be facing the constant challenge of needing to maintain and grow world cricket's revenue base - amidst the backdrop of a decline in one day and test cricket - but without the benefit of a very real substitute in the form of Twenty20. With fewer revenue options available, many of the ongoing and difficult issues facing our game would be looming even more ominously on the horizon.
In saying all of this, I am not trying to suggest that Twenty20 cricket is necessarily some type of panacea for all of the challenges currently confronting the game. Indeed, the advent of 20 over cricket itself must take some of the responsibility for the decline in the popularity of the longer formats. Personally, I feel its growth primarily came about because of the slow decline in the popularity of one day cricket and the public's hankering for something different.
Whilst I now appreciate and enjoy playing and watching Twenty20 cricket - especially after captaining the Deccan Chargers to the 2009 IPL title - I am at heart a traditionalist, who firmly believes that Test cricket is the ultimate test of a player's and team's ability. This is not to say that Twenty20 isn't a skilful game. It certainly is. For all their similarities, Twenty20 still requires many different skill sets from the longer forms of the game. The fact that some very well credentialed Test cricketers have struggled to adapt to the game, whilst others who will probably never come close to playing Test cricket have thrived in Twenty20- is surely proof enough.
So, does 20 over cricket have anything else to offer the game, other than being the cash cow for cricket over the next few years? I think it does. My personal experience with Twenty20 is perhaps indicative of many professional players. I was certainly a late convert - both in terms of my international career and perhaps more importantly in my thinking towards the game. I ended up playing only 13, 20/20 Internationals as the game was introduced to International cricket quite late in my career.
At the start, I think we all looked on the game as a bit of a novelty. Something that seemed to generate a high level of frenetic excitement on an off the field. Something that wasn't to be taken too seriously. Probably two things changed this initial perception. The first, the Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa, took everyone by surprise and I think for the first time showed that this format could be played in a very intense, competitive way. After that, the IPL came along and showed what a fast and unforgiving game it really was and just how intense the cricket became when played between two committed sides.
Whatever its detractors may argue, the obvious benefits of the game have already become apparent in a very short space of time. Clearly, the greatest distinction it has over One day and Test cricket is the length of time it takes to play. I think that we sometimes don't fully appreciate just how significant a point of distinction this really represents. Perhaps this is because we have all become so accustomed to the extended length of time our game usually takes. By playing a cricket match over a 3 hour time frame, 20/20 cricket brings the game into the 21st century in terms of its ability to adapt to the busy, time poor world in which we all live.
In short, this one characteristic alone opens up a whole world of possibilities and opportunities that were previously unavailable to cricket. For the first time competitions like the IPL have been able to structure round robin, football like seasons. As many as 8 to 12 teams can now compete on a true home and away basis like the great domestic football leagues of the world. Indeed the IPL in its structure and intent has been squarely based on its namesake and arguably the world's greatest domestic sports competition - the English Premier League.
It is a game that can be learnt relatively quickly and we've already seen that non Test playing nations can become competitive far sooner than if they played one-day or Test cricket. It has also been an enormous boost to woman's cricket, where participation levels have increased dramatically and the profile at international level has risen substantially in the last couple of years as a direct result of the 20 over game.
The playing and viewing aspects of Twenty20 cricket will continue to be debated for as long as the 20 over game is played. However there is little doubt that it has rapidly rejuvenated crowd levels and increased television ratings. But, importantly...most importantly, it has introduced a number of new demographics to cricket that weren't there before.
If you were a director of a large trans global corporation, you would be constantly looking to expand your markets and secure your cash flows for the future. To survive long term in any business, you must not only maintain your clients, but keep growing your client base as well. Amongst the trinity of cricket's international formats, Twenty20 alone has perhaps the greatest chance to achieve this for cricket.
I happen to believe that as a starting point, the single best way to spread the game globally is for the ICC to actively seek its inclusion as an Olympic sport. For sure, this would be a massive challenge for cricket to take on and undoubtedly there would be a whole host of issues along the way to contend with, but what a great and worthwhile challenge it would be.
Without doubt, the Olympic movement provides one of the most efficient and cost effective distribution networks for individual sports to spread their wings globally. It would be difficult to see a better, quicker or cheaper way of spreading the game throughout the world. For most sports seeking to get a berth at the Olympics, the greatest challenge is usually to try and convince the International Olympic Committee. In our case however, cricket as a sport mounts a very impressive and almost irresistible case for several reasons.
Firstly, the Olympic movement's only remaining dead pocket in the world happens to coincide with cricket's strongest - the sub continent. This region, which includes India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, represents just over one fifth of the world's population. But with the exception of their great hockey teams of the past, these cricket powerhouses have received barely a handful of Olympic medals in nearly 100 years of competition. More importantly, general interest in the games and the Olympic movement in the subcontinent remains comparatively low by world standards and addressing this has been an issue at the IOC for some time.
What better way for the IOC to spread the Olympic Brand and Ideals into this region, than on the back of Twenty20 cricket? The rewards for both the ICC and IOC getting this right would be enormous. Above all else, if cricket became an Olympic sport, many countries would be playing cricket seriously for the first time in their history. By seriously, I mean that they would have to start developing a truly integrated cricket program as part of their participation in the Olympics. Currently many associate members of the ICC rely heavily on a small group of expats to help keep the game alive and growing in their adopted countries.
For the first time, the introduction of Twenty20 cricket as an Olympic sport could see the emergence of government backed, junior development programs in those countries and the beginning of true indigenous participation in the sport from schools to club and representative level. I am not saying that all countries would suddenly adopt the game because it became an Olympic sport. But given cricket's already established international footprint, they wouldn't have to, and again it is more about the opportunity that it would provide our game to truly spread its wings.
On this point, a friend of mine recently cited China as a perfect example of what I am talking about. Field Hockey was virtually nonexistent in that country until the early eighties, when the Chinese government decided that it wanted to start playing all Olympic sports in preparation for their entry into the Olympic games at Los Angeles. From virtually nothing, field hockey in that country developed with such speed that less than 20 years later, the woman's team were world champions and just last year won a silver medal in Beijing.
In an article I wrote last year for the Deccan Chronicle in India I posed and tried to answer a few fundamental questions that such a proposition poses. With your indulgence I would like to briefly restate them here:
  • 1. Would cricket's participation in the Olympics lose money? No, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) rewards international federations that compete at the Olympic Games and there would be a dividend for competing nations flowing from ICC to its members, just like at the ICC Cricket World Cup.
  • 2. Would this compromise the Future Tours Program? No, with Twenty20 you would only need a small window in August, once every four years, to play the Olympic tournament - possibly as few as ten days.
  • 3. What would be the timeframe for cricket to become part of the Olympic Games? The IOC decides on the sports for an Olympic Games seven years in advance, to allow people time to prepare.
  • 4. How would players feel about competing at the Olympics? The Olympics is the absolute pinnacle in sport. I have spoken to a number of Olympic champions and know how Sydney 2000 changed Australia and how London 2012 will change England. I think it would be massive for cricketers. Unlike basketball and baseball, our best cricketers would definitely participate in every Olympic games that featured cricket. The chance to stand on top of the Olympic podium, to wear an Olympic gold medal and the pride of belting out your national anthem would be a life-changing, money-can't-buy experience.
  • 5. Is it a realistic dream? I really believe it is. The ICC has already taken the step to become a recognised Olympic sport and for that I commend them, for this is the first step on the road to becoming part of the Olympic programme. The bid for cricket's inclusion and subsequent Olympic participation should sit at the heart of the ICC's global game development strategy, to naturally complement all the other development programmes that are currently being planned and delivered. Any narrow, self interest by countries with regards to their respective playing windows must give way to the bigger picture of making space in the cricket calendar every four years for the Olympics.
  • In my opinion, every cricket administrator should hold and promote the Olympic ambition for our sport.
    The five-day match, so steeped in history, on its own will never come close to providing the cold hard cash needed to maintain and grow the game
    Further observations
    By way of some further observations. If cricket is to survive and prosper - and I am convinced it will - I believe that there needs to be:
    1. A realisation that Test cricket, arguably one of the greatest sporting contests ever devised, is by the same token an anachronism amongst modern professional sports. That many of its strengths also contain many of its weaknesses. That the 5 day match, so steeped in history, on its own will never come close to providing the cold hard cash needed to maintain and grow the game. That what we cricket lovers regard as the prince of games, will always remain almost completely incomprehensible to people not familiar with it. Accordingly, it will continue to be the most impractical vehicle to use when trying to promote cricket throughout the world. That to preserve its future, which we must - less is infact more - that we should go back to the future where there were fewer test matches, but a lot more important ones, and where the best cricketers of the day played closer to 50 tests in their career, not 150.
    2. That Test cricket should be tampered with as little as is possible - its rules, customs and playing conditions - like Major League Baseball - should remain as close to how it has been played for the past 130 years. That many of cricket's innovations should be applied only in the shorter forms of the game. This not only includes the expanded umpire referral system, but especially the mooted introduction of night test cricket and a different coloured ball needed to accommodate this. My personal experience nearly 15 years ago with night Sheffield shield cricket was that it struggled because of the very different playing conditions between day and night. Often it made for an unfair contest, especially when batting, which always seemed much more difficult late in the evening than earlier in the afternoon. But all of this begs the bigger question - why play around with test cricket at all? Fine tune maybe, but not fundamental changes. As someone recently said - You don't see the London Philharmonic doing a rappers remix of Beethoven's 5th - so why should cricket do the same with its masterpiece?
    3. An acceptance that professional players will increasingly make pragmatic decisions about their careers, which may involve playing less test cricket or even perhaps, none at all. That the arrival of rich, franchised based competitions like the IPL will hasten this trend and reduce the primacy of playing for your country or provincial team. That a young first class cricketer in Bangladesh or the West Indies may have an entirely different set of playing priorities and goals to those youngsters playing in England or Australia. That cricket administrators must adapt to these realities with clever programming of international fixtures to dove tail off these competitions and if necessary radically change, even jettison the Future Tours Program in order to achieve this.
    In Australia, there have been rumours for some time about establishing a Southern Premier League to be squeezed into an already crammed playing itinerary in October. Whilst Cricket Australia should be applauded for further embracing Twenty20 cricket, in my opinion, an SPL would only ever really be a poor man's IPL. Anyway, Australia's already got a franchised based playing structure - they 're called States. My preference would be for an expanded, state based, Twenty20 competition, running from November to February. You could potentially add two teams from New Zealand, with a feature being the Australian Test and one-day stars, with selected overseas invitees, being available for a majority of the matches.
    4.That the potentially enormous revenue streams from playing Twenty20 cricket can actually help to protect and enhance the viability of Test cricket into the future. That strong cash flows must be maintained by cricket administrations in all the major cricket playing nations to help underwrite the costs of junior development, first class and ultimately test cricket.
    5. That cricket is unique amongst other professional sports in that it can successfully mutate itself into various forms and formats, to invigorate itself, its players and its supporter base. This is something that should be welcomed and appreciated as a strength and perhaps even a potential salvation for the game. That these differences and anomalies between the various formats should be applauded and enjoyed, not looked down upon or over analysed by the cricket community.
    In conclusion, I suppose those of you who have heard my lecture could perhaps say that I am fast becoming obsessed with 20/20 cricket. Again let me make it clear - Twenty20 cricket, or anything else the game throws up in the future, will NEVER be Test cricket, nor should it ever pretend, or try to be. What I think I have been trying to say is that as members of the international cricket community, the most important thing is to approach any new development or change - of which Twenty20 cricket is the latest - as an opportunity rather than a problem.
    Whatever happens, its emergence has squarely placed under the microscope our game's ability to adapt and carve out our niche in the modern, ultra competitive sporting world. Are we to embrace change or shy away from it? Not change for change's sake, but a willingness to really take on board, practical and necessary developments like 20/20, in order to keep world cricket healthy and vibrant.
    As it has done before, cricket must constantly adapt to the times to remain relevant as a world sport. We all have to be pragmatic about this. 15 year olds no longer listen to the cricket at night with their transistors tucked underneath their pillows. They are instead bombarded with a range of sports, social activities and events to watch and participate in that previous generations could barely contemplate. Most people can probably afford to go and watch 3 hours of cricket on the weekend - but to spend a day or more out of their busy lives to do the same thing is becoming increasingly problematic. A similar situation exists for those wanting to play the game at a club or recreational level. Cricket must accommodate these realities and factor them into how the game is played and watched into the future. In many ways, Colin Cowdrey's long and distinguished career mirrored many of the significant changes and adaptations that cricket has already made in the last 40 years. In over 130 years of Ashes contests, he is still the only Englishman to have toured Australia six times. In 1968 he became the first player in the history of Test cricket to play 100 matches. Yet just over two and a half years later, he participated in the first one-day International ever played. And as we all know, in the year 2000, he was the catalyst to enshrine the Spirit of Cricket into the Laws of the Game - surely as good an example as any of the new embracing the old, as the game entered into the new millennium.
    Notwithstanding all of the complex and challenging issues currently confronting world cricket, I think that if Colin were here today he would be genuinely excited by the way the game is developing and its prospects going forward. For all I've learnt about him, it is clear to me that above all else, Colin was an optimist - a traditionalist, who both on and off the field, embraced the changes that had to be made to our game to ensure its future, but at the same time did that without ever losing sight of its core values and constants.
    He and his legacy very much represent the true Spirit of Cricket. That statement, the Spirit of Cricket, means different things to different people. In finishing, I'd like to share something with you that I believe illustrates well and truly that the Spirit of the game is being passed on from generation to generation. [visual Powerpoint presentation shown]