A Manifesto for World Cricket
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.
10th February, 2010 15:56:44