A Manifesto for World Cricket
Previously: Part 1
Part 1a. International Expansion
There are two aspects to the expansion of cricket. The first is that of empire. If you love a sport, you want to see it widely played and keenly contested. Few sports administrators don't have dreams of global domination, and the ICC has been active in pursuing a global expansion policy. So far so good.
Critics of this policy will (and have) claimed that it is a waste of time. That the money can be better spent improving the playing base in the existing cricket sphere. To me, this may or may not be true, but is an irrelevance to issues over structure and itineraries. This is not because I have unrealistic hopes of cricket fields popping up across the landscape, but because recent history suggests cricket has been missing opportunities to expand, purely because of the elitism inherent in the test/associate/affiliate distinction (important as that might be for political reasons).
Because, for so long, cricket has been defined by its powerhouses, we are blind to the vagaries of international competitiveness inherent in other sports. The idea behind test match status is that a team reaches that level and remains there. It hasn't worked like that. It did, for a while, in Zimbabwe, who were on the upswing when they achieved test status in 1992, and peaked in the late 1990s, but Bangladesh were at the end of their run in 1999, and have spent a painful decade rebuilding. Kenya, by contrast, were peaking when their test status was rejected in 2001, and, with the immanent retirement of Tikolo it is hard to say when they might return.
The empire approach to cricket therefore, must reject rigid divisions as fundamentally flawed. The abilities of most cricketing nations will fluctuate with their playing base, and the minor ones cannot be expected to maintain test standards year in year out, as do their larger counterparts. Yet, to deny them top level cricket because of that is to ignore the pressing case they will make when they are strong.
The second aspect of expansion is the logistics of playing multiple teams over some narrow (probably 4-5 year) cycle. The problem is best expressed mathematically. It is reasonable to assume that most teams can play a maximum of 6 tests in a home summer. Even limiting series length to the widely reviled two games, that means three teams per year. With nine playing test teams (as now), you need to play a minimum of 16 home games over the cycle, plus 16 away, which is relatively straight-forward, and leaves some room for longer series. But add Zimbabwe, Ireland, Scotland, Kenya, Netherlands, Canada and Afghanistan to the mix, and we should be planning for this outcome, in light of their progress, and the number skyrockets to 30 games, and a five year cycle even with a two game maximum. Keeping in mind that those teams are themselves, not significantly better than the USA, Denmark, Bermuda, Namibia, Oman, Nepal, Uganda and the UAE and you can see the problem.
A 24 team or more test system is infeasible without an alternative structure to the current FTP. And even if we wee to suppose that cricket is twenty years from achieving that goal, it has been six years since this issue started to gain some traction. Change needs to begin soon, or cricket risks disenfranchising many more teams in the future. That has costs, on their fans, and more importantly, on the future of the sport in those places. There is, therefore, a practical morality for expansion, but I will expand on that in the next point.
Pleasingly, none of this is new. It is widely acknowledged that cricket must expand, the disputes are over how and when, and it is equally widely acknowledged that the FTP is unworkable. The tendency to persist with what is there is what is hurting cricket. That needs to change.
11th November, 2009 07:59:26