A Manifesto for World Cricket
Russell Degnan

Previously: Part 1 a b c d e f g h 2 a b c 3 a b

Part 3c. Year 2: The World Test Championship Play-off

A test championship with regional qualification has some clear losers. New Zealand and the West Indies, on recent form, are highly unlikely to qualify above their regional counterparts. For this reason, the sixth spot in each division is determined via a play-off between the next best team in each region (teams not involved in the play-off are free to play marquee tours in the international window).

The format for the play-off is the same as for the world test championship. Each team plays a three test series home and away to the other teams in the play-off. The top team, again based on points, then aggregate margin, and finally net runs per wicket.

The top team in each group moves takes the sixth spot in the world test championship (or second division). The remaining teams are the two seeded teams in the second division (or third). This maintains reasonable regional parity through-out the divisions (a maximum of three teams from any one region).

The play-off system is not perfect. It is possible for the 6th best team to miss out to the 7th (or worse). An alternative system would be to have world, not regional qualifiers - four groups of four, and a play-off between the four second placed sides. There is no inherent improvement in fairness with this approach - the third best side in a group may deserve to be in the finals; it is logistically more problematic, with shorter series, and potentially more overlap in group scheduling; and it doesn't allow rivalries to build up from regular regional championships.

Having said that, teams from strong regions are at a disadvantage with this approach. The fourth placed teams in the Asian and Southern regions (normally Zimbabwe and Bangladesh) are generally excluded, although they will meet the two losing test sides in division two. Conversely, the sides on the border of the world group get meaningful and competitive fixtures against other test sides, with quite reasonable variety. An examination of the past 30 years indicates that the competitiveness and variety of the play-offs is quite high. Based on the ratings at the time, all the top 8 test teams would have failed to qualify on at least two occasions; would have qualified either directly or through the play-offs on at least 10 occasions; and would have been seeded at least once. Zimbabwe too, would have taken part in the play-offs at least twice, and been seeded first in the second division. But perhaps just as importantly, financially speaking, the major teams are almost always present in the finals.

Dark colours represent regional or play-off winners; yellow represents play-off participants; boxed teams are seeded teams.

Idle Summers 25th February, 2010 18:06:35   [#] [0 comments] 

A Manifesto for World Cricket
Russell Degnan

Previously: Part 1 a b c d e f g h 2 a b c

Part 3. World and Regional Test Championships

In this section, I will outline a format for playing world and regional championships, on a four year cycle, as discussed in the previous post on structural pillars. It make sense to work backwards, from the goal to the journey's beginning, outlining each of the five stages in turn.

Part 3a. Year 4: The World Test Championship Final

Naturally, a championship ends with a final. Because this is test cricket, and because this series should be the pinnacle of the game, it should be a four test series, played home and away, with two tests for each finalist. In the event of a drawn series, the host of the second leg should host a fifth, and deciding game. Because this potentially requires the crossing from one hemispheric summer to another, the sensible time to hold it is in the September/October international break, playing the four or five games across the six available weeks.

In addition, two plate championship finals, for the test teams that didn't qualify for the world championship finals, and the associate teams, should be played. Producing, in effect, three divisions, each with their own champion.

Part 3b. Year 3: The World Test Championship

In order to have a final, you must first play a championship. This section is the central idea for the whole test championship. Numerous people have proposed leagues and finals, but most fall short on logistical grounds, requiring endless overseas travel, and removing from the equation that unique aspect of test cricket: the series. As previously discussed, the aim here is to create a tournament, one that emphasises the good points of test cricket, for the elite teams, but structured such that any team might qualify. Given those points, the twelve test limit on the number of matches a team might reasonably play in a year, and the need to schedule around different seasons, and emerging T20 tournaments, the structure chosen is, I believe, the best that can be achieved.

The test championship would be contested by six teams. There are several advantages to this. Firstly, six covers enough of the test playing nations that the middling sides have ample opportunity to compete, but also allows a competitive second division, between the bottom four test sides and two associates. Secondly, six teams, playing in two groups of three, can play two home three-test series each, completing the entire championship inside a year.

Thirdly, six fits nicely with the existing qualities of the three regions discussed in part one. The Southern and Asian regions, with four test teams each, will have two teams automatically qualifying. The Northern region, with only two test sides, just one. That makes five sides. The final, sixth place, is drawn from the next best side in each of the three regions, as will be explained later.

The championship will be organised as follows:

The draw

For logistical reasons, regional teams need to be kept separate, as far as possible. The rules relating to the draw aim to achieve this end.

  • The top two teams are seeded, and placed in group 1 and 2 respectively.
  • For each region, beginning with the region with the most representatives:
    Draw each team,
    if one group has more representatives from that region place team into the other group,
    otherwise, draw a group number for that team and place in that group.

The play

Each team plays a three test series at home against the other two teams in their group, playing 12 games in total, 6 at home, 6 away. Games are scheduled into the international windows, beginning in October, and ending in the following July.

Points are awarded for each match as follows: a win: 3 points, a tie: 2, a draw: 1, a loss: 0.
Bonus points are awarded for a series victory: +1 point for each game not drawn.

ResultWinnerLoserResultBoth Teams

The top team on points in each group progresses to the World Test Championship Final. In the event of a tie, teams will be separated by:

  • Aggregate margin (23 runs per wicket for margins by wickets, 250 runs per innings for margins by an an innings)
  • Net runs per wicket.

There is very little about this structure that I would change. The number of matches is perfect, and it leads to a dramatic conclusion. The use of series instead of individual games, and a home and away structure instead of neutral venues are all superior to the shorter tournament formats often suggested. There is, however, more problems in the qualifying stages.

Idle Summers 25th February, 2010 17:59:34   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: CLXXXVIII, February 2010
Russell Degnan

The city for the trees. Taken January 2010

Melbourne Town 25th February, 2010 17:43:44   [#] [0 comments] 

Ratings - 24th February 2010
Russell Degnan

Recently completed matches

2nd TestIndiavSouth Africa
Expected MarginIndia by 62 runs
Actual MarginIndia by an innings and 57 runs

South Africa seem to have developed a penchant for failing to close out games. This time losing heavily when another 10 minutes of batting would have secured a draw. If they'd succeeded in two of their three recent failures they'd be currently ranked number one, but it is results that matter. While much was made of Amla's dual centuries and mountain of runs, the two key figures in this game were Steyn - whose 1/115 left the other South African bowlers to suffer the Indian onslaught - and Sehwag - whose 165 at almost a run-a-ball was the deciding factor in India being able to close out the game on a good batting deck. South Africa will rue their ineffective middle order and collapses, because a series win was there for the taking. Even their batting in the second innings, while admirable in its stoicism, was let down by a lack of intent to make India bat again, and earn themselves valuable time.

Only TestNew ZealandvBangladesh
Expected MarginNew Zealand by 218 runs
Actual MarginNew Zealand by 121 runs

Bangladesh were thoroughly beaten here, taking only twelve New Zealand wickets, for 121 fewer runs. Yet, this was still an admirable performance. Their lower order continues to show fight, and in Shakib, Mahmudullah, Mushfiqur Rahim and Tamin Iqbal, have the makings of a reasonable batting lineup. Their recent ratings climb reflects this, regaining heights not seen since they entered test cricket (and promptly plummeted under an avalanche of innings defeats). Their greatest liability is their tendency to get out to daft shots, particularly when things are going well, and a general weakness in their bowling, which won't easily be fixed. They should, however, be aiming to draw more games.

I-Cup MatchAfghanistanvCanada
Expected MarginAfghanistan by 74 runs
Actual MarginAfghanistan by 6 wickets

Long may Afghanistan illuminate international cricket with their ability and spirit. Canada, by all rights, should have won this match with ease. Has any team lost from a 302 run first innings lead? What about a declaration 494 runs in front that, at the time, I considered conservative, if not negative. Yet they were beaten easily in the end, with the Afghans chasing throughout the final session at a run-a-ball to win by 6 wickets. Their lack of bowling depth in the absence of key members is a worry, but with the batsmen so capable of regular big scores, they are hard team to beat. With Zimbabwe lurking, but the other contenders well behind, the game against Scotland in August will probably determine if Afghanistan can make the final.

I-Cup MatchKenyavNetherlands
Expected MarginKenya by 110 runs
Actual MarginKenya by 5 wickets

For the first two days it was the Ryan ten Doeschate show, scoring a double ton and taking five wickets. Yet, Kenya prevailed in the first innings and the second, after the Dutch declared generously in the hope of forcing a result. It is a great pity that we aren't able to compare the quality of the batting and bowling in these associate games to the test teams. The size of the scores being made indicates that several teams have capable batsmen capable of consistent scores, but no side is showing any great ability with the ball, and that, ultimately, is where a competition like this will be won or lost.

Forthcoming series

2 TestsBangladeshvEngland
Expected MarginEngland by 206 runs

A slight lull while we wait for this game, as it won't start until the 12th March. As always with games against Bangladesh, the home side will be happy to avoid an innings defeat (and in this context, improve their rating). Bangladesh's gradual improvement points towards a breakthrough victory against creditable opposition, but you'd never predict it, even against an English side missing its captain and opening bowler. Expect at least one day of Bangladeshi brilliance and accompanying articles of gnashing teeth amongst the English press-corp, even if their side ultimately prevails.

Rankings at 24th February 2010
3.South Africa1187.88
5.Sri Lanka1103.96
7.New Zealand937.62
8.West Indies926.27

23.Hong Kong147.15
24.Cayman Is134.24

Shaded teams have played fewer than 2 games per season. Non-test team ratings are not comparable to test ratings as they don't play each other.

Idle Summers 24th February, 2010 13:57:37   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: CLXXXVII, February 2010
Russell Degnan

Rain in the inner north. Taken January 2010

Melbourne Town 13th February, 2010 15:59:42   [#] [0 comments] 

A Manifesto for World Cricket
Russell Degnan

Previously: Part 1 a b c d e f g h 2 a b

Part 2c. Tournament Play

To conclude the discussion of principles, before moving onto the specifics of competition structure, where most discussions begin, I want to talk briefly about structuring competitions. Unlike FIFA, and more particularly UEFA, who seem to have hit upon a standard structure for tournaments that works, the ICC has repeatedly bungled the World Cup format, and is regularly flouting, or inundated by disastrous ideas for unworkable test championships.

Three general principles should be followed for any tournament: firstly, they should be succinct, being no longer than it takes to determine a winner; secondly, the "best team" should win, meaning the eventual result should not be subject to too much luck, and there need be enough games to demonstrate that the winner is, if not the best, at least worthy; and thirdly, the draw should be fair to all participants, allowing any team an opportunity to win, and if not to win, then to progress as far as their ability allows, rather than the certain teams - particularly those so-called "minnows" - being beset by endless challenges, while so-called "better" teams sail through the early rounds without a challenge.

From the perspective of a fan, a tournament should build a "narrative", following, in general, that most generic but exciting of literary tropes: The Quest. The quest works as an analogy because sporting teams are heroes, a tournament victory (or even qualification) a goals, and the tournament itself is a journey, usually physically, for the fans and players, and always metaphorically. The only difference with the literary quest is that, in this case, there are dozens of questers, most of whom will fail miserably, if occasionally heroically.

From those general principles and aim, some specific recommendations can be drawn. In no particular order:

  • The tournament should build to a final, each stage becoming increasingly difficult, and increasingly shorter temporally. This is at odds with several cricket world cups where the latter stages were extended so most fixtures were between top teams. The absence of big names and/or the hosts at the super-six stage in favour of minnows in each of the past three world cups demonstrates the folly of this approach.
  • All teams should compete at each stage. This allows minnows to play against the bigger teams without clumping them into the tournament finals, and allows a slow build up of easy fixtures.
  • The number of teams qualifying should be 25-50% larger than the number of competitive teams at the next stage. The tendency of cricket authorities to tier the qualification to ensure only the top-8 progress makes it almost impossible for smaller teams to achieve worthy, if minor, goals (such as qualification into the second round).
  • Regional qualification, as well as being logistically easier and cheaper, allows more fans to attend and better delineates the qualification from the main event. The current world league system results in very strange match-ups with little to no existing rivalry. Similarly, football does well in avoiding regional match-ups in the finals, to diversify the opponents.
  • Seeding every team risks turning the tournament into a self-fulfilling prophecy. The advantage of including extra teams at successive stages is that seeding can be reduced, allowing groups of more mixed ability. Seeding should not extend past the number of qualifiers, and should be pooled (1-4 drawn against 5-8, rather than 1 vs. 8, 2 vs. 7 etc.).
  • In general, at least two teams should proceed out of a group, or, if this is not possible, one plus a playoff. This reduces the possibility of an unlucky draw (or game) knocking out a top team early on. Early rounds in a tournament should be more lenient than later ones.
  • The optimal tournament format is groups of 4, with 2 qualifiers, leading to either more groups, or a knockout. Groups of 4 have a reasonable number of teams, but few fixtures - just 6 to remove half of all teams.

Based on the above, the optimal size for a limited overs world cup is currently 12. 3 groups of 4, dropping to a super-six and then a final; or two groups of 6 with semi-finals and a final. The latter being a shorter tournament (20 days versus 27) but with a higher number of games against minnows. The preferred size should be 16, with 4 groups of 4, then 2 groups of 4, semi-finals and a final.

For a test match tournament, some other prescriptions should be followed, and a method for resolving drawn encounters decided upon:

  • Home advantage matters a lot in a test match. Playing home and away fixtures is preferred (if logistically challenging).
  • Test match-ups should be at least a three match series, unless played in a league format (such s a regional championship). A test match final should be played over at least four games - preferably home and away.

Because test match series often end in draws, and, as the Shield final invariably demonstrates, it is exremely undesirable to allow a draw act as a win for one team, there neds to be a resolution method for drawn series.

Two possible scenarios can occur:

A series is drawn leading into the final game - a result is required.

The days of timeless tests are gone, but as limited overs cricket has demonstrated, that need not prevent a result based on time. In these one-off games 6 days should be set aside for play (allowing a maximum of 540 overs), but a each side should be, across their two innings, be limited to 250 overs each (allowing 40 overs on the final day to make up time lost in the event of rain). It is quite rare that a single side bats for 250 overs in a game, so it is unlikely that both sides will do the same. However, in the event that it occurs, the team batting third must compulsory declare at the 250 over mark, and the team with the most runs at the conclusion of the game wins. In the event that the team batting third uses up fewer than 250 overs, then the team batting last must score the runs inside the total time available (500 overs), not just their 250 overs.

In a two-test series, teams are tied 1-1 after both games

In this situation, where two results have occured (if the first test had been drawn, the first scenario would have been in play), the tie should be broken on aggregate run margin. A victory by an innings should be worth 250 runs. Each unbroken wicket in a chase should be worth 250/11 or 23 runs. The side with the largest victory of the two games is then considered the winner. The advantage of this method, apart from being simple, is that it is obvious for both teams what the goal is, and therefore what declaration might be required.

In the event that teams are still tied, then numerous tie-breakers are possible: net runs-per-wicket, total runs, and a coin toss.

In the final part of the manifesto, I will detail the substantially more complex format for world and regional test match championships.

Idle Summers 11th February, 2010 22:38:43   [#] [0 comments] 

India and the ICC Ranking System
Russell Degnan

As the reality of an Indian defeat to South Africa became apparent, Ducking Beamers posed an interesting question on the nature of India's stay at number one on the official rankings. Given the official rankings are supposed to be transparent and simple, this should be a relatively easy question to answer. Unfortunately, the official rankings are neither transparent, nor simple. The formula is simple enough, but when assessing its merits as a predictor, something is lost.

Firstly, ignoring wikipedia's series points (which don't affect the maths) you'll note that the ranking varies depending on how closely matched a team is. There is a reason for this, which I will get to later, but let's first note the formula for a standard rating:

series_result * (rating_opp + 50) + series_result_opp * (rating_opp - 50 )

This can be simplified, greatly, as follows:

series_result * (rating_opp + 50) + (series_length - series_result) * (rating_opp - 50 )
= series_result * rating_opp + series_result * 50 + series_length * rating_opp - series_result * rating_opp - series_length * 50 + series_result * 50
= series_result * 100 + series_length * (rating_opp - 50 )

In other words, the rating is made of two parts. The result multiplied by 100, which holds true regardless of opposition (it is included in the the alternative methods as well) and a rating adjustment for opposition that takes no account of the result. Strange choice. I won't say this doesn't work, but it strikes me as odd.

How then, did India manage to get to number one. Well, oddly enough, on merit:

Aus Eng Ind Pak NZ SAf Sri WI Ban
win pt 2550 1925 2300 700 1000 2300 1950 800 375
opp pt 1725 2093.5 1920.5 1087.5 1071 1817 1270 757 0
str pt 326 60 130.5 44 -22.5 106.5 81 0 0
weak pt 0 0 0 0 213 0 0 677 -166.5
games 39 39 35 22.5 28.5 34.5 29 29 21.5
avg win 65.38 49.36 65.71 31.11 35.09 66.67 67.24 27.59 17.44
avg opp 52.59 55.22 58.6 50.29 44.26 55.75 46.59 48.93 -7.74
rating 117.97 104.58 124.31 81.4 79.35 122.42 113.83 76.52 9.7

The avg win and avg opp are the key fields here. Note that India have almost the highest avg win (which, broadly speaking is just a percentage of games won) and the highest opposition value. Their opponents have actually been harder than any other team's. (Note also, that the ratings above are a little approximate, due to rounding and other calculation difficulties).

Should we then all acknowledge India as (at least for the moment) the undisputed test number one? Possibly not. Because this rating system is a long way from being infallible.

Whither Bangladesh?

Let's start at the bottom. Bangladesh achieve an impossibly low rating, given there is an automatic 50 points (on average) for playing someone else. This is because they don't get this rating, because to do so, breaks other things. If Bangladesh was rated in the normal way, their rating would be close to 50 (practically no points for winning, but an opposition rating of 50). If a team played Bangladesh, then their maximum points from that contest would be 100 + Bangladesh's rating - 50, or about 100. In other words, playing rubbish sides hurts your ranking, because the 50 point calculation artificially limits it (the same applies to New Zealand, Pakistan and the West Indies now - the most you can get is 130 points).

To get around this the rating system does something odd - in a mismatch, it ignores the rating, and gives a team the points for winning, plus your rating minus 90 (or your rating above 100 plus 10, since the rating system is centred - sort of). But Bangladesh, being rubbish, get the win points plus their rating MINUS 10. Which is a negative number.

And in case you don't think this is a great injustice, note this: if Bangladesh were to perform as a below average side, winning 1 in 3 games (or roughly the same as the three teams above them) for three whole years (the entire measured period of the ratings), their ranking would be about 40, whereas those other teams would still be ranked about 80. That is not right.

For teams playing against inferior opposition, it is possible to endlessly increase your rating, provided that you maintain a win percentage of 90%. That number is assumed by the rating system, regardless of the quality of the lowly-ranked opposition. Thus if your ranking is high, it is much better to play Bangladesh than the West Indies, New Zealand or Pakistan, against whom a 90% win percentage is actually difficult.

Whither Australia?

Perhaps fewer readers will care about the much smaller injustice faced by Australia, but note that it might soon happen to India, and worry. When Australia had a ranking of 140, their opposition took 90 points per game played against them, regardless of result, while Australia got the opposition rating (around 50). In general, a team should garner as many points from each series as their ranking would expect, and so, while Australia remained a 140 team, their ranking remained at 140. Thus, when playing India, a 110 team, Australia would get 60 points from playing India, and 80 (on average) from wins.

But when Australia became equal with India (more or less), their points are redistributed, raising India up to a 120 team and lowering Australia down. Australia's points from winning drop, to just 50, and India's increase, up to 50 (from 30). But, in that immediate period the points from playing the opposition do not change, Australia continues to get 60 points for playing India, and India 90 for playing Australia. The rating change over-shoots a little.

Now, this should not matter, because, the rankings would balance out after a few series as different teams compete against each other. However, these ratings have a cut-off. Every August the ratings are rolled over, the fourth year is discarded, the second given half its value. What happens then, as happened last August, is that the parts of the average maintaining Australia's high rating, in spite of the over-shoot, are discarded, and the average drops far below what it should be. Next August, Australia's 5-0 Ashes triumph will disappear (average points: 160), and they'll probably drop to fourth again (or worse).

The oddest aspect of this though, is not that the cut-off has strange effects, but that a cut-off is entirely unnecessary. The ratings are balanced against each other; if a better rated team does worse than expected their rating will fall. Results from three years ago already have very little bearing on the rating, because more recent results pull a rating into place like a pendulum. A weighting for the new ranking, based on the number of games played in recent years is both sufficient and better.

Apart from being completely unreliable for teams which never win, or teams that always win, or teams that have had a recent change in their rating, or have done so in the past four years, the ICC ratings are moderately accurate measure of a team's performance. This shouldn't be surprising, however. Of the dozen or so rating systems in existence, all of them are pretty good at predicting the easy things. Deciding who is the best team out of India, Australia and South Africa however. That is not possible, and any rating system putting more than a couple of percentage points between them (as the ICC one does, incidentally) is wrong.

What astounds me about the ICC system though, is that in trying to be simple, it is actually complicated, and yet, despite that simplicity, it is in many ways, mathematically unsound. It works, in spite of itself. Which is an odd thing.

Idle Summers 11th February, 2010 20:01:36   [#] [0 comments] 

Ratings - 11th February 2010
Russell Degnan

Recently completed matches

1st TestIndiavSouth Africa
Expected MarginIndia by 62 runs
Actual MarginSouth Africa by an innings and 6 runs

It is hard to fathom how a team with so much across the board talent could be so dependent on one player for results. But South Africa's performances on the past year bear remarkable resemblance to the form of Dale Steyn. Take nothing away from the batting of either Amla or Kallis, whose determined focus meant an under-strength India were only ever hunting for a draw. But Steyn, when on his game, is the difference between the South Africans routing the opposition by an innings, and struggling to bowl them out for 400 in either dig. Here, on a pitch offering little, Steyn was immense, destroying the Indian first innings with guile in one spell, and power in the second. An innings defeat is not as earth-shattering as being made out in some quarters - South Africa had one of their own barely a month ago - but you can't help that feel that India's ageing stars are on the way out, and that the new generation cannot possibly hope to reach the same level. While this series doesn't have the length to do itself justice, the final test retains some interest in the ordering of the top 3. An Indian victory by an innings and 172 runs is necessary for them to move to the top, for South Africa: 93 runs.

Forthcoming series

1 TestNew ZealandvBangladesh
Expected MarginNew Zealand by 218 runs

A series so short it shouldn't actually be sanctioned. A pity too, given that the previous match-up between these sides was closely fought, and that Bangladesh's recent improvement should make them competitive, even if they can't force a victory. Playing New Zealand in Hamilton is a different prospect to playing in their homeland, however, as their thrashing in the limited overs games showed. Expect Bangladesh's rating to continue to improve, but New Zealand to win out.

I-Cup MatchAfghanistanvCanada
Expected MarginAfghanistan by 74 runs

The neutral venue means that, in theory Afghanistan is less favoured to win this than perhaps they should be. Canada are not as bad a team as their rating reflects, but Afghanistan are a team on the move, consistently piling on large scores, and with a balanced team of young talented players. The more they play, and the more they win, the better they become. They should be considered raging favourites for this game, and as a consequence, carry the pressure that favouritism brings.

I-Cup MatchKenyavNetherlands
Expected MarginKenya by 110 runs

A must-win game for the Netherlands, having failed to register a win so far, despite pushing Afghanistan close. Kenya's chance of making the final appears doomed regardless of the result, but their form in this competition has been reasonable, and they remain a formidable and experienced opponent at this level. The Kenyans should win, but associate teams are nothing if not inconsistent, and it should be an interesting contest.

Rankings at 11th February 2010
3.South Africa1199.03
5.Sri Lanka1103.96
7.New Zealand942.04
8.West Indies926.27

23.Hong Kong147.15
24.Cayman Is134.24

Shaded teams have played fewer than 2 games per season. Non-test team ratings are not comparable to test ratings as they don't play each other.

Idle Summers 11th February, 2010 11:01:39   [#] [0 comments] 

A Manifesto for World Cricket
Russell Degnan

Previously: Part 1 a b c d e f g h 2 a

Part 2b. Scheduling

Perhaps no aspect of cricket has been so neglected by the ICC as the introduction of sensible fixturing. Even disregarding the sudden quandary T20 has introduced, the international schedule is a mess of haphazard tours, marked by uneven spurts of games and odd lulls.

The problem rests with leaving the individual boards to determine the schedule, resulting in the popular teams sliding tours in whenever and wherever one might fit, yet still playing not much more frequently than one day per week. The less popular teams, bereft of opportunities, but unwilling to play each other, much less than that.

The introduction of universal domestic T20 windows offers the chance to correct two glaring problems. The first, obviously, to provide a space free from international commitments for players to play in what is likely to be both the most popular and lucrative form of the game. The second, to rationalise the international schedule so as to provide a balance between time spent playing, resting and travelling.

The first consideration when devising these windows must be an answer to the question: what is their appropriate size? The answer, I believe, is the minimum amount necessary to complete the tournaments outlined previously. Anything larger unnecessarily restricts the t20 game and will be under constant pressure to be reduced. Anything smaller and players will be forced to choose international commitments over a larger contract, which is bound to be problematic.

Taking first the non test championship years. These have scheduled T20 and ODI regional championships and world cup competitions, along with some sort of marquee tour at home and away, or world test championship qualifiers. Both test requirements extend to 6 tests per home summer, with regional limited over competitions consisting of 8-12 teams and the world championships 12-16. Any additional time might be used for friendly limited overs games, preparatory tour games, or travel.

One necessary change is the reduction of world cup length, long a bloated two month long march of irrelevant games leading to the semi-finals. The main cause of this, is the insistence of administrators (and no doubt tv companies) that each round of games (not involving a minnow) be played on a separate day. Thus 24 games (in say four groups of four), which might be dispensed with in just 5-12 days, are played over nearly a month. A reasonable length for a small regional championship is two weeks. For a world cup: three weeks. Allowing 7-8 weeks for six scheduled tests and a week of friendlies, the total international season, for one hemisphere can be reduced to 14 weeks. That leaves 12 for the domestic T20 competition. A regional test championship, being the most difficult to schedule (on account of it being conducted in the same hemisphere) would need to fit within that 14 week period. This is possible, as will be seen.

The second consideration is when each format is best scheduled, taking into account patterns of fan attendance and support, and the need to build a coherent narrative across a summer. Recent crowds in Australia suggest the folly of scheduling day games outside the traditional holiday period. Given T20 is played predominantly in the evenings, it is likely to be more resilient to scheduling, and is well suited to the start and tail-end of a summer. International cricket should therefore remain as the centre-piece, allowing the scheduling of test matches in their traditional slots - Boxing Day for example. Similarly, by scheduling internationals at the very beginning and end of each hemispherical summer, some overlap into each is theoretically possible (and potentially useful in years with a large number of intra-regional games).

The proposed schedule, therefore, is for a 3 week international break to be followed by the first half of the domestic T20 season (6 weeks), the international (and the bulk of the domestic first class season) for 8 weeks, followed by the concluding half of the domestic T20 season, and a final 3 weeks of internationals to conclude the summer.

Leaving aside the international schedule for a time, this has several implications for the domestic T20 game. Firstly, a 12 week season, with a week set aside for finals, would allow a 10-12 team home and away league to operate. Secondly though, and more importantly, in light of recent global developments, by allowing players to play a full season in one hemisphere, and therefore, one competition, we can put an end to the farce of players playing for multiple teams, in multiple competitions, which threatens to make the champions league a joke. Given the Indian summer can (at least theoretically) extend across the full 24 weeks of the domestic T20 window, a player would seem to have two choices: play for an Indian T20 outfit; play for a southern hemisphere outfit and a northern hemisphere outfit. The latter is undesirable, as it, again, could lead to divided loyalties. However, it is possible, even desirable, that the northern and southern hemisphere teams could be linked (in the manner suggested by the new Royals franchise), such that players signed for one are signed for the other, with the added bonus that while the individual summer competitions might conclude in 12 weeks, the champions league could be played across a year (with the "home" venue shifting with the seasons).

The T20 game's detractors might equate the franchising scenario being played out with other detrimental aspects of the T20's glitz and glamour: all show and no substance. I don't believe the T20 game need be an entertainment vehicle full of gimmicks. The debatably useful bowling and fielding restrictions, the cheer-leaders, music and fire-works, are all undesirable, but the game is still fundamentally skillful and entertaining, with enormous potential to develop cricket in hitherto unforeseen markets. Turning something as fundamentally valuable as a champions league into a gimmicky sideshow is not in the best interests of the sport (not just T20). The sooner the national boards get together to reform the scheduling the better.

Idle Summers 10th February, 2010 15:56:44   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: CLXXXVI, February 2010
Russell Degnan

Exhibition fountain and lights. Taken January 2010

Melbourne Town 3rd February, 2010 18:46:45   [#] [0 comments]