T20 will continue to be used as cricket's primary vehicle for global growth, meaning that for all the continuing and polarising debate surrounding the 50-over World Cup, the 10-team format is not being expanded anytime soon.
The ICC reaffirmed this even as they make public the results of a first, comprehensive global market research, one it hopes will guide them in growing the game further. The research threw up some eye-catching figures: over one billion fans; nearly 300 million participants; and nearly 40% of all fans being female.
The survey was carried out in the 12 Full Member countries, and China and the USA - the latter two because they've been identified as non-traditional markets with huge potential for growth.
That growth, however, will be channelled through the shortest format. The survey did not ask fans direct questions on what they thought about the size of the 50-over World Cup, and neither was it carried out in major Associate Member countries.
"We've dealt with this point on a number of occasions, but the point is we're using the T20 format to grow the game," David Richardson, the ICC CEO, said. "Seventy-five* per cent of our members only play T20 cricket. Therefore if we want to grow the sport and grow the number of participants and fans, T20 is the format to do it. The research does show that fans still love Test cricket and can't forget about it, but the way to grow the sport is through T20 and not the World Cup."
Though the issue has never really gone away, it has re-gathered momentum in recent months because of the World Cup Qualifiers in March, and Scotland's recent upset of England, the world's top-ranked ODI side. For now, both the 2019 and 2023 World Cups will be 10-team tournaments.
As such, the survey used data from the 14 countries to extrapolate figures from Associate countries - though Richardson did leave the possibility open that there could be an expansion in the number of countries they do direct surveys in in the future.
According to the ICC, research showed their events are still the most popular among fans around the world, ahead of bilateral cricket and even domestic T20 leagues. Ninety-five per cent of fans said they were interested or very interested in the 50-over World Cup and the World T20.
The report could be made public during the ICC's annual conference that starts later this week in Dublin. There are a number of other interesting findings (also see graphic):
- Based on a modelling exercise, the research estimates 952 million fans in the 14 countries surveyed (and 87 million outside of those countries), of whom nearly 90% come from the subcontinent. This number will rise once a similar survey is done of Under-16 fans
- 87% of fans want cricket in the Olympics
- 68% of cricket fans are interested in women's cricket, 65% in the Women's World Cup and 70% want to see more live coverage of women's cricket
- Nearly 70% of the 19,000-plus (between ages 16-69) sample expressed an interest in Test cricket, which, it would appear from this survey, is not dying
"One of the insights that came through from non-cricket fans, when asked what will make them follow cricket, they just said make it simpler, make the calendar simpler," said Aarti Dabas, the ICC's head of media rights, who was actively involved in the survey.
"Fans want context and simplification. Hopefully with the World Test Championship (WTC) we are adding that context. Two-thirds of the fans in world cricket are still interested in Test cricket. That is a significant number. So we're hopeful with the changes of the WTC, with simplification, the context, we will retain fans and attract new fans."
The survey has also considered the growing popularity of domestic Twenty20 leagues in comparison to international cricket, finding, for the moment, similar numbers.
"One point that stood out for me was that in Australia, the BBL is very popular," Richardson said. "In India the IPL is. Each country has its own domestic competition that rates highly relative to international cricket. But international cricket in Australia might be significantly more popular than, say, the Ram Slam in South Africa."
*77 of the ICC's 104 members play in ICC events/international cricket at some level (the remaining 27 play only domestically) and out of those 77, 41 play only T20 cricket
Osman Samiuddin is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo