What’s the story?
The ICC’s Annual General Meeting this week could bring in a tide of change to the international cricket calendar. The Champions Trophy may face the axe to make way for a biennial World T20, which is understood to be more financially viable, as well as the introduction of the much-touted ‘Test League’, with the final held every four years.
The context of the issue is in fact “context”. Cricket administrators have tried long and hard to bring context into the seemingly pointless ‘series’ structure cricket works on, particularly in the longest format, which has seen dwindling crowds and TV audiences in past years.
Consequently, they have pushed for an ICC event every year, as well as a league for Test teams, to produce a definitive winner at the end of a certain time period (the ICC wanted a 2-year cycle originally). These changes were agreed upon in principle earlier this year. However, the ICC has found the proposals till date unviable for a variety of reasons and it is to be seen if its members can reach a consensus at the June meetings.
The Champions Trophy was introduced to bring in extra revenue for the ICC. While ardent fans may laud it as the most competitive trophy in world cricket, it is, in fact, not as highly regarded as either a 20-over or 50-over World Cup.
In addition, due to the fact that the World Cup will be played with only 10 teams in 2019, the ICC feels that the Champions Trophy would not be unique enough. India, who have the hosting rights for the 2021 edition, are believed to be unable to fill stadiums during neutral matches, a problem England by-passed through their high expat population.
The ICC, meanwhile, will decide on how long the league’s cycle will be, either three or four years. The ICC had previously remarked that they would be looking to cut the number of Tests down from about 40 to 30-35 every year, which will have a bearing on the cycle as well.
Furthermore, the structure of the league is to be discussed. The ICC has to decide whether it wants to go ahead with groups, with or without cross-pooled games, or to opt for a round-robin structure. It also needs to decide which teams to include in the main league, and how to divide Tests amongst any nations left out.
With respect to the Champions Trophy, there is a chance that it will make it to its next edition, given that India have won hosting rights, and because the broadcasting deals ensure a Test league can only start, at the earliest, by 2019. It is unlikely that the ICC will be able to resolve even the fundamentals of the deal in this week’s meetings because of the number of moving parts.
The scheduling of world cricket continues to confuse and mystify fans and administrators alike, and as the calendar gets even more suffocated with domestic T20 competitions and meaningless bilateral series, there is even less chance that a long-term, equitable solution will be reached.
These June meetings are crucial for the ICC to come to terms with the problem that it has been putting off and finally get to planning before the 2019 cycle comes and goes. In addition to scheduling, the meetings will entail the ratification of the new revenue distribution and governance structure, as well as a decision on USA’s expulsion from the ICC.
In the mess of bureaucracy, political agendas and N Srinivasan who is the ICC, cricket is often harmed as much as it is benefitted. The people running the game are the cause of cricket’s identity crisis because their short-sightedness and inability to think outside the box have prevented decisive action from taking place.
If they do not act fast, together and innovatively, in the June meeting, cricket will fail at this critical juncture in time. With their combined resources, they should be able to plan something that suits everybody fairly, while doing the fans, and the game, justice at the same time.