The Gentlemen’s Game is the thing of the past. Cricket now is baazar. Ironed out, spotless white formals are dead and buried. Branded, hi-tech fabric, designed for comfort are the flannels for the game with most visible spots reserved for the team, event sponsors. No more a sport it is a product, now. In modern day corporate world, demand drives the product design, demand ensures the sustainability and survival for the product. Cricket is no exception. The emphasis is on sustenance and growth in the commercial, competitive sphere of global sports.
The market is full of warmth to embrace and groom, as well as cruel to eliminate and bury. Again, no exception to cricket. The windows are opening for events with market acceptability. Forcing the conventions and traditions towards their ceremonial place in the glorious history of the game.
Test cricket faces a major threat. Bilateral international cricket series are the next victim. With the international cricket calendar dominated by commercially viable leagues and tournaments, there remains little space for bilateral series.
LEAGUES PREFERRED CHOICE
Commercial Leagues are the preferred choice for the national cricket board. For financial muscle and control. Leagues are the preferred choice of the players with multi-million dollar contracts taking precedence over the sentimental pride or representing the nation. There are examples worthy enough to motivate a generation of cricketers to make it the norm.
“With the success of IPL over the past ten years and much-anticipated media rights value worth billions of dollars for the next five years in a way has prompted the other boards to form their own leagues. Even though it is too early to say how these global leagues will shape up, this is sure that normal bilateral series and formal international cricket will be adversely affected” says Arshad Nizam Shawl, Director, Alliance Advertisement and Marketing.
Cricket boards of seven of the ten ICC full member nations are running – or have announced to run – their own national cricket leagues. The eighth Sri Lanka is working aggressively to revive the defunct SLPL. The illustration below defines that from January to December it is leagues’ business in one or the other part of the global cricket map.
“Every cricket playing geographical territory has a cricketing season. The best will be reserved for the national leagues. There will be demand for and compulsions to provide the best players. How will the calendar be adjusted and good talent be spared for the bilateral series and long-form cricket is a big question,” adds Arshad.
WHERE IS WORLD TEST CHAMPIONSHIP
There are no buyers for the long-form cricket – ‘the cricket’ for the purist. The number of bilateral Test series have declined considerably. All talk about the World Test Championships have only been for board rooms and headlines. The ground reality ever since 2010, when England were to host the inaugural World Test Championship, has been a big fat zero. Schedules are announced and cancelled every three years – the ‘ritual’ is done with till 2021. Host and venue for 2025 are ‘to be announced’.
That reflects world governing body’s lackadaisical approach towards ‘the cricket’. This glory of the past now invokes poor gate monies, poor sponsor interests, poor media rights value and poor ROIs for all associates. The governance is all about profits.
“An international championship of Test matches cannot have commercial viability. So do bilateral series. International cricketer boards are finding it hard to sell bilateral series. The values are rapidly declining. The boards are compelled to turn to national cricket leagues for revenues to sustain themselves. Nobody is saying that Test or bilateral cricket is on the verge of extinction. Yes, the future is bleak,” opines Ashish Chadha, media rights veteran and Chief Executive, Sporty Solutionz.
T-20 THE WAY FORWARD
The abject apathy for Test cricket is to be attributed to the limited overs international cricket – once ridiculed as the pyjama cricket by passionate followers of Test cricket. The 50-over-a-side (reduced from sixty) format is threatened by its new, curtailed avatar – the T-20 format. That is now the ‘beloved child’ of ICC, national cricket boards, broadcasters, fans and a majority of cricketers. The techniques, the technology, the market all being modified and designed for this rapid fire, quick burst format of the game. ICC is already contemplating to make the World T-20 the permanent biennial feature.
The world cricket equations and relations will now change for and base upon the need of the T-20 leagues. Only best players presence can invoke best commercial values. There may soon be pressures of commitments to spare ‘the best’ talents for national leagues of ‘friendly boards’. There may soon be a different class of professionals like Chris Gayle only out to play leagues, which offer lucrative contracts, more stardom, more freedom.
Only longer format and bilateral cricket series will be made to pay for this.