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Cricket at a crossroads: the future of T20

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World Series Cricket – Kerry Packer’s rival cricket league aimed at maximizing the sport’s commercial potential – was unveiled in 1977. The league started controversially, but is now considered one of the best eras in history of cricket, both for the quality of the cricket played. , and for the modernization and funding of sport in the early stages of the television age. Now, as T20 cricket continues to proliferate and increasingly dominate the world calendar, cricket is entering its most transformative phase since World Series cricket.

Proponents of cricket’s current trajectory – primarily the Tri-Cricket Councils, broadcasters and wealthier advertising partners – argue that the game must adapt to remain commercially viable in an increasingly crowded international sporting calendar. This adaptation can be distilled quite simply: more T20 cricket, and less international cricket, with particularly risky Test matches.

It is true that the T20 cricket match brought a huge infusion of funds into cricket. Cricket boards typically lose money by staging Test matches and rely on cross-subsidies from limited fixtures, including lucrative T20 domestic leagues. It’s no surprise that T20 cricket is now the most widespread and valuable form of the game.

By forcing a reduction in the amount of international cricket played, domestic T20 leagues are following the path of club football leagues, with one key distinction: T20 cricket is not the pinnacle of the sport. That honor goes to Test cricket, the arena in which international cricketers are most eager to leave a legacy.

Thus, the ICC finds itself tasked with the unenviable but critical task of striking a balance between maintaining cricket’s financial viability and keeping international cricket alive – particularly Test cricket.

There is a painfully obvious solution: scrap bilateral T20Is, limit international T20s to T20 World Cups and potentially continental tournaments such as the Asian Cup, and free up space in the calendar for Test cricket in the process. . Although it has long been suggested that bilateral ODIs should be scrapped, one-day cricket is not played as frequently domestically, so scrapping bilateral ODIs could spell the end of the format and should only be considered only as a last resort.

The obvious downside is that T20 internationals are a source of revenue for cricket boards. But there are significant benefits that outweigh this cost, especially in the longer term.

The number of viewers for the IPL 2021 season alone was over 400 million, almost half of the total number of viewers in India. (Source: IANS)

First, removing T20 internationals would increase the valuation of domestic T20 leagues, which attract huge investment from broadcasters, sponsors and franchise owners. By freeing up space in the international cricket calendar, the domestic T20 leagues would enjoy greater breathing space, giving them access to top players for longer periods. As evidenced by the recent inaugural BBL Draft, the availability (or unavailability) of players can have dramatic implications for valuation.

Second, it would lighten the currently unsustainable workloads of international cricketers, reducing player fatigue and injuries, ultimately prolonging careers. It would also lead to a reduction in the frequency with which second-string international teams are fielded by stronger teams, thereby increasing the value proposition of non-flagship series.

Third, abandoning bilateral T20 fixtures would give greater relevance to the T20 World Cup, which is held every two years (already twice as often as most World Cups).

It’s a tougher proposition for poorer cricket boards, who can’t afford to lose the already meager revenue they receive from hosting bilateral T20 internationals.

But this too has a solution. If the T20 bilateral internationals were to be dropped, the dedicated IPL window (and therefore the value of the IPL) would increase, again due to the sacrifices of the poorer cricket boards, who stand to lose the most of a truncated international calendar. If the ICC grants BCCI a dedicated 10-week IPL window, as is generally expected, a greater proportion of BCCI’s IPL super-profits should be shared transparently with other ICC members.

Like 50 years ago, cricket is at a crossroads. It is only with hindsight that the impact of World Series Cricket on the game could be truly assessed. And again, only time will tell if the hyper-capitalism of modern gaming is killing cricket or keeping it alive.

FUN FACT: The T20 World Cup has seen a total of 21 teams participate over the years. Last year, Namibia and Papua New Guinea made their debuts, while the United States will make their debut in the 2024 edition, having secured automatic qualification as co-hosts with the West Indies. This will be the first-ever ICC World Cup to be held in the United States.

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