The concentration of T20 cricket in recent weeks has accentuated a few of the major flaws in the game. The first and most important is scheduling. The ICC has a Future Tours Program (FTP) but it would be more appropriate to call the overall schedule the Futile Touring Circus. It’s long been an unwieldy schedule but as every day passes and a new T20 tournament is proposed, it has become not only an embarrassing joke but also a serious risk to the players’ fitness.
With two tournaments — the World T20 and the Champions League — preceding the prime season of three major countries, India, Australia and South Africa, it’s not surprising there’s been a knee-jerk reaction in trying to protect players from injury. There’s a decent amount of scientific data now available to show that fast bowlers in particular are susceptible to injury when they quickly transition from a low workload to delivering a lot of overs in a day. Therefore it’s asking for trouble to program Test matches immediately following international T20 competitions.
However, that’s exactly what Australia and South Africa are facing and both teams have plenty of fast bowlers. Surely the point has been reached where the administrators not only have to revise the schedule but also to consider separating the different forms of the game into their own “seasons”. Australia’s removal of all-rounder Shane Watson (nicknamed Watto) from the Champions League mid-tournament has been criticised but it’s Cricket Australia’s (CA) statement not their action that is questionable. CA said it made the decision “in the best interests of Australian cricket and in the best interests of Shane Watson”.
How can it be in the best interests of the player? Watson, like all cricketers who reach a high level of performance is a fierce competitor. No one of that ilk enjoys missing the knock out portion of a tournament after competing in the round robin stage. It would’ve been better to prevent Watson from playing at all rather than pull him out at the point where the Sydney Sixers have established themselves as one of the favourites to win the lucrative tournament.
The rapid expansion of T20 cricket has also further exposed the game’s huge dependence on India’s financial clout and the relatively small pool of marquee players. The business model is highly dependent on draw cards to make it financially viable and there are an ever-growing number of tournaments drawing from that small pool of players.
These two points were highlighted by the Australian official, who bemoaned the unavailability of India’s star players for the Big Bash League (BBL). He indicated they were needed to attract the big money sponsors from India and the higher television fees that can be extracted from that part of the world if their players are involved. It’s time cricket administrators from other countries broadened their horizons, especially with recent signs India is finally starting to suffer a little cricket fatigue. It’s also a bit rich to quibble about the lack of star Indian players in the competition when Australia’s best aren’t available to play the bulk of the BBL schedule.
Many outsiders are quick to criticise India for misusing its power at the administration table. However, the other major cricket bodies are even quicker to accept their money and they not only rarely challenge India’s use of its power in an effort to broaden the perspective, they actually pander to India’s wishes.
By definition this makes the other administrations equally guilty of any misuse of power. The administrators need to formulate a co-operative approach to devise a workable schedule that is both acceptable to the players and satisfies the financial needs of the game.
Any discussion on a grand plan for cricket’s future should include the option of playing only two forms of the game or retaining three versions but scheduling T20 cricket as a club only, franchise model. If they decide on only two forms, then the fifty over game is the most likely one to become extinct. This may open the way for a hybrid thirty over game to represent the shorter version. Cricket is fortunate to have choice of different forms of the game but only if wise decisions are made about their future.