Sport

Analysis: Cricket’s guardians are losing the plot

By Antoinette Muller 21 January 2014

The saga around the new draft proposition paper to be referred to the ICC continues to drag on. Cricket South Africa has asked for the proposal to be withdrawn as it is “fundamentally flawed” and “ in breach of the ICC Constitution”. The matter is likely to carry on for some time, but more and more it’s looking as though the game’s supposed guardians are losing the plot. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

Imagine cricket and all its games actually had context. Imagine the Tests and one-day internationals played between teams actually held some sort of relevance other than the fact that they generated income through broadcasters.

Imagine that, instead of countries simply playing ad hoc series which differed in length and were overall meaningless, every country played a regulated number of matches in the different formats with these matches counting for points in a league system. Logically, it makes sense. This kind of approach would ensure better regulation of broadcasting revenue and better distribution of these funds. Think of it as cricket’s English Premier League, only it would be made out of international teams. Funds would be split evenly from a certain pool and, if rationality were applied, bonuses would be paid on merit, depending on results, how much revenue a certain team generated, and so on.

An idea like this, barring the bonuses based on merit, was pitched to the ICC a while back, and while it received plenty of support, it was shoved aside because it crushed the ability of the big countries to play matches as they wished and make more and more money. And that is the kind of short-sighted, selfish thinking from a select few that damages the game, not only for full members, but also for the associate and affiliate nations.

Adequate revenue distribution, context to games and support for nations which aren’t full members are three of cricket’s biggest issues when it comes to governance. It needs to change if the game is to move forward. But that can only happen if everyone works together, yet cricket hasn’t been working together for some time now. The ICC masquerades as a governing body but it’s really not. How can it govern when decision-making is down to its members and those members tend to only think about themselves?

Is it a surprise, then, that the new proposition paper which, if passed, will be a cricket coup, aims to encourage the self-interest of countries even more? The paper insists on adding context to the game but, in the same breath, moves to remove a structured tours programme. It also seeks to hand over control to three countries, namely England, Australia and India, but it also suggests that the “domestic market” is key for the sustainability of cricket. That kind of thinking is obtuse. Sure, the domestic market where the Indian Premier League and the Big Bash League happens is massive, but in smaller countries, domestic cricket is still very much a low priority for fans.

The paper mentions the following: “In short, for cricket to survive and thrive into the twenty-first century and beyond, ICC Members have to be or become self-sufficient with sustainable investment and growth in their domestic markets” and later on adds “the need to re-energise nation versus nation cricket, recognising the permanent place in cricket for certain major domestic cricket events”.

It’s not hard to figure out that “certain major domestic cricket events” refers to the IPL and the Big Bash League. For the players, the opportunities that exist in these leagues are fantastic. With a sportsman’s average career span in mind, nobody can blame them for wanting to make as much money as possible. One injury could end it all and there is no reason why sportsmen shouldn’t be allowed to generate as much income as possible. A window for domestic leagues is not the worst idea, but what ripple effect would that have on the rest of the game?

Imagine, for instance, the IPL and the Big Bash is given a window. Each of these could last anything from six to eight weeks and only the most elite players get an opportunity to play in them. For those who do not have a contract with an overseas franchise or who have no interest in playing in these hit-and-giggle leagues, there will be financial ramifications. Those who aren’t partaking and who would have possibly been playing international cricket instead will lose out on match-fees from international games. A window for something as humongous as the IPL is unavoidable, but for that to be fair and beneficial, there needs to be some sort of compromise reached on the length of the tournament as well as its timing.

There is nothing wrong with making money from sport. It’s a business, after all, and a business is only successful if it turns a profit and survives in tough climates. That said, cricket has survived two World Wars, many recessions and a Kerry Packer “revolution”.  There is no reason that it should or would not survive the current era, but to do that, people who care for the growth and the development of the game need to be at the helm of it.

Instead, it is teetering on the brink of combustion because of selfish individuals with no interest at heart other than lining their own pockets.  In a business context, when a businessman in a high profile position makes poor business decisions, he faces repercussions. In cricket’s context, poor decisions with only the short-term in mind are encouraged.

The worst part about it is that it completely ignores the people at the heart of the game: the players and the fans. Fans need context to stay interested, nobody wants to see their country play the same team over and over again. Players at top level want to test themselves against the best in the world in proper context and in tightly contested series, not in irrelevant two-matches or random games organised for little purpose.

The proposition paper has caused serious alarm in the player association quarters. The South African Cricketers Association is in contact with FICA about the proposal and will be issuing a statement this week. For the time being, though, Tony Irish, CEO of SACA, has told the Daily Maverick that “there are significant concerns” about the proposal.  Cricket South Africa yesterday asked for the proposal to be withdrawn, calling it “fundamentally flawed as regards the process and, therefore, in breach of the ICC Constitution”.

The process will also be discussed by all of those involved in FICA and SACA.

“Giving Test cricket and ODI’s proper context is nothing new to the ICC and proposals were made to do this a few years ago but it was rejected by the ICC at the time because it took away the power of the big countries to decide how many matches would be played by them as a posed to there being a properly regulated league,” Irish told The Daily Maverick.

“It’s hugely concerning but we are discussing the matter at FICA level and FICA will comment further,” he added.

Barring one or two opinions, like an English scribe believing it to be a bid to save Test cricket, the general consensus has been that it’s bad, bad news. The proposal is concerning and although it will only technically enforce what is already happening, it’s another reminder that as per the Woolf Report’s suggestion, cricket would be so much better off if governed independently. DM

Photo: England’s captain Alastair Cook reacts as he walks off the field past the board displaying the result of their fifth Ashes cricket test against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground January 5, 2014. (REUTERS/David Gray)

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