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Is it already too late to sort out the balance of cricket's formats?

T20, more specifically the IPL, is expanding at a rate where the shape of the game might be distorted beyond recognition

Ian Chappell
Ian Chappell
Big money, specifically from Indian franchises, is the main shaping force in the game today  •  BCCI

Big money, specifically from Indian franchises, is the main shaping force in the game today  •  BCCI

Nobody can be blamed for not fully envisaging the future but cricket deserves censure for not properly planning the paths of its different formats.
Administrators had ample time and opportunity around the time T20 cricket came into being to draw up a stable blueprint for the game's future. It should have included a way forward that allowed for a variety of formats to prosper without involving inbreeding and cannibalism.
Instead, the IPL shrewdly established itself as the premier event in franchise cricket, obtaining an exclusive window for itself. It didn't hurt that they also ensured Indian players were well compensated for playing exclusively in the league.
The IPL now subtly dictates cricket's future as it spreads its wings to purchase international franchises. Meanwhile players have far more financial clout than ever before and substantial control over their future in the game.
The administrators could never have imagined that the 1977 World Series Cricket revolution would eventually transform player power. Until the arrival of WSC, if players were unhappy with a controlling body's remuneration, they basically had nowhere else to play. Now a player can tell his home board to jump in the lake if he's unhappy with the money being offered, and can then ply his trade in the world franchise market.
This situation is further underlined as IPL franchises expand by buying teams in international leagues in the West Indies, South Africa, UAE and the USA. Emboldened by such success, the IPL is currently looking at investing in individual players by offering them long-term contracts. This could eventually lead to players only representing their IPL franchise in different leagues, while refusing a contract with their national boards. Lack of foresight by administrators has handed the players a financial bonanza and allowed IPL owners to prosper.
There is a danger that IPL franchises - therefore, big business - will eventually dominate cricket reasoning and T20 will become the accepted way of the future.
Administrators should have drawn up a blueprint for the future that allowed for a variety of formats to prosper without involving inbreeding and cannibalism
While spectators happily pay to watch T20 and sponsors and media outlets are willing to pay substantial money for rights to the game, it's important that cricket maintains a balance. The game needs well-thought-out variety in its scheduling, but this is not the priority of big business. As the WSC's revolutionary leader and businessman Kerry Packer said: "Never let a media organisation run your sport."
India dominates cricket - with help from the highly successful IPL - and the BCCI is seeking a much bigger slice of the ICC's financial pie. There is no doubt that India is the cricket powerhouse but the game needs to prosper overall rather being subservient to a sole nation. The game can't afford many major nations to be under-funded.
Cricket had the opportunity to appoint a viable body to oversee the game while also compiling a sensible playing schedule. Instead, self-interest and political powerbroking prevailed and this has allowed the IPL freedom to flex its mighty muscles.
No one can blame the players for accepting large financial rewards as they only have a short career in which to capitalise on their earning power. Likewise the IPL recognised a weakness in the market and is now taking full advantage. This weakness was exacerbated by administrators' lack of foresight in past years.
If the administrators had engaged the different stakeholders in the game earlier, they could have better planned cricket's future, and finances could now be more evenly distributed. By canvasing the various opinions of players, administrators, sponsors and fans, cricket could have produced a sound roadmap for the future and ensured the game's popularity expanded accordingly.
As it is, there's a danger too much wealth will end up in the hands of too few and T20 leagues will dominate the cricket schedule.
Cricket needs variety in the different playing formats to satisfy customer needs. There's a danger this principle will be overlooked and the game's delicate equilibrium upset if big-business thinking prevails over cricket common sense.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is a columnist