The ICC will soon publish the Future Tours Programme (FTP), the game's new international cricket calendar for 2023-27. The squeeze on that calendar is the greatest it has ever been: more domestic T20 leagues marking out their own bits of territory, an ever-expanding IPL, more ICC events, more bilateral cricket.
The ICC's role in the discussions that led to this calendar is primarily as a facilitator. We sat down with two officials who played a lead role in that regard, the chief executive, Geoff Allardice, and its general manager of cricket, Wasim Khan, and talked about how and why the calendar is the way it is, the impact it has on player workloads, and the first-ever women's FTP.
Is international cricket in clear and present danger from T20 leagues? Geoff Allardice: No. T20 leagues have been part of the cricket calendar for 15 years now. They have gradually been growing, but the number of countries putting on leagues - there have probably only been one or two new ones since the last FTP cycle [which ended in 2018].
The time set aside has changed a little bit, but the countries who put on those leagues are also committed to international cricket and have reinforced that at ICC meetings.
Wasim Khan: Once we do publish the FTP, you will see that there are more matches in the next cycle than in the current cycle. So, though you hear a lot about bilateral cricket being squeezed out, the facts probably don't back that up. Yes, there's additional ICC events, but that also helps with the sustainability of the world game, which is critical. Apart from two or three nations who play a lot of lucrative international cricket, there's others that are striving for that. We just have to find a way of coexisting, and looking at the FTP, I think we've found a way for that to happen in the next cycle [2023-27].
Is there a contradiction in members trying to have their T20 leagues but also trying to find space for international cricket? Allardice: Even four years ago, a large number of the countries set aside windows where their national team players could play in their domestic leagues. It's just a case of fitting in the international fixtures around them. The balance that each country puts into its FTP regarding the number of ODIs, T20Is and Tests they play is very much a country-by-country choice, and it depends on their market and what appeals to their fans and their broadcasters.
Is it true that Sourav Ganguly, who is the head of the ICC cricket committee and on the ICC board as BCCI president, said at the chief executives' meeting that there needs to be a review of the volume of cricket being played going forward? Could you talk about those discussions? Wasim: The conversation really was around whether anything needed to give, and that was a conversation that the members had between themselves, which we tried to facilitate. Sourav had his own views on the amount of cricket being played. But I don't think anything concrete came out of that. Again, it was just a healthy debate that they all had around.
Allardice: And there are some countries that have got busy schedules and they probably use more players than some of the other countries. Any increase in volume is probably [about] some of the lower-ranked Full Members rather than the top teams.
The FTP isn't a one-size-fits-all approach in terms of what formats you play. The only real structure around it is in [terms of] the World Test Championship. We will say: here's your six series over two years, and they go off and schedule those. Then they can do things outside that in any format. And really, the volume of ODIs and T20Is is something that is very much up to every member as to how the ratio or balance between the formats should be.
Was any commitment made towards maybe looking at how better to streamline T20 leagues within international calendar? Wasim: There was a conversation around looking at the next cycle, post-2027, just to have a bit more discussion about the amount of cricket that is factored into that next cycle. But nothing in terms of where we are now, because the FTP commitments are set in place in many ways in terms of broadcast and commercial deals. And everyone seems comfortable in terms of where they've got to in the FTP.
Is it correct that in this upcoming FTP there are about 15% more Test matches, 16% more ODIs, and 6% more T20Is than in the last one? Wasim Khan: I'm not quite sure of the percentages, but there's certainly more matches being played in the next cycle. There's more ICC events in the next cycle. With more teams coming into, or taking part in, the World Cups - we have got five new nations playing women's ODI cricket, which is a huge step forward for us, there's going to be a 20-team men's T20 World Cup in 2024, which is going to be massive for the game.
Underpinning that, we're putting a high-performance strategy together that's going to support development and growth in those countries. Because for us as the ICC, with these new nations that are coming in, making sure they are competitive is really critical. So we are looking at how we can support them, and provide them with some real high-performance resources to help them, so that when they do get on the world stage, they do themselves justice and it's a good spectacle.
Player workload has become a serious topic of discussion. Virat Kohli raised it. Ben Stokes took a break, came back and played, and now has retired from ODIs and called on administrators to take a look at what's happening. Does it become a concern for the ICC when big players drop out? When somebody like Stokes, Player of the Final in the last World Cup is not at the 2023 World Cup, is it a hit to the ICC's World Cup as a product? Allardice: The idea of players choosing certain formats over others is not something that's just started happening. When I started working in cricket, players were choosing Test cricket over ODI cricket or vice-versa, so that is going to happen.
The only other caveat I'll throw in is, the calendar at the moment is still playing a little bit of catch-up from Covid, in that there are series in the schedule that probably in a new world wouldn't necessarily all be arranged in the way that they are. And it is because of tours being postponed or rescheduled, and trying to fit them into the period of this FTP or broadcast-rights cycle. There is still some of that going on at the moment and probably will be over the next nine months or so as well.
But certainly, the balance of players playing international cricket versus domestic leagues will continue to evolve. I'm hoping that the best players play international cricket as often as they can. Playing international sport is a huge ambition for most players. They want to play in World Cups and ICC events, but if the economics of the domestic leagues change, then there's going to be a continual juggle of the balance between those two things from an administrative point of view and players' point of view. It's a case of finding that balance in how they spend their calendar year, across which international competitions, which series and which leagues they should play.
How much concern do the members have about the workload of their own players? Is that something that keeps coming up? Wasim: The workload question - and I'm talking with my old hat [as PCB CEO] on as well - that's something that you have to manage as a cricket board. You are always trying to strike a balance between the issues that the players' associations might have and those conversations that take place with the cricket boards, and to try and find a balance.
In countries that don't have a players' association, that's really the responsibility of the cricket boards to kind of look at the scheduling and balance it with playing enough cricket so the fans are satisfied and there's enough commercial income being generated, while also looking at the health and well-being of players. That's modern sport now, whichever way you look. You take football in England, for example. You are seeing players pulling out of playing for England - [it's] the club-versus-country issue.
In your experience with the PCB and the ICC, do you think members are by and large getting that balance right? Wasim: Everyone's trying to find it. Is it perfect? No. But is it something that the cricket boards are conscious about? Absolutely.
At the end of the day, you are dealing with human beings, players. You want your best teams out there, but at the same time you want to make sure that you are trying to strike the balance. You are starting to see more countries now putting out two sides. We have seen recently ODI teams and Test teams [of one country] are playing simultaneously and that might be something that happens more and more as everyone tries to find a balance.
Allardice: There are only some countries that are going to need to do that. There's a lot of countries wanting international fixtures. There's no shortage of demand for international cricket among the members.
Wasim is right in that the management of each player and their workload, what they do for the national team, what they do in domestic leagues, what they do in national domestic cricket, it's very much an issue for each of the members to juggle themselves. The management of their players, it's not something that necessarily bounces off to the ICC on any sort of regular basis.
When the FTP is announced, each country will have its own message around that, in the way that they have structured it, who their opponents are, what their commercial arrangements might be, what it means for their players. For us to try and answer on behalf of each member and have that answer apply to all members isn't really realistic; it's going to be country by country.
Has there ever been a thought given about the ICC having conversations with leading international players or captains on cricket issues? Allardice: A long time ago, 10-15 years ago, there was the odd occasion when there were captains' meetings around events. But these days getting people in one place at one time is a bit of a challenge. In today's world, it's more doable through virtual means, and it's something we've discussed with FICA [the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations]. So if your question is, are we open to it, the answer is yes.
Wasim: There's a number of issues that could be discussed with the captains. There's a huge amount of discussion at the moment around neutral umpires, for example. As Geoff said, we are always open to looking at that, it's just making sure we can logistically make that work so that we can get a host of topics on the table - use those opportunities with the brains that are there to say: well, here's three or four other areas that we'd like to get your feedback on. Because, you know, getting a broad spectrum of feedback from stakeholders to help us, inform us more about the game and therefore make more better decisions, is really, really important.
Are we soon going to see the end of the all-format player? And if so, will it hurt the quality of cricket? Allardice: There'll still be all-format players. Whether they play every match that their country schedules in those formats is a different question.
The FTP comes about from a lot of members working in their self-interest to see what their calendars look like. Does that extract a cost in terms of a loss of collective vision for the game? Is that how cricket is? Allardice: It is certainly at the moment, yes, in that [it's] here are the global events, here are the competitions that you have all agreed to participate in, and beyond that, how you promote cricket within your territories is your decision. And that then comes down to management of players, the fan preferences, the broadcaster preferences, the seasons, the venues available, all those types of things. And if ICC was to try and have sort of a top-down calendar approach, it certainly wouldn't satisfy all the countries because each of them would have their own things that they would prefer to do.
Recently Ravi Shastri suggested that bilateral T20 series should be scrapped. Is there discussion about limiting bilateral T20 series to a few matches in the lead-up to a T20 World Cup? Allardice: As an example, you may find one country decides that it wants to focus on T20 cricket - international and domestic. And if we decided that we are not going to play T20Is, then what's that country going to do? Their whole strategic focus might be on that format. Another one might say, well, we want our domestic [T20] league to be the focus, and we will play ODIs only. And some other people are saying, we shouldn't play ODIs, we should wind back ODIs. So that's why there's no right answer, there's no one answer that works for everyone.
Wasim: And again, the game is going to continue to evolve. Where the game is and what it might look like in four years' time after the next cycle, it's likely to be very, very different.
The conversation then could be different: Where is the world game now? How are we balancing player welfare with having the right sort of mix of different formats? These are the sorts of conversations from the current cycle that we are already getting, and in four years' time it's going to evolve further.
The first-ever women's FTP - that is a fairly big achievement, a big shot in the arm for women's cricket. Allardice: The three things we want to do with women's cricket is: get a calendar where people know what's coming, and it's coordinated. Secondly, we cover it, whether it's streaming, broadcasts, whatever - make it as widely available and valuable as possible. And thirdly, run campaigns around making heroes out of the women players.
This Commonwealth Games has been a fantastic opportunity to do that. We had a panel session with seven of the captains [during the ICC conference]. They were very excited about the opportunity, and it is great for us in that women's cricket is front and centre. Cricket at the Commonwealth Games is the best female players in the world.
The structure of the women's FTP is the Women's Championship. And then what they do around that is very much the members' call.
Is there more Test cricket in this women's FTP? Wasim: Firstly, in the Women's Championship, it's four home and four away series over a period of time [2022-25] for each team. Series of three matches each.
As for Tests, look, there has to be something that drives your game and grows your game. We as the ICC made decisions quite a while ago that to drive the men's game, the format that we would focus on would be T20 cricket.
Now there's absolutely nothing stopping [women's] teams if they want to play four- or five-day Test matches. That's entirely their decision. We have certainly never restricted them and said there have to be four- or five-day matches. The countries that wish to do it will do it. I mean, New Zealand made a strategic decision that they wouldn't play [Tests]. That's their personal decision.
One thing that there was some discussion around is looking at domestic structures. When you leap from one thing to another, you have to show that there's a foundation that's going to support that. A lot of countries now turn their attentions to: what does our domestic structure look like if we have ambitions to play the longer format in the future?
Allardice: Same answer as with the men's: how you use the three formats to promote the game in your country or your local audience and with your potential players in the future is up to you. Some countries like multi-format series [Tests, ODIs, T20s, or at least two of those three formats, in one tour]. We don't tell them that you should do this or that.
The only structure we put in place was in the [women's] ODI game, and that dates back to 2014. And what it's done is given more countries a consistent volume of cricket, a consistent fixture list that is now the backbone of their FTP.
Osman Samiuddin is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo, Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor