Solving the wrong problem

BY DAN

Apologies for the break from Rugby League, but this week there’s another sport so inept and shortsighted that Peter V’Landys is jealous.

You see, the International Cricket Council is considering a move to four day tests. They say it’s because the schedule is too packed and they need to find a way to free up space. But for what?

The key here is that the schedule is packed with short form cricket. Meaningless empty games that are only useful because at the moment some of them still spin money.

Every country wants their own version of the Big Bash, the IPL and whatever the English equivalent is called. Every country wants to play India in ODIs because they rate well on TV, even if they have all the intensity of a Sunday morning coffee. For now they make money, so everyone wants in.

This has caused the packed schedule. There’s even calls for another international short form tournament to go with the ODI World Cup and the T20 World Cup. Remember how excited you were when Australia won the Champions Trophy? Remember how dejected you were when they didn’t? Me neither. I watched. I consumed. I didn’t care.

Short form cricket only matters in the context of meaningful cricket. Without meaningful cricket surrounding it, short form cricket lacks any weight. Think about the Big Bash. Do you remember who won it? In any year? Now think back to the test series that accompanied it. I remember we lost to India last year. I remember we beat England the year before. I remember the last day at the G against Pakistan in 2016 when Nathan Lyon did it again. Short form is fun, I’ll watch it most nights, but it is, and always will be disposable, outside of big tournaments and the occasional Michael Bevan four or James Faulkner miracle innings. It is essentially the fast food of cricket. Test cricket is the prestige movie, the loss leader of international cricket. Everything should revolve around it, because without it short form will wither and die.

It should be no surprise that Kevin Roberts, the CEO of Cricket Australia is leading this charge. It became clear in the pay negotiations with the Australian cricketers that he had the strategic thinking ability of a drunk standing out the front of a kebab shop with $11 to his name and no way to get home. He undermined a thirty year partnership with the players in a blatant attempt to take more of the pie for CA, ignoring that one of the key reasons the pie grew was the partnership with the players. Like most corporate types, it seems he’d rather a big slice of a smaller pie, rather than the same amount of a growing one.

The real issue here is that nations that aren’t England, Australia and India don’t have money and they desperately need it. South Africa has lost test players to godawful county cricket because they can’t keep up with the pay elite cricketers need and deserve. The West Indies are constantly losing players to the T20 circuit. Some does need to be done to arrest the financial position of nations outside the big three.

Of course there’s a better way to deal with it, but it involves people like Sourav Ganguly and Kevin Roberts not having their heads up their respective asses. Wealth redistribution, of TV rights money, of other sources of income, across the ICC member nations would go along way to freeing up the schedule and not destroying literally the only thing that matters in the sport. Call it a tax, call it a membership payment based on income. I don’t care. Find a way to take some money from the rich to ensure the poorer cricket nations survive and thrive.

It happens in a bunch of successful sport in the world – the NFL and the NBA spring to mind. There are ways to share revenue and recognise that the strength of the game comes from the ability of the whole to compete. You can do this without having to sacrifice the one thing that gives your product legitimacy.

It wouldn’t be easy, and there would be accountability issues – God knows their are idiots running the game in every country, not just Australia. The only reason it becomes hard is that you’re dealing with a range of national bodies with political, as well as economic, incentives. The ICC is about as transparent as a brick wall, and massive steps in accountability around any money that transferred through them would need to be made.

But it would be a damn sight better than playing less of the only form of your cricket that matters, just to squeeze in another meaningless short form game.

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