Predicting the future is problematic, it’s much easier to predict the past, although Twitter users might be an example of that not being entirely the case. In wider life there seems to be consensus that while the question of whether the pandemic will make material lasting changes is an open one, it almost certainly has accelerated existing trends – such things as the decline of cash or the continued rise of online over physical retail.
Cricket seems little different – there is no reason to assume that this last year will cause wild changes in itself, but an acceleration of what was coming anyway, that’s a different matter.
Television deals are at the heart of the future and the present, and have been the principal driver of the changes over the last 10 years, whatever the disingenous pontifications from governing bodies about trying to engage people in the sport as more than exploitable consumers. The shortening of formats, first to T20 and then to 10 over equivalents or the Hundred are all about packaging the game into compact segments that fit into programming and allow advertising to be maximised. India is undoubtedly the principal power behind this, because their financial muscle is greater than just about everyone else put together. The rise of the IPL to not just be the biggest short form tournament, but the priority for the game full stop has been inexorable, and the players have been part of that for their own financial reasons. In all cases, it’s not something to particularly blame anyone for, it’s merely a reflection of desires that coincide and aims that correlate – the belief in some quarters that professional cricketers with a short career should sacrifice their ability to earn for the sake of tradition is naive at best. Thus the expectation has to be that not only will the IPL continue, but that it will become ever more central to the global game.
The Hundred is the ECB’s attempt to muscle in on the same thing, having blown their chance of making T20 their central selling point to the world game. There are endless problems with the assumption behind that. Globally, the difference between 16.4 overs and 20 is so minimal as to be not worthy of further debate, and the ever lengthening duration of IPL and Big Bash T20 matches to up to 4 hours implies that the purported domestic desire to have a very short game isn’t one entirely shared elsewhere – perhaps short enough is sufficient. That doesn’t mean in itself that it can’t be a domestic success, but the wish the ECB have for it to be a global phenomenon looks hamstrung from the start. Gimmickry has a place in all sports, irritating as many find it, but a successful gimmick is one that does draw people in, that does appear to have a value. The Hundred lacks this entirely, the hundred balls of an innings doesn’t even work as a deception.
It’s not unreasonable to believe that the Hundred will be a domestic option, and one with limited expansionary appeal. The argument made in its favour that it’s still cricket, and that the difference between it and T20 is sufficiently small for it to have sporting integrity is precisely the reason it’s unlikely to truly take off – why abandon the investment in T20 for a game that offers little extra? If The Hundred does remain an entirely domestic concept, it’s hard to see how it has a long term future when everyone else prefers the ironically more traditional T20. All new things attract attention initially, and whatever the complaints about it, it will have that first flush of attraction as something new. The problem it has is beyond that, years three and four. There comes a time when the question will be asked what the point of it is, and whether a T20 tournament would work better. The Hundred itself looks doomed in the longer term, though it may serve its purpose if it garners sufficient commercial attention to cause that debate to happen.
The 50 over form of the game will continue to be squeezed, but it remains a viable option because it still attracts strong crowds and decent quantities of sponsorship and advertising money. There may be experiments made to widen the differential between it and T20, such as four innings of 25 overs, but it is a format that isn’t particularly broken. The attitude towards it may change somewhat as T20 becomes ever more dominant, indeed 50 over cricket may come to be seen as a long form of the game, which has a certain irony, because for club cricketers around much of the world (there are exceptions) that’s exactly what it is and what it always has been, even if concepts such as winning or losing draws offer a slight level of nuance – though note those kinds of playing rules are on the decline.
Where that leaves Test cricket is another matter. The World Test Championship has been positioned as a way of creating context for Test cricket in order to give the bilateral series meaning. It’s always been a slightly confused position – not because it’s a bad idea, far from it, but because the endless ODI bilaterals lack any meaning whatever, yet continue unabated because of the financial return created by them. There are of course tournaments such as the World Cup, but that’s not really the rationale behind holding so many bilateral series, or they would be considered no more relevant than an international football friendly with all the irritation they cause. Cricket is, and always has been different (and has similarities to international rugby in this regard) in that a match has inherent value in itself, and doesn’t necessarily need that bigger context for everything. That doesn’t mean for a single momoment that tournaments like a World Cup aren’t necessary, they both are, and are wonderful things in themselves, albeit the formats of such things are another question. Therefore a World Test Championship can be both a good thing in itself and also a fig leaf that doesn’t address the structural challenges being faced. There is a suspicion that Test series are often organised as a necessary evil rather than something to be embraced as justified and attractive in themselves, entirely for those financial reasons. Or to put it another way, if Test matches provided strong revenue streams for every board, there would be more of them – England don’t play lots of Test cricket because the ECB adore five day cricket. If there was serious money at hand, the players would be less inclined to abandon the Test arena for the more lucrative white ball forms of the game. The decline of Test cricket in favour of white ball cricket is not because of a particular dislike of that form of the game for sporting reasons.
There is no reason to assume this will change in the years to come, rather precisely the opposite. Countries like England play a lot of Test cricket because, at present at least, that is the largest level of spectators – and thus commercial – interest in the game. With big crowds and a big TV deal that has included, in fact focused, on Test cricket, it has been the core of the income of the professional game. It’s not the case elsewhere, and to highlight that particularly, the newer international countries such as Ireland have abandoned Test series because they cannot make them financially viable. Those are two ends of the range, but there are many more countries nearer the Irish end than the English one, and the English extreme is beginning to weaken. Core marquee series will continue, principally between the most powerful boards of India, Australia and England, but Test cricket will wither further beyond that. There is a way to prevent it, and that would be a more equitable wealth distribution globally, and allow the players to choose Test cricket as a viable means of support for them and their families. But let’s be clear – it isn’t going to happen. The handwringing about the decline of Test cricket among the great and the good has no relevance when the actions that could be taken to prevent it are verboten in administrative circles, because of their own narrow interests. Fundamentally, there isn’t a desire within the ICC hierarchy, and particularly the board hierarchies, to save Test cricket. Until or unless that happens, Test cricket is on a one way ticket to irrelevance and extinction.
This also has knock on effects for domestic cricket, not just in England but around the world. After all, the purpose of first class cricket has been largely to provide a training ground for the Test game, something that puts the hackles up for the county cricket fans who see a game that is important in its own right. But it has never been financially viable in itself anywhere since the 19th century, it wasn’t the point of it to be. The diminution in value of first class cricket is a corollary of the decline of Test cricket and its lack of revenue creation has changed its positioning from one that needs support in order to promote the wider game to being viewed as a revenue drain on central resources. This is an important change in focus – county cricket has never been something central in and of itself to the finances of cricket, it has had sporting value and been deemed worthy of support as such. This has changed – the justification for concepts like the Hundred have been to generate financial income in and of itself, and not for the purposes specifically of first class county cricket. This is central to the expectations in years to come, for no longer is it considered inherently valuable.
The arrival of the Hundred has a further likely consequence, in that it introduces franchise cricket to England. It is from a different era that Durham was added to the roster as the 18th county, the desire now is to shrink the base of teams, not expand them. Protests that regional franchises are purely for the shortest form of the game smack of disingenuousness – the strongest counties will survive irrespective, but the weaker ones look like they have no long term future. Formal status is unlikely to be revoked, because it simply doesn’t matter much, they will fall by the wayside as power and money is concentrated in the hands of the few, and the difference between some first class counties and some minor counties will be harder to determine. Salami tactics work in terms of generating change – abolishing counties would invite end of days headlines, allowing them to fade into obscurity will be met with a shrug of the shoulders from all but those directly affected. The protests from county cricket fans will make little difference – they have already been written off as unimportant.
This is not a future that many will relish. But as things stand it is where we are likely to be. Test cricket being in trouble is not breaking news, but the lack of any impetus or desire to change this is what is going to doom it to the margins. First class cricket and county cricket will follow, and the focus on white ball, and particularly T20 cricket is the future to be faced. It can change, certainly, but only if there is a desire to enact what is needed to make that happen. There is no sign of that happening, and no sign of a desire that it should happen. Money has become the driving motivation in sport across the world, but cricket is in a different place, whereby the belief among administrators is that the game of cricket has no future without change, and that the generation of cash is the prime motivation, not the sport itself. Business people can have that view, indeed they always have done, there is no reason to pretend they are other than what they are for good or ill, what is different in cricket is that there are few at the top of the game who believe passionately in the beauty of their own sport, who see their role as primarily to defend and grow it. Instead they consider that change must happen in order to make money, rather than making money to deliver a better sport. Not even the feast of mammon that is football has quite this attitude to their own game – they have a rapacious desire to monetise their sport, not consider the raison d’etre of the sport to be money generation.
The amateur game is far from immune to the fallout. Sunday friendly cricket has undoubtedly declined in a precipitous manner over recent years, as the player base has shrunk. A push to T20 matches from those viewing it from the lofty perspective of their professional career is to miss the central point that a desire for shorter games is as much a reflection of a smaller pool as it is modern life writ large in cricket. Free to air broadcast of cricket may still be the biggest driver of arresting such an unpropitious collapse in the player base, but it isn’t a panacea for the problems of the game either. Like so many things, it is complex to the point of confusion, but in this arena at least, the biggest change would be evidence that there’s much more than lip service to the importance of it from the centre. Here again, there is little reason to believe that will happen, and the decline of the clubs will continue.
For good or ill, it’s our direction of travel. There is no doubt that many will be aghast, but an attempt to be realistic isn’t an endorsement of where we are headed. And more specifically, it’s where we are meant to be headed. This is not a lament for a passing time, nor a wish that if only a few changes could be made. Too often the debate is framed around a tweak here, a nudge there. A few more pennies for a county perhaps, or throw a bone to a former associate nation. None of it matters, and none of it makes any difference, except to allow the drowning to suck in a last few precious breaths of air. It would require fundamental change to move the trajectory, and it won’t happen, can’t happen, because it is not accidental. It is not a game that has lost its way and is seeking a way back. It is far too much of a conspiracy to assume this is the development of a grand plan to reach this suggested destination, but it doesn’t have to be, it isn’t how it works. All it requires is for an acquiescence with the direction of travel, and that contentment is entirely present. For as long as the approach is one of managed decline of the traditional and a defensive mentality of the long standing, while embracing the new, shiny and above all lucrative, there is little reason to doubt where we will end up.
Chris has broken the website somehow, so this post has disappeared from the main page. We’re trying to fix it.
Thanks for fixing!
Crampton used to call himself ‘Vian’ on the DT threads. Vian is naiv backwards (but has no other meaning although no doubt he’ll come up with some story about it). The Free Dictionary defines naiv as:
“2. having or showing a lack of experience, judgment, or information; credulous”.
BTW the host who disguised his true nature more artfully wrote an old post called “Travellin’ Man” – look up who identifies themselves by that term.
Have nothing to do with this blog unless you enjoy being deceived and wasting your time.
A bit harsh, saying that people shouldn’t have anything to do with the blog based on 25% of the writers. What do you think about my posts?
Thank you for your concern, but I trust my intelligence enough to allow myself to be the judge of that!
By the way, if you’re going to quote dictionaries, maybe do it accurately: the word is “naive” (or “naif” in French, which is the language from which it’s most immediately derived), not “naiv”…so then he would have been Evian, which is a much better pun! And the definitions from the same dictionary either side of the one you’re quoting are having or showing unaffected simplicity of nature” and “marked by a simple style reflecting little or no formal training”, so he might have been aiming for those too, even if your theory is correct…
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“Have nothing to do with this blog unless you enjoy being deceived and wasting your time.”
You, it seems are the expert in wasting your time. You have wasted five minutes writing that Twaddle.
As for your dislike of being “deceived” I take it that’s your real name then is it Ex-DUPE? Your parents must have had a great sense of humour when they named you with such a silly label.
Or perhaps that isn’t your real name. Projection much!
If you have something to say or an insight into cricket then do so ….or become your own “travelling man” and disappear back into obscurity please.
It’s been a day or two since I first read this comment, and I, err, really can’t work out what on earth you’re on about. Or…why.
TLG’s reports are always measured, well-written (quite often excellently written) and about cricket. Danny and Sean do a pretty decent match summary with the odd bit of visceral rage when something is obviously infuriating, whilst LCL has a really nice way of meandering on about seemingly nothing, only to absolutely nail the overall point. That’ll do me – I can’t find a better balance of cricket writing elsewhere online. Cricinfo is the closest, but you have to wade through tons of Big Bash league or Abu Dhabi T10 “analysis” to find it.
Call me cynical, but it is hard to argue against the observed trends, both in the English domestic game as well as the international game.
Players will always look to monetise their skills. And why not? The discrepancy between the pay for most nations and the richest ones is massive. I would not be surprised if Eion Morgan makes more on central pay representing England than the entire Ireland team. Commercial diktats have reduced Ireland’s Test status to utter meaninglessness – effectively they’ll be considered warmups with Test status.
This also means that if you are born in the wrong country, you may have to spend half your career to become eligible to earn money. Gareth Bale may have had the bad luck to be Welsh (from a sporting perspective – nothing against the Welsh – and thus little chance of shining on the global international stage), but that does not dictate his wages, since it is the clubs who pay the wages.
Pity the cricket player from Namibia, Papua New Guinea, and the like. Actually the only way to make a living from cricket is to go the T20 route, and even then you’re always classified as a foreigner, with little marketing appeal, so you probably need to be as talented as an AB de Villiers to even get a serious look-in. It won’t be a surprise, but it is hard to grow the global game if the governing authorities basically do everything they can to tell people from most countries to play a different sport.
Perhaps it is the lack of World Cup success (until recently) as well as demographics (England has a much older population than India), that has helped shield English cricket to some extent from being more ruthless to do away with the ‘so called superfluous’ counties and massive reform of the domestic game. Now it is just waiting till say Norhthamptonshire or Leicestershire collapse before the champagne bottles in ECB HQ will be opened. I suppose, Durham in a sense was lucky, that due to Graves’ bailing out of Yorkshire, letting Durham die a pitiful dead was too hard a sell, even for the ECB. I am certain that if they could have gotten away with it, they would have.
That it does not need to be like that is ironically shown by India. They have a massive domestic scene (the 2019-2020 season had 169 games being played – significantly more than the 126 the County Championship managed in 2019). India has four domestic tournaments (FC, List-A, T20, and the IPL), and the calendar is far less disjointed than it is in England.
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The difference with India is that not only does it have a population more than six times the size of any single other Full Member and two or three hundred times that of several, it’s cricket mad and therefore generates unimaginable levels of income. I read somewhere recently that the revenue from the IPL alone (quite a bit of which sustains the BCCI in various ways) is considerably more than that of all twelve Full Member boards put together, and that the revenue generated in india is almost four times that generated in the rest of the world put together.
Which is why you and TLG is, sadly, right about red-ball cricket. The only way it will survive is with a massive cash injection–which probably means a couple of hundred million dollars a year…which would still leave the BCCI with around 50% more revenue than any other board. That’s why the WTC–quite apart from the problems inherent to a league which runs for two years but still doesn’t involve everyone playing everyone else–is a gigantic red herring.
The signs have been there this week: three different countries have pulled players out of test series so that they can play in the IPL, two of them of a series between two of the top four ranked countries which effectively serves as a warm-up for the much-vaunted WTC final for one, and possibly both, teams. A fourth Full Member–bearing in mind that having a f-c competition has always been one of the criteria for becoming a FM–has suspended a f-c competition that has only been running for a few years on the basis that there’s no point playing it because it doesn’t prepare them for anything.
Btw, thank you d’A for reminding us about the Durham situation, one of the most disgraceful episodes in the history of English cricket. It’s a travesty that any of the main people involved–yes, that’s you, Harrison, Graves and Hollins–are still allowed anywhere near the boardroom of any cricket organisation in the world. They’re greedy, self-serving vandals.
Very good and thoughtful article which articulates the problems cricket now faces. Actually, it’s all sport. Is it a recreational activity or purely a business with customers?
I wonder if in crickets case one solution might be to return, not exactly, but to a form of gentleman and players? Professionals and amateurs? Do players really need to be full time county pros? Could a young person who has good natural ability to smash the ball to all parts be a part time 20/20 player while doing a degree in some other discipline? They could make a lot of money and pay off their student loans.
You might open up the number of people who could play more, without sacrificing their futures. Back in the Victorian era they arranged money matches for players so these issues are not new. Surely full time county pros should not be the only gateway to the top level? The problem is the administrators are only interested in money and nothing else. When they say they want to expand the game I suspect they want customers who will pay to watch their product not participants.
One version of cricket that was much loved by county members was 40 over Sunday league. The match could be played without early starts at lunchtime and finish before antiques roadshow early evening. I’m being a bit sarcastic but many people loved it. But then The objective was fifty over and to win the World Cup. So it was dumped and World Cup was secured. Swings and roundabouts I guess!
You godless heathen Mark. Don’t you mean Songs of Praise?!
Either really. LOL
I guess the point is that you didn’t need to be there late into the evening. Which was why so many county members liked it. Have an early Sunday lunch and then go and watch a match that is done and dusted before 6pm
The John Player league was an offshoot from the International Cavaliers. Where you would have an Old England team, with people such as Compton, May, Laker etc, turning out against a county side for a 40 over hit and giggle bash, mostly at local grounds or, as we now say, out grounds. Tom Graveney was de- +selected from the England side in 1969, for turning out for the Cavaliers
Trescothick offered the England batting coach job according to the ECB sieve.
So how does that fit with this (Trescothick, Nov 2020)?: “I’ve told the England people and Gilo in particular that I don’t necessarily have any desire to go back and do six to eight week tours. I’m not ready for that.” A batting coach who doesn’t do tours–I just can’t quite see the logistics.
Meanwhile, sorry for sounding like a stuck record but what exactly IS Graham Thorpe’s current role then? Anyone from the ECB care to explain to us?
I have never understood why Test quality batsman need an England batting coach. Most have their own county coach or sometimes a personalised coach. In the days of the internet it would not be difficult to talk to your coach back home and even send and do video analysis.
You would hope most test batsman have some idea of the basics!! And any major changes should not be attempted in the middle of a test match. Same for bowlers. Don’t try to bring in major changes to your action on a tour.
At this level, unless they are really young, batsmen should know their game. What they need is an experienced eye to take a look every so often, or if they are having a run of bad form, or if they keep getting out in the same way, and see if they notice any bad habits or slight changes. It varies with the player, however. Boycott was an obsessive student of his technique. Viv Richards would only go into the nets if he was out of form. Sometimes it is just a simple thing like a slight change in grip or the bat pickup. I don’t think either of them would go along with the way current players seem to “train”. When he was the batting coach, Gooch used to say that his job was to talk to the players about how to build an innings, how to approach the job. I used to find that rather worrying because if you are at Test level, you ought to know how to do that stuff. Again, though, I can think of past players who could have used such support and encouragement – Dennis Amiss for one, probably Hick, Ramprakash, Lathwaite, Maynard…. Even Gooch up until 1990