Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - Manchester Test - The aftershock of Cricket's administrative fault lines. Are there systemic issues that were brought to the fore following the cancellation of the Old Trafford Test?
Are there systemic issues that were brought to the fore following the cancellation of the Old Trafford Test?
Cricket is not alone in attempting to squeeze more games, series and tournaments into an already packed calendar. The hair-brained idea of playing a football World Cup every two years shows that football administrators can be as short-sighted as their cricketing counterparts. Although Gareth Southgate, the England manager, diplomatically said he was open-minded about the idea, he also made a comment that rings as true for cricket as it does for football. “We can't keep adding more things in,” he said. “I agree generally with the concept of… fewer matches, better quality across the board.”
The called-off fifth Test at Old Trafford may have had some situation-specific reasons, such as the Indian players' nervousness around Covid spreading within their team environment, but there was a systemic issue at play too, with the overcrowded schedule having a significant role in the decision to call off the match. Had there been more time to delay by a few days, had there been less cricket already this year, had there been less cricket to come in the weeks and months ahead, there is a decent chance the game could have taken place.
Instead, it was binned. Not only had India's players been in strict bubbles for much of the year owing to a nightmarish number of commitments, but there are more bubbles to come over the next two months at the IPL and T20 WC. That contributed to their nervousness about having to do another ten days' isolation in the UK should more individuals catch Covid. The start of the IPL five days after the end of the Test clearly split their loyalties too. Catch the virus and they would probably miss most of what remains of India's biggest tournament. There wasn't even the space in the calendar to push the Test back by a day or two.
The global cricket calendar has been much too full for far too long. It is also lopsided, with some countries like England and India playing non-stop but others, such as New Zealand and West Indies, far less. The expansion in the number of T20 franchise leagues has meant every conceivable gap in the schedule has been filled and The Hundred is yet another format added into the mix. And yet, until now administrators have proved unable or unwilling to rein in the amount of cricket played or to design a coherent, equitable global schedule.
Although this is a longstanding issue, the pandemic has exacerbated the problem. The majority of series and tournaments that have been affected by the pandemic over the past 18 months have nearly all been rearranged rather than cancelled. The IPL is just one example, postponed earlier this year but rearranged, rather than called-off, to take place over the next month. Ridiculously, it finishes just two days before the beginning of the T20 WC.
It must be hoped that the Old Trafford cancellation might be the catalyst the game needs to change, the issue that finally makes administrators prioritise quality over quantity. On Friday, there was at least some recognition from Tom Harrison, the ECB's chief executive, that there is too much cricket. “We clearly have a schedule which is demanding,” he said. “We have taken steps to address that at ICC level, to say we think we are playing too much cricket. I think we are also trying to fit too much into the schedule at the moment, that's become pretty clear.
“I think as a group of international boards, particularly the boards that tend to drive the scheduling, of which we are one, we have to do more to ensure that first of all we are clear about our priorities from year to year about what we are trying to achieve on the field…The reality is we are playing too much domestic cricket and we are playing too much international cricket and we need to address both of those things.”
Recognising the problem is a necessary first step although the irony of Harrison's remarks, as the chief executive who has shoehorned a fourth domestic competition into the English summer, should not be lost on anyone. As ever, though, words are cheap. Action is required to address the scheduling issues. For England to play less, they will need to accept less revenue. At a time when they are still reeling from a GBP100 million Covid-induced black hole in their finances, is that a realistic proposition?
The fear of lost revenue is driving the spate of rearranged series. For everyone other than the BCCI, cancelling is just not an option from a financial perspective – a fact that should set alarm bells ringing. How is it that there can be so much cricket being played and yet most entities within the game have so little financial resilience?
The quest for more and more revenue growth continues, with costs, including player wages, rising and ever-expanding cricketing ecosystems from grassroots to international level in need of sustaining. In England, many of the Test match grounds need to host international fixtures in order to generate the revenue required to service their large debts. Meanwhile, broadcasters are paying billions of pounds and dollars for TV rights and want to get what they were promised.
The hunt for more revenue and the fear of losing out has put everyone in a tailspin. The incoherent, inequitable and exhausting schedule is the result.
That, as well as the strictures of bio-secure environments, is clearly impacting the standard of the international game. England's rest and rotation policy meant they did not play a full-strength Test side until their ninth match of the year. Australia recently undertook tours to West Indies and Bangladesh with many of their first-choice players missing. New Zealand are missing key players on their tour of Pakistan too. India sent a second-string ODI side to Sri Lanka while their Test squad was in England. The quality of cricket's product is diminishing before our eyes.
But are national boards really listening? Are they taking note? The response to the called-off fifth Test suggests not. Rather than simply cancel the game and move on, the ECB and the BCCI have agreed to try and reschedule the match for a later date. The reason? The ECB need to recoup as much of the GBP 40 million that they were expecting to glean from the fixture as they possibly can. The BCCI have offered to add a one-off Test or two extra T20Is to their tour of England next year. Neither of those options would carry any context, but they would fill the financial hole. Should the series be awarded to India it would forever carry an asterisk – a sad eventuality given their increasingly impressive form away from home. As ever in cricket, money eclipses everything else. And while that remains the case, more games, more tours, more series will continue to be squeezed into a global schedule that is already bursting at the seams.