Nothing encapsulates the battle for cricket's soul as much as debates about the IPL. Two writers fire shots
Kartikeya Date: The Indian Premier League has been around since 2008. In a way, the IPL was a response to the Indian Cricket League. But perhaps it was also motivated by the BCCI's interest in revenues of a different order of magnitude than they were used to for most of the 2000s.
The question is: at what cost do these revenues accrue? The cost to India and the cost to other major nations like South Africa or Australia or West Indies or England is not the same. It is far from clear that it has been beneficial to India.
The one thing most commonly said about T20 cricket, and the IPL in particular (with its carefully packaged "electrifying" atmosphere) is that it is entertaining. I can see the special attraction of watching the world's best players in the IPL playing alongside local journeymen. But are the best players actually producing the best cricket? Can they possibly do so in a format that is skewed ridiculously in favour of the bat? Could you have an exciting football match where the goal is twice its normal size? Would it still be a football match?
Who watches the IPL? And what do these viewers watch in it? Seven years in, we know little about this, apart from a circular argument about it being successful because it is popular and it being popular because it is successful. What is it about the IPL that holds the attention of its viewers? I think the answer must include, among other things, nationalism and the existence of readymade stardom. Star cricketers playing in the IPL are a bit like celebrities going on Dancing With the Stars. Perhaps cricket isn't the content of the entertainment in the IPL. Perhaps it is celebrity. If so, what are the implications for cricket?
Freddie Wilde: You ask a lot of questions here of which the answers are shifting, unknown and/or ambiguous; for the IPL, only seven years old, is still evolving - still finding its place and meaning in a confused and oscillating landscape.
Unless we are willing to ask, "How much money is enough money?" pretty much anything from pornography to the heroin trade to spot-fixing can be justified
Potential is the word that the IPL stirs within me. The concept of 20-overs-a side cricket, although existing well before the England board adopted it in 2003, was derived from market research in the UK that found cricket to be "inaccessible". T20 was thus a demand-driven creation aligned with the impulses of the public. The IPL fused cricket's newest, most accessible format in cricket's capital country with franchises, private ownership, domestic administrative autonomy, capitalism, commercialisation, celebrity and money to establish itself as a living, breathing example of cricket's economic, social and evolutionary potential.
The eventual impact of the IPL and domestic T20 leagues remains unknown, and although their conception and proliferation have without doubt exacerbated the sport's existing problems, at least now cricket has the possibility of a future beyond the unstable, volatile, context-less flotsam of international competition. And that's more than could be said a decade ago. In years to come we may see the IPL as saving, rather than killing, cricket.
KD: I think a good place to begin might be to examine what questions we are trying to answer. Your argument raises two questions:
1. What is "cricket"? To whom was it inaccessible? Why is a historically situated fact about the United Kingdom in 2003, produced not by scholarly study but by market research, worthy of attention? What interest does research into a potential market have for the game itself?
2. Is the IPL saving cricket? Or is it remaking it? If it is the latter, is it doing so well? Is there another sport in which top players make more money in two months playing a variant of the game that is of a quality lower than they play for the rest of the year?
In some basic sense, it is obvious that things are evolving - in so far as they are changing due to a combination of mutually related and unrelated events. In another sense, to simply say that things are evolving is to say that you, and those who you speak to, have nothing useful to contribute to this evolution.
Finally, it is far from clear that international cricket is (or has been) financially unsustainable. If it were financially unsustainable, nobody would have invested money in the IPL. International cricket in India, England, South Africa, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Australia was doing fine. I doubt cable companies would have paid more money for TV rights for international cricket every time the contract came up if it was a money-losing proposition. International cricket in the 1990s and 2000s was more financially sustainable than at any time in its history.
When a hero comes along: T20 has given domestic cricketers exposure, coverage and popularity that they couldn't have dreamt of two decades ago
When a hero comes along: T20 has given domestic cricketers exposure, coverage and popularity that they couldn't have dreamt of two decades ago © BCCI
Unless we are willing to ask, "How much money is enough money?" pretty much anything from pornography to the heroin trade to spot-fixing can be justified. There is no logical end to making money if that in itself is justification for doing things.
Wilde: International cricket has never been financially stable. The absence of a truly independent central authority governing the international game has ensured that a system demanding mass revenue-sharing and cooperation for stability and growth has instead been dominated by self-interest and greed.
Before the T20 format existed international cricket was doing okay - but only okay - and given a financial structure based on self-interest and greed it is not hard, looking back, to imagine the game contracting and shrinking before slowly eroding outside of its spiritual homelands - Australia, England and India. Given the breadth and depth of cricket's potential markets in Asia (Afghanistan, China, Nepal etc) it always had the potential to do far better than that, and T20 has provided it with that opportunity.
The old world was not financially unsustainable but it was financially unstable and, but for an influential few, unsatisfactory; the very fact that the IPL was established is demonstrative of that. The BCCI and, to an increasing extent, Cricket Australia and the West Indies Cricket Board are not only aware of the financial potential of domestic cricket but are actively seeking to enhance it at the cost of the international game (primarily Test cricket). And these problems will, in this liminal world, get worse before they get better. If indeed they ever do.
But T20's potential mass appeal far outstrips that of ODIs and Tests. And the shift from international-based competition to domestic-based competition engenders greater need for micro self-sufficiency among individual member boards. Whereas previously boards such as the WICB were almost entirely financially dependent on tours from the likes of Australia, England and India, in a world dominated by domestic cricket they have to nurture their own markets.
Players, financially liberated from the restrictions of international cricket, can now demand improved administration from their home boards
Of course, this is far easier said than done - and may never be done - and I believe it to be of great importance that a true supranational governing body is at some point established. But a world of sustainable self-sufficiency is surely preferable to an insular, post-colonial world of eternal inter-dependence and reliance.
I agree with you that there is no logical end to making money and that in itself is no justification for doing things, but making more money can be, with the right administration, consistently aligned with growing the game.
The IPL's role in this broader evolution is its existence as an avatar of the future. Of course, India's cricket economy is turbocharged in relation to that of the rest of the world, but the IPL has provided a portent to a future more unknown but with the potential to be more global, more accessible, and more stable.
Date: It seems to me that your central claim depends on three ideas. First, that international cricket has never been financially sound. Second, that this is because the global governing body has been too much of a federation and not enough of a corporation. And third, that the advent of the IPL is proof of the fact that this was unsatisfactory to a few people.
I don't disagree with your third claim, but it seems to me that those who support the IPL are unwilling to ask whether it is good for cricket. They assume it will be, in some cases like yourself, "with the right administration".
The BBC held uninterrupted television rights in England for 60 years till the late-1990s. According to a report from the government-approved Office of Communications, international cricket in England went from being worth £15 million per year in broadcast rights in 1995 to £93 million a year in 2012. This increase is more than four and a half times the rate of increase of the United Kingdom's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the same period. In the process, cricket disappeared from free-to-air TV and the BBC didn't even bid for rights in 2008. A similar story is to be told about deals in Australia and India. Even in Sri Lanka (a third of the UK's population, 1/40th of the UK's GDP), in 2012 it was estimated that the Sri Lankan board could make a million dollars in a single series. In 2006, ESPN-Star agreed to pay an estimated $1.1 billion for TV rights to ICC events until the 2015 World Cup. The new deal, until 2023 is reportedly substantially larger, and according to some reports nearly double the existing deal. In 2012, the TV, mobile and internet rights deal for games in India was worth $750 million over a six-year period.
"The West Indies Cricket Board creates players like Chris Gayle. The IPL is the parasite that buys the finished product"
"The West Indies Cricket Board creates players like Chris Gayle. The IPL is the parasite that buys the finished product" © BCCI
It is true, as you say, that cricket is big in India, Australia and England, but not comparably so elsewhere. This is simply an artifact of the size of these three economies. By Purchasing Power Parity, the GDP of the ten Test-playing nations as estimated by the IMF for 2013 are ranked as follows:
UK (10), 34% of India
Australia (19), 16% of India
Pakistan (26), 12% of India
South Africa (29), 10% of India
Bangladesh (36), 7% of India
Sri Lanka (61), 3% of India
New Zealand (69), 2% of India
Zimbabwe (126), 0.4% of India
West Indies (combined), 1.1% of India
Given such disparity overall, international cricket is always going to be unsustainable unless it is governed in a progressive manner and unless the richer countries (i.e. the bigger, more affluent cricket markets) invest aggressively in the poorer countries. Instead, the IPL and the Big Bash League have combined to produce a world in which the ICC has become less progressive and more "meritocratic" (to quote the leaked position paper) from January 2014. Redistribution of income has become less generous.
To believe that the IPL and its monies and attractions are good for the game depends on believing that success in cricket depends on selling it successfully to people who have the money to buy it at high prices. This will not spread the game as a public sport but as a private product limited to those who can afford it. Taking the game to areas of relatively lesser privilege is then an act of charity. This trickle-down theory of the well-being of the game is fine as it goes, but a method of growing the game it is not.
Chris Martin was dismissed 52 times in 615 deliveries in Tests, a dismissal every 11.8 balls. Ten Chris Martins probably wouldn't get bowled out in 20 overs
Cricket was profitable before the IPL. It was profitable before T20. The new format has shrunk the game, concentrated power and made it a venue for the rich to park their money. Cricket is becoming ever more exclusive. The IPL is the most exclusive tournament in the world. The price of the cheapest IPL ticket is about four days' wages for the median wage-earner in India (going by figures from a Gallup survey in 2013). The bit about mass appeal is just lazily borrowed rhetoric at best, cynical marketing at worst.
Wilde: The health and prosperity of all cricket has and always will be dependent on the "right administration". That is no different because of T20, and - although there is no guarantee, just as there was none before - the T20 age has empowered the only two stakeholders with the ability to hold those who run the game to account: players and investors.
Players, financially liberated from the restrictions of international cricket, can now demand improved administration from their home boards or withhold themselves from playing. Before T20, striking players ultimately remained subservient to their national boards - the only administration capable of substantial remuneration - but now the tables have turned.
As time erodes players' patience and sense of pride at playing for their country in an increasingly cosmopolitan world, more and more players may strike from appearing for their national team, demanding improvements in either pay, administration, and/or representation, especially among the financially weaker and more unprofessional boards.
T20, unlike other cricket formats, doesn't encourage batsmen to value their wicket
© Getty Images
T20, unlike other cricket formats, doesn't encourage batsmen to value their wicket © Getty Images
If the more powerful boards realise the benefits and long-term potential of a global domestic game, let alone international, it will become apparent that meritocracy does not necessarily garner self-sufficiency and (as your statistics on GDP show) redistribution of wealth is required for cricket to not only grow but to survive.
The IPL and BBL are better off for the presence of international players. The Champions League T20 - of which reportedly 84% is owned by the BCCI and CA - would generate greater revenue were its competitors from outside India and Australia, with globally recognised brands and globally competitive teams.
A global game will be a richer game but a richer game does not necessarily have to be a global game; the "right administration" is one that realises the difference and seeks the former.
For now at least the influence of third-party investors in cricket remains limited to the IPL, Caribbean Premier League and Bangladesh Premier League, as well as a number of regional tournaments in India such as the Karnataka Premier League. The BCCI in particular has maintained a vice-like grip on the influence of team owners within the IPL. But without the franchises the league would not be what it is today. Modern teams are not only competitive, professional cricket organisations, they are brands (Chennai Super Kings Ltd is now floating on the stock market) and if administrative corruption tarnishes such brands, losing them value, those who own them are unlikely to allow such negligence to go unnoticed. It is only a matter of time before the BCCI clashes with IPL team owners.
The T20 format may well have further concentrated power in the hands of a few, but with the stakes higher than ever, this has only pushed cricket closer to the revolution in administration it so desperately needs.
It seems we will eternally disagree on the appeal of T20 to a mass audience, but it is perhaps telling that the World T20 remains the largest of cricket's global tournaments in terms of teams competing. While Test cricket remains hopelessly exclusive, even the ICC - the antithesis of a benevolent and visionary administration - is managing to expand the World T20.
Although the format for the "16-team" World T20 tournament in 2014 was an excuse for expansion, I believe a 32-team World T20 is perhaps only two decades away. It is not necessarily the fault of Test cricket that it is not being used to spread the game, but given the reasons for T20's conception and the nature of cricket it produces, it is the most accessible format and will therefore be more successful at spreading the game more than any other.
Although the format for the "16-team" World T20 tournament in 2014 was an excuse for expansion, I believe a 32-team World T20 is perhaps only two decades away
Date: Power in the ICC was not concentrated so that the rich boards could band together and build some kind of benevolent dictatorship that will be able to use carrots and sticks justly to dole out justice, whip errant ("unprofessional," as you say) members into line, and help them grow if they do the right thing. Power was concentrated so that wealth could be redistributed less generously, or, as the position paper said, "meritocratically".
There has never ever been a private for-profit organisation that behaved in a benevolent, paternal way when faced with a competitive marketplace. The entire point of a market is to disincentivise these whims so that money is spent efficiently, specifically from the point of view of producing short-term (and occasionally, long-term) profit.
It is not that hard to conjure up some kind of administrative paradise in which everyone gets along, everyone makes money and nothing is expensive. You say, for example, that "[a] global game will be a richer game but a richer game does not necessarily have to be a global game; the 'right administration' is one that realises the difference and seeks the former". Well, the IPL is an example of the game trying to be richer and less global. It is not an expansion, but a concentration of power and wealth.
Finally, on the idea that players who get wages from the IPL will have the leverage to get their boards to behave better - these players are creations of long-term, persistent investments made by the respective boards. The IPL is the parasite that buys the finished product (say, Chris Gayle) at a bargain-basement price and gives the West Indies Cricket Board nothing commensurate (other than perhaps a minor fraction of a price determined by an entirely different market) in return. The WICB and its members created the age-group tours, maintained the grounds, organised tournaments and negotiated sponsorships for the 15-20 years that it took to develop Chris Gayle. It would cost an IPL franchise enormous sums of money and time to create an infrastructure rivalling that - money that no private individual is going to invest because the returns would be available only over the long term.
So I don't buy your suggestion that the lesser boards are somehow unworthy of their share of the global game's pie. In many senses, it is difficult to know who has been more damaging to the game - Giles Clarke with his dangerous tendency to expose the game to crooks like Allen Stanford; the BCCI with its preference for insolvent tycoons who won't pay their bills, like Vijay Mallya, and unscrupulous people like Raj Kundra; or Peter Chingoka, who is the product of and operates in a difficult regime in a poor country. I have far more patience for Mr Chingoka's shortcomings than I do for Mr Clarke's or the BCCI's.
No arguments: T20 has definitely raised fielding standards
No arguments: T20 has definitely raised fielding standards © BCCI
But perhaps my biggest problem with the IPL is the format. In no other sport has the core contest been diluted as it has in the 20-over game, in order to sell it. T20 is destroying bowlers. Ten wickets over 20 overs is a ridiculous amount of resources for the batting side. Chris Martin was dismissed 52 times in 615 deliveries in Tests. And that includes the times he hung on for dear life and the times he didn't because there was no point (which was often). That is a dismissal every 11.8 balls. Ten Chris Martins probably wouldn't get bowled out in 20 overs.
Even with the larger problems of the IPL, I would still think it was worth watching if it produced a good game. It is structurally incapable of doing so. At least Kerry Packer's league was playing cricket. Lalit Modi's isn't.
Wilde: It seems where we begin to clearly disagree is within your final paragraph. I see T20, predominantly played domestically, as the form of cricket most capable of growing the sport, while you do not even see it as cricket.
The issue of whether you see T20 as cricket is largely a pointless claim based on semantics. But for what it is worth I see a pitch (a gully, a garden, a maidan), some stumps, a bat and a ball as all you need for a game of cricket.
Your biggest problem with T20 appears to be the balance, or your perceived absence of balance, between bat and ball. And on the surface of things I think you are right. Based on our existing understanding of cricket, T20 does appear to favour the batsman, more so than any other format. However, to understand and appreciate T20 properly I believe it is essential that we distance ourselves from the pervasive lexicon and barometers that dominate our discussion and understanding of first-class and List A cricket. While comparisons and understanding of first-class cricket and one-day cricket could certainly be, and have been carried, from the latter to the former, to do so from first-class to T20 cricket does a disservice to both formats. Yes, they are both cricket, but they are their own strand and should be judged individually rather than compared.
Reducing an ODI game to 20 overs a side is about as unimaginative as things can get. It is a bit like thinking you can shrink a Ferrari into a toy without losing any engineering detail
First-class cricket is defined by the struggle for survival and the struggle for wickets. One-day cricket is defined by the struggle for runs within the struggle for survival, and the struggle for containment within the struggle for wickets. T20 cricket is defined by the struggle for runs and the struggle for containment. And these gulfs in definition are being widened as T20 continues to radicalise and pull one-day cricket with it.
These problems in analysis and assessment are reinforced by the current nature of the cricket media, which, unspecialised and homogenous, uses umbrella terms, generalisations and broad comparisons to cover radically different contests.
The margins in T20 cricket are finer than in one-day and first-class cricket. While the difference between victory and defeat in first-class cricket is often gradually established over days, the difference in T20 is often made in split seconds. Sometimes they are obvious but often they aren't. Matches can be won in single overs or off single deliveries, and thus the smallest differences in length of delivery, or shape of shot, or field placement, can be the difference between victory and defeat.
It will take time for cricket and its language and analysis to become accustomed to such crucial shifts in momentum in matches. They are more subtle and unfamiliar than those we know, they happen faster. But they exist and I believe acknowledging them and appreciating them is inevitable for anyone who distances themselves from comparing T20 to its sibling formats.
The BBL, like other T20 leagues, has been a marketing man's dream, offering the "ability to sell a product from scratch"
© Getty Images
The BBL, like other T20 leagues, has been a marketing man's dream, offering the "ability to sell a product from scratch" © Getty Images
Date: I have never known an argument that didn't involve semantics. The marketing men who created T20 took great care to stay as close to cricket as possible. When the BCCI created the IPL, they hired the greatest Test players of the day as "icons" and went to great lengths to pick the top television commentators. I think that as a marketing proposition the fans had to believe that what they were watching was cricket and not something else. It was a semantic necessity. The marketing men who created T20 certainly didn't think the semantics were pointless.
I have zero problems with any amateur cricket in any format. I grew up playing endless variants. In 2007, zero weeks in the international calendar year were taken up by T20 leagues. Today, 17 weeks are taken up just by two major leagues and the inter-league tournament. The home Test season in the West Indies clashes with the IPL.
Are margins finer in T20 cricket? Or are they simply more arbitrary? ESPNcricinfo records a "control" statistic for T20 games it covers. Batsmen who play at least ten balls in an IPL innings are found to be in control (i.e. the ball goes where they aim to hit it) about 75% of the time. Teams are similarly in control between 70 and 75% of the time. Winning teams in the IPL in the 2011, 2012 and 2013 editions were in "control" 91 balls out of 120. Losing teams were in control 87 balls out of 120.
There is evidence that shows that luck plays a bigger part in the 20-over format than in the 50-over format. Let's look at the ODI and T20 records of the worst limited-overs teams among the top eight from February 17, 2005 - when the first international T20 was played - to April 1, 2014. West Indies, the team with the poorest win-loss record in ODIs, won 26% of their ODIs against top-seven opponents. In the same period New Zealand, the team with the poorest win-loss record in T20, won 35% of their T20s against top-seven opponents. These two facts suggest to me that outcomes in T20 games are the result of chance far more than in longer formats. The measures of merit are less robust, less nuanced and more arbitrary. They are not finer.
To understand and appreciate T20 properly we distance ourselves from the pervasive lexicon and barometers that dominate our understanding of first-class cricket
By comparison, in a Test against South Africa earlier this year, West Indies' Leon Johnson made a chancy 54 in 84 balls against Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. He was beaten multiple times every over, especially by Steyn, and was deemed in control 79% of the time - which is more than the control statistic for the average T20 innings.
Discussing things like margins, trying to work out what it means to say that they are "finer", will lead to a clearer, deeper description of the T20 contest. But it will also lead further away from the way you understand "cricket". Eventually you will come to the conclusion that T20 is something different. When thought of as cricket, it is a terribly boring, mediocre sport, because players, especially batsmen, seem to do ridiculous things all too often (not because they are stupid, but because they can be profligate with resources), and too many overs are bowled by bowlers who wouldn't make a Test team in their lifetime.
It's peculiar how people with an affinity for T20 get upset when it is pointed out that it isn't cricket. Even calling it "show business" doesn't seem to upset them so much. Cricket appears to be an essential crutch here. Like most crutches, I fear cricket will eventually be thrown away. That would be ungrateful at the very least. What's worse, we will be left with a second-rate game that we will not understand even then, because we will have been pretending that it is cricket.
Wilde: It is fairly evident why I see the discussion surrounding semantics as pointless and you do not: for I see T20 as an extension of cricket and you see it as something in competition with cricket. In this regard I understand why you so vehemently challenge the fact that T20 was built upon the existing sport of cricket, while I, conversely, am grateful for the existing paradigm cricket provided T20.
Talkin' about a revolution: the T20 Cup in England was launched in 2003 to get more bums on seats. Not long after, other cricket boards cashed in on the format's potential
© Getty Images
Talkin' about a revolution: the T20 Cup in England was launched in 2003 to get more bums on seats. Not long after, other cricket boards cashed in on the format's potential © Getty Images
I do, however, agree entirely that the better team wins less often in T20 than they do in longer, pre-existing forms, but that is only logical. If football was played over 180 minutes the better team would win more often than in a 90-minute match. Test cricket is the longest mainstream sport in the world and the better team generally wins more often than not, and that is part of what makes it a great sport. That T20 is not five days, and is instead three and a half hours, does not necessarily make it a worse format. There are positives and negatives to Test cricket and T20 cricket's lengths.
Your point about "control" is fascinating and very valid. According to ESPNcricinfo's statistics batsmen are in "control" less in T20 than they are in other formats (although, again, comparing formats is something I believe we should avoid). But T20 batting, as with bowling, remains in its infancy, and understanding the difference between risk and reward is growing, and as it grows further still, I believe batsmen will be increasingly in control as the methods and means of batting in T20 are entrenched.
This argument that batsmen are in control less in T20 serves to support my view that the risks involved in T20 batting help to redress the balance between bat and ball, which for what it's worth I believe will naturally rebalance (slightly!) over time - although it should be remembered that in no format is the bowler ever more advantaged than the batsman.
I think in the distant future T20 cricket and Test cricket will be regarded as more substantially different sports. They will both always be cricket, but they will be thought of very differently and played by entirely different players. Just as Rugby League and Rugby Union are both rugby but are seen as different sports.
Date: What has emerged in these exchanges is that the position you represent is built on little other than hope. It is built on disregarding every bit of actual reality that you see in front of your eyes.
What T20 tells its viewership is - you don't have to pay attention, you don't have to think. You don't even have to understand anything
T20 is exclusive, more expensive, and caters to a very small fraction of the public. Yet it is marketed as a game for the masses. T20 is built on cricket - it is classically parasitic and ungrateful. This is evident from every big decision in cricket in the last seven years - the windows for the IPL and Champions League; the contraction of the ICC by the three richest boards; the end of the Future Tours Programme, and control of the calendar by the Big Three. It is no surprise that two officials - Sundar Raman and Dean Kino, who built the Champions League T20 and were officials involved with the IPL and BBL - were part of the very small sub-committee that drafted the changes to the ICC's power structure. Every decision in cricket in the last seven years has served exactly one purpose - to corral the game's resources in the service of profit for very few people.
At stake is a basic question - what is cricket to be? A private profit machine for very few? Or a public sport? Over the last 25 years the game has been on an increasingly brisk march towards the former. In the process it has disappeared from free-to-air television (in India there are constant battles between cable providers and broadcasters with the result that in parts of Mumbai, the Australia-India Test series was unavailable in some cases unless extra money over and above the cable subscription was paid - the free market at its finest). Grounds have increasingly been given over to "corporate hospitality", which drives up prices for tickets. There is more media but less access. The best players play lesser cricket at lower levels today than they ever have done. The best bowlers (and often, the most promising) spend three months in the year bowling spells of at most three overs at batsmen who don't care about being dismissed. The game is more stratified, more exclusive and less accessible than it has ever been.
The presentation of T20 seems to be driven by fear more than anything else - fear that the viewer will change the channel, fear that inviting the viewer to pay attention and perhaps think for a moment, is fraught with danger. The broadcast is designed, as Harsha Bhogle once memorably put it, to grab the attention of the housewife as she walks from the living room to the kitchen. It is designed for exactly one audience - the part of the population that has money and is willing to spend it. Interest in cricket, or curiosity about it, doesn't come into it.
What T20 basically tells its viewership is: you don't have to pay attention, you don't have to think. You don't even have to understand anything, and we won't burden you with too many details. All it says is: here are a few famous people playing cricket, here are three hours of entertainment that your friends are watching. The marketing strategy of ESPN in the US has, for years, involved commercials that tell viewers: Don't get left out at the water cooler, be in the know. If you want to seem plausible, watch SportsCenter.
Few outside the big three have been happy about how the ICC has become "less progressive and more 'meritocratic'"
Few outside the big three have been happy about how the ICC has become "less progressive and more 'meritocratic'" © AFP
SportsCenter is a successful show that basically delivers talking points. What is being presented is not sport but a show. The sport must fit the demands of the show. And supporters of this idea must, out of necessity, disregard the inevitable disfigurement of the sport in this process. Ideally they are never aware of it at all.
Wilde: Admittedly, T20 has complicated the cricketing landscape, but it is extremely hard to see, for example, how 52,000 people watching the BBL semi-final is not good for cricket. I could just as easily argue that it is you, claiming T20 caters to "a very small fraction of the public", who are a "parasite" and is "ungrateful" - which is, if not ignoring facts, at the very least obtuse and naïve.
What is cricket to be? A private profit machine for very few people? Or a public sport? Yes, perhaps in administrative terms, it is becoming more of a private profit machine, but T20 is at least merging the two more than previously, in that it is bringing thousands of people to domestic cricket matches week in, week out. In administrative terms, English Premier League football can hardly be said to be a sport of the people, or a public sport, yet for two-thirds of the year football grounds in towns and cities are full of people from the local community supporting their team. Cricket is similarly becoming more domesticated, bringing cricket back to the cities, rather than merely existing as an international sport.
T20 has quite evidently radically grown cricket's popularity, mass appeal and commercial clout. It has significantly improved opportunities for players, and given domestic cricket exposure, coverage and popularity that it couldn't even have dreamt of two decades ago.
The 2014 World T20 final was watched by 2.4 million viewers in the USA, while India's six matches were viewed by 672 million people. The 2014 IPL final was the second-most watched sporting event outside of the National Football League (NFL), ever online. The IPL is estimated to be one of the most valuable sporting leagues on the planet, and similar things can also be said of the BBL, which was recently being looked at by administrators from the NFL, National Basketball League and Major League Baseball due to its enormous success. And whatever that means and however intangible those things are for the common fan, the IPL, and now the BBL, is giving cricket a global reputation.
Given cricket's relative inability to penetrate the global consciousness and popularity, the marketing surrounding T20 is necessary
More tangible, perhaps, is that following the third season of the BBL, research by the Gemba Group showed that 42% of attendees had come to a cricket match for the first time. Elsewhere, the CPL is fast becoming the world's third-most successful league and is reinvigorating cricket's flailing popularity in the region. Last season, according to research firm SMG-Insight/YouGov, the CPL was estimated to have injected $166 million into the Caribbean economy.
England's league still lags behind but is generating record crowds. In fact, domestic crowd records have been broken in almost every major cricket ground in the world since the inception of T20, and millions of people watch on television.
I agree with you that there is more than a semblance of crassness, brashness, ugliness and distraction surrounding the presentation of T20. But given cricket's relative inability to penetrate the global consciousness and popularity in an increasingly, commercialised and manufactured world, the marketing surrounding T20 is, I believe, necessary. Sports marketing expert Dan Migala, who assisted with the promotion of the BBL, recently said the fundamental appeal of becoming involved in the BBL is the ability to sell a product from scratch, allowing you to mould its image to the inclinations of a 21st century world. I am a long way away from talking about the sport now, and I am viewing it through the eyes of a businessman, but given cricket's need to compete with other leisure and sport I believe it to be necessary.
I do not for a minute believe that T20 can in a heartbeat solve the problems cricket faces, but I believe it has a better chance of doing so than any other format.
Date: I wish you would actually make arguments to sustain all the things you say. That lots of people watching the IPL or BBL finals is good for cricket is a hope (and unquestionably, large profit for a small number of people), and little else. The price cricket has paid to get those low-information viewers has to be considered carefully. Hope is all well and good, but merely peddling hope is the work of public relations executives and marketing managers, not journalists or critics. The latter must deal with the facts.
It is also probably true that journalists who work only in cricket have a vested interest in not being critical of the IPL or the BBL. These leagues create more events for them to cover than international cricket alone might. I can see that as a business proposition, franchise leagues have been good for the paraphernalia that surround the game (including media outlets). But is it good for the game itself? For the contest between bat and ball, and the skill with which human beings can compete with bat and ball? What is lost if this quality declines?
Ought cricket to be a private profit machine for very few, or a public sport?
© Getty Images
Ought cricket to be a private profit machine for very few, or a public sport? © Getty Images
Exactly one good thing has come out of the IPL in India in my view. This is the improvement in pensions and one-time payments to former players, umpires, curators and other cricket-related staff. Sadly even this has been done, by all available reports, rather regressively and with the BCCI's customary opacity. The money has not gone to those who need it most but to those who deserve it the most (which is determined primarily based on the number of matches they played). But still, it is one of the better things the BCCI has done in recent years.
As you say, the IPL and the BBL are a result of a desire to allow cricket to compete in the global marketplace. This is as good as saying that the IPL came about because of fear - fear of losing one's place in the world. What is striking about the IPL (or BBL) is not how radical it is, but how timid it is. Reducing an ODI game to 20 overs a side is about as unimaginative as things can get. It is a bit like thinking you can shrink a Ferrari into a toy for a child without losing any engineering detail. While the marketing men have been busy convincing viewers that what they have been watching is cricket, the players and coaches have been trying to invent another game within the ridiculous straitjacket that the 20-over contest and the four-over limit allows.
The public relations campaign surrounding the franchise-based leagues has peddled two lies that are most egregious. First, there is the idea that franchises will attract new talent to the game. The fact is that all the leagues have been using talent developed within the mature, complex infrastructures developed by the many boards and their member clubs over many generations. When it came to taking responsibility for the conduct of players during the spot-fixing investigation, the first thing franchises were at pains to point out was that they only had control of players for about three months in the year. So far, there is no evidence of any systematic investment in scouting, academies or the like at any reasonable scale by any franchise anywhere.
The second lie is the idea that franchise T20 leagues are bringing new audiences to cricket - that T20 is somehow a gateway drug to the real thing. That this is a lie is easily seen from the main selling point of T20, which is that the real thing takes too long and T20 guarantees a result in an evening. Why would people who think this be drawn to watch the longer event, which they are implicitly informed is too long? Further, consider that, as of 2011, India had more than 45 cities with a population of one million or more, and at least five or six that could easily be home to two IPL franchises. Will the seven-week tournament in 2014 stay a seven-week tournament in 2034? Without trying to be melodramatic, the T20 leagues are a hostile takeover masquerading as an opening band.
Every decision in cricket in the last seven years has served exactly one purpose - to corral the game's resources in the service of profit for very few people
As a matter of business, the future of Test cricket is bleak. What will be lost is an enormous amount of skill. With all this wealth, you would think that the powers that be would turn at least some of their attention to the contest between bat and ball and make it more evenly balanced. One small baby step would be to allow a bowler who takes a wicket to bowl an extra over beyond the allotted four in a T20 game. Further, a bowler who doesn't take a wicket in his first three overs should be prohibited from returning for a fourth. What T20 needs is an incentive for batsmen to protect their wickets. Low "control" figures (about 75%) in T20 games suggest batsmen don't care about getting out.
The bowler is the master in Test cricket - bowlers win games, batsmen prevent them from being lost. Test hundreds are made as often in wins as they are in draws, but a seven-wicket match haul is made in a Test win about 55% of the time and in a draw only about 20% of the time. A five-wicket innings haul is made in a win about 61% of the time and in a draw only about 16% of the time. More wickets mean more wins. T20 has much to learn from Test cricket. You are right that it doesn't really matter in the long run whether T20 is thought of as cricket. It doesn't matter to T20. But it does matter to cricket.
What T20 needs, in a nutshell, is to be honest about what it is. That is the only way it will develop into a truly great sport, not just something played by bad cricketers who aren't good enough to be first-class players. Maybe it needs a great administrator who might be willing to take a risk because there is a great sport to be built. Someone who understands cricket and wants to preserve the highest skills of that great sport. What we currently have are a bunch of meek salesmen squatting in cricket's magnificent shadow.
"Test cricket is the longest mainstream sport in the world and the better team generally wins more often than not"
© PA Photos
"Test cricket is the longest mainstream sport in the world and the better team generally wins more often than not" © PA Photos
If T20 really wants to bring new audiences and new talent to Test cricket, perhaps it could start by providing a testing ground for that talent and ability. Currently it does not.
Wilde: Of course there is not a mutually inclusive relationship between popularity and success or quality. However, cricket is a frighteningly small sport on a global scale and I believe T20 is the only format of the sport that can realistically change that.
Yes, my belief in T20 is based on hope, but that is hope I have extracted from facts, logic and history. Facts that tell me the popularity of Test cricket in all playing nations apart from Australia and England is dwindling. Logic that tells me a game that takes five days to complete - in an age in which the only way you can guarantee someone watching a video is if it is a six-second Vine - is one unlikely to appeal to contemporary lifestyles. History that tells me the relationship between bat and ball in all cricket is a fluctuating conversation, one in which I believe the bowlers will find a way back. I do not disagree with much of what you have said in this conversation, most pertinently that cricket cannot continue to be administered as it is if it is to survive and flourish. It is just that I see T20 as best suited to doing that, and you do not.
Your claim that there is "no evidence to suggest systematic investment in scouting, academies or the like" is not only false but short-sighted and naïve. There is much to dislike and worry about with regard to the private ownership of T20 teams, but the lack of academies and youth development structures is not one of them. The CPL was, in fact, the first league to encourage its own youth development system, and is in the process of establishing its own youth development programme. Meanwhile, in December it was revealed by Mumbai Indians that John Wright would be moving from head coach to heading a new scouting and youth development system. It is, I would confidently predict, only a matter of time before an IPL team sets up an academy and with the money at their disposal it could be unparalleled in its scope and facilities. Whereas previously domestic cricket relied on handouts for youth development, it can now do it alone.
I agree with you that the notion fans will migrate to longer formats is, quite frankly, delusional. Sure, you may get a few who do but the majority will not. Your ideas to encourage wicket-taking in T20 via three-over restrictions are interesting, and they are the kind of things that should be considered to even the contest between bat and ball. As all formats evolve, so too will T20.
For what it is worth, I love Test cricket. Test cricket is, as a test of skill and character, unparalleled. A great Test match is in my opinion the greatest form of cricket and the greatest sporting contest in the world. However, great Test matches are rarer than great T20s and take ten times as long to complete. Test cricket is a format of cricket out of touch with modern life and behaviour. Like classical music it will forever remain beautiful and special but hard and perhaps impossible to reconcile with today's world.
T20 cricket is so different that its skills - perhaps inferior, perhaps superior - should not be compared with those of Test cricket. It is its own strand of cricket, confused and misunderstood by the nature of its conception and its packaging. Underneath the garish marketing and brash advertising, which are essential to growing the sport, there is a truly fascinating and wonderful form of cricket.
I believe it is a myth that T20 cricket will save Test cricket by pushing its new fans up towards the five-day game. It is, in fact, more likely that the contrast between the two formats will hasten Test cricket's sad but unsurprising demise. It is then that we may count ourselves lucky that T20 exists - however global, domestic, rich or poor, big or small - to carry forward cricket's great and undying legacy.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.