A Manifesto for World Cricket
Russell Degnan

Previously: Part 1 a b c d e f g h 2 a b c

Part 3. World and Regional Test Championships

In this section, I will outline a format for playing world and regional championships, on a four year cycle, as discussed in the previous post on structural pillars. It make sense to work backwards, from the goal to the journey's beginning, outlining each of the five stages in turn.

Part 3a. Year 4: The World Test Championship Final

Naturally, a championship ends with a final. Because this is test cricket, and because this series should be the pinnacle of the game, it should be a four test series, played home and away, with two tests for each finalist. In the event of a drawn series, the host of the second leg should host a fifth, and deciding game. Because this potentially requires the crossing from one hemispheric summer to another, the sensible time to hold it is in the September/October international break, playing the four or five games across the six available weeks.

In addition, two plate championship finals, for the test teams that didn't qualify for the world championship finals, and the associate teams, should be played. Producing, in effect, three divisions, each with their own champion.

Part 3b. Year 3: The World Test Championship

In order to have a final, you must first play a championship. This section is the central idea for the whole test championship. Numerous people have proposed leagues and finals, but most fall short on logistical grounds, requiring endless overseas travel, and removing from the equation that unique aspect of test cricket: the series. As previously discussed, the aim here is to create a tournament, one that emphasises the good points of test cricket, for the elite teams, but structured such that any team might qualify. Given those points, the twelve test limit on the number of matches a team might reasonably play in a year, and the need to schedule around different seasons, and emerging T20 tournaments, the structure chosen is, I believe, the best that can be achieved.

The test championship would be contested by six teams. There are several advantages to this. Firstly, six covers enough of the test playing nations that the middling sides have ample opportunity to compete, but also allows a competitive second division, between the bottom four test sides and two associates. Secondly, six teams, playing in two groups of three, can play two home three-test series each, completing the entire championship inside a year.

Thirdly, six fits nicely with the existing qualities of the three regions discussed in part one. The Southern and Asian regions, with four test teams each, will have two teams automatically qualifying. The Northern region, with only two test sides, just one. That makes five sides. The final, sixth place, is drawn from the next best side in each of the three regions, as will be explained later.

The championship will be organised as follows:

The draw

For logistical reasons, regional teams need to be kept separate, as far as possible. The rules relating to the draw aim to achieve this end.

  • The top two teams are seeded, and placed in group 1 and 2 respectively.
  • For each region, beginning with the region with the most representatives:
    Draw each team,
    if one group has more representatives from that region place team into the other group,
    otherwise, draw a group number for that team and place in that group.

The play

Each team plays a three test series at home against the other two teams in their group, playing 12 games in total, 6 at home, 6 away. Games are scheduled into the international windows, beginning in October, and ending in the following July.

Points are awarded for each match as follows: a win: 3 points, a tie: 2, a draw: 1, a loss: 0.
Bonus points are awarded for a series victory: +1 point for each game not drawn.

ResultWinnerLoserResultBoth Teams

The top team on points in each group progresses to the World Test Championship Final. In the event of a tie, teams will be separated by:

  • Aggregate margin (23 runs per wicket for margins by wickets, 250 runs per innings for margins by an an innings)
  • Net runs per wicket.

There is very little about this structure that I would change. The number of matches is perfect, and it leads to a dramatic conclusion. The use of series instead of individual games, and a home and away structure instead of neutral venues are all superior to the shorter tournament formats often suggested. There is, however, more problems in the qualifying stages.

Cricket - Manifesto 25th February, 2010 17:59:34   [#] [0 comments] 

A Manifesto for World Cricket
Russell Degnan

Previously: Part 1 a b c d e f g h 2 a b

Part 2c. Tournament Play

To conclude the discussion of principles, before moving onto the specifics of competition structure, where most discussions begin, I want to talk briefly about structuring competitions. Unlike FIFA, and more particularly UEFA, who seem to have hit upon a standard structure for tournaments that works, the ICC has repeatedly bungled the World Cup format, and is regularly flouting, or inundated by disastrous ideas for unworkable test championships.

Three general principles should be followed for any tournament: firstly, they should be succinct, being no longer than it takes to determine a winner; secondly, the "best team" should win, meaning the eventual result should not be subject to too much luck, and there need be enough games to demonstrate that the winner is, if not the best, at least worthy; and thirdly, the draw should be fair to all participants, allowing any team an opportunity to win, and if not to win, then to progress as far as their ability allows, rather than the certain teams - particularly those so-called "minnows" - being beset by endless challenges, while so-called "better" teams sail through the early rounds without a challenge.

From the perspective of a fan, a tournament should build a "narrative", following, in general, that most generic but exciting of literary tropes: The Quest. The quest works as an analogy because sporting teams are heroes, a tournament victory (or even qualification) a goals, and the tournament itself is a journey, usually physically, for the fans and players, and always metaphorically. The only difference with the literary quest is that, in this case, there are dozens of questers, most of whom will fail miserably, if occasionally heroically.

From those general principles and aim, some specific recommendations can be drawn. In no particular order:

  • The tournament should build to a final, each stage becoming increasingly difficult, and increasingly shorter temporally. This is at odds with several cricket world cups where the latter stages were extended so most fixtures were between top teams. The absence of big names and/or the hosts at the super-six stage in favour of minnows in each of the past three world cups demonstrates the folly of this approach.
  • All teams should compete at each stage. This allows minnows to play against the bigger teams without clumping them into the tournament finals, and allows a slow build up of easy fixtures.
  • The number of teams qualifying should be 25-50% larger than the number of competitive teams at the next stage. The tendency of cricket authorities to tier the qualification to ensure only the top-8 progress makes it almost impossible for smaller teams to achieve worthy, if minor, goals (such as qualification into the second round).
  • Regional qualification, as well as being logistically easier and cheaper, allows more fans to attend and better delineates the qualification from the main event. The current world league system results in very strange match-ups with little to no existing rivalry. Similarly, football does well in avoiding regional match-ups in the finals, to diversify the opponents.
  • Seeding every team risks turning the tournament into a self-fulfilling prophecy. The advantage of including extra teams at successive stages is that seeding can be reduced, allowing groups of more mixed ability. Seeding should not extend past the number of qualifiers, and should be pooled (1-4 drawn against 5-8, rather than 1 vs. 8, 2 vs. 7 etc.).
  • In general, at least two teams should proceed out of a group, or, if this is not possible, one plus a playoff. This reduces the possibility of an unlucky draw (or game) knocking out a top team early on. Early rounds in a tournament should be more lenient than later ones.
  • The optimal tournament format is groups of 4, with 2 qualifiers, leading to either more groups, or a knockout. Groups of 4 have a reasonable number of teams, but few fixtures - just 6 to remove half of all teams.

Based on the above, the optimal size for a limited overs world cup is currently 12. 3 groups of 4, dropping to a super-six and then a final; or two groups of 6 with semi-finals and a final. The latter being a shorter tournament (20 days versus 27) but with a higher number of games against minnows. The preferred size should be 16, with 4 groups of 4, then 2 groups of 4, semi-finals and a final.

For a test match tournament, some other prescriptions should be followed, and a method for resolving drawn encounters decided upon:

  • Home advantage matters a lot in a test match. Playing home and away fixtures is preferred (if logistically challenging).
  • Test match-ups should be at least a three match series, unless played in a league format (such s a regional championship). A test match final should be played over at least four games - preferably home and away.

Because test match series often end in draws, and, as the Shield final invariably demonstrates, it is exremely undesirable to allow a draw act as a win for one team, there neds to be a resolution method for drawn series.

Two possible scenarios can occur:

A series is drawn leading into the final game - a result is required.

The days of timeless tests are gone, but as limited overs cricket has demonstrated, that need not prevent a result based on time. In these one-off games 6 days should be set aside for play (allowing a maximum of 540 overs), but a each side should be, across their two innings, be limited to 250 overs each (allowing 40 overs on the final day to make up time lost in the event of rain). It is quite rare that a single side bats for 250 overs in a game, so it is unlikely that both sides will do the same. However, in the event that it occurs, the team batting third must compulsory declare at the 250 over mark, and the team with the most runs at the conclusion of the game wins. In the event that the team batting third uses up fewer than 250 overs, then the team batting last must score the runs inside the total time available (500 overs), not just their 250 overs.

In a two-test series, teams are tied 1-1 after both games

In this situation, where two results have occured (if the first test had been drawn, the first scenario would have been in play), the tie should be broken on aggregate run margin. A victory by an innings should be worth 250 runs. Each unbroken wicket in a chase should be worth 250/11 or 23 runs. The side with the largest victory of the two games is then considered the winner. The advantage of this method, apart from being simple, is that it is obvious for both teams what the goal is, and therefore what declaration might be required.

In the event that teams are still tied, then numerous tie-breakers are possible: net runs-per-wicket, total runs, and a coin toss.

In the final part of the manifesto, I will detail the substantially more complex format for world and regional test match championships.

Cricket - Manifesto 11th February, 2010 22:38:43   [#] [0 comments] 

A Manifesto for World Cricket
Russell Degnan

Previously: Part 1 a b c d e f g h 2 a

Part 2b. Scheduling

Perhaps no aspect of cricket has been so neglected by the ICC as the introduction of sensible fixturing. Even disregarding the sudden quandary T20 has introduced, the international schedule is a mess of haphazard tours, marked by uneven spurts of games and odd lulls.

The problem rests with leaving the individual boards to determine the schedule, resulting in the popular teams sliding tours in whenever and wherever one might fit, yet still playing not much more frequently than one day per week. The less popular teams, bereft of opportunities, but unwilling to play each other, much less than that.

The introduction of universal domestic T20 windows offers the chance to correct two glaring problems. The first, obviously, to provide a space free from international commitments for players to play in what is likely to be both the most popular and lucrative form of the game. The second, to rationalise the international schedule so as to provide a balance between time spent playing, resting and travelling.

The first consideration when devising these windows must be an answer to the question: what is their appropriate size? The answer, I believe, is the minimum amount necessary to complete the tournaments outlined previously. Anything larger unnecessarily restricts the t20 game and will be under constant pressure to be reduced. Anything smaller and players will be forced to choose international commitments over a larger contract, which is bound to be problematic.

Taking first the non test championship years. These have scheduled T20 and ODI regional championships and world cup competitions, along with some sort of marquee tour at home and away, or world test championship qualifiers. Both test requirements extend to 6 tests per home summer, with regional limited over competitions consisting of 8-12 teams and the world championships 12-16. Any additional time might be used for friendly limited overs games, preparatory tour games, or travel.

One necessary change is the reduction of world cup length, long a bloated two month long march of irrelevant games leading to the semi-finals. The main cause of this, is the insistence of administrators (and no doubt tv companies) that each round of games (not involving a minnow) be played on a separate day. Thus 24 games (in say four groups of four), which might be dispensed with in just 5-12 days, are played over nearly a month. A reasonable length for a small regional championship is two weeks. For a world cup: three weeks. Allowing 7-8 weeks for six scheduled tests and a week of friendlies, the total international season, for one hemisphere can be reduced to 14 weeks. That leaves 12 for the domestic T20 competition. A regional test championship, being the most difficult to schedule (on account of it being conducted in the same hemisphere) would need to fit within that 14 week period. This is possible, as will be seen.

The second consideration is when each format is best scheduled, taking into account patterns of fan attendance and support, and the need to build a coherent narrative across a summer. Recent crowds in Australia suggest the folly of scheduling day games outside the traditional holiday period. Given T20 is played predominantly in the evenings, it is likely to be more resilient to scheduling, and is well suited to the start and tail-end of a summer. International cricket should therefore remain as the centre-piece, allowing the scheduling of test matches in their traditional slots - Boxing Day for example. Similarly, by scheduling internationals at the very beginning and end of each hemispherical summer, some overlap into each is theoretically possible (and potentially useful in years with a large number of intra-regional games).

The proposed schedule, therefore, is for a 3 week international break to be followed by the first half of the domestic T20 season (6 weeks), the international (and the bulk of the domestic first class season) for 8 weeks, followed by the concluding half of the domestic T20 season, and a final 3 weeks of internationals to conclude the summer.

Leaving aside the international schedule for a time, this has several implications for the domestic T20 game. Firstly, a 12 week season, with a week set aside for finals, would allow a 10-12 team home and away league to operate. Secondly though, and more importantly, in light of recent global developments, by allowing players to play a full season in one hemisphere, and therefore, one competition, we can put an end to the farce of players playing for multiple teams, in multiple competitions, which threatens to make the champions league a joke. Given the Indian summer can (at least theoretically) extend across the full 24 weeks of the domestic T20 window, a player would seem to have two choices: play for an Indian T20 outfit; play for a southern hemisphere outfit and a northern hemisphere outfit. The latter is undesirable, as it, again, could lead to divided loyalties. However, it is possible, even desirable, that the northern and southern hemisphere teams could be linked (in the manner suggested by the new Royals franchise), such that players signed for one are signed for the other, with the added bonus that while the individual summer competitions might conclude in 12 weeks, the champions league could be played across a year (with the "home" venue shifting with the seasons).

The T20 game's detractors might equate the franchising scenario being played out with other detrimental aspects of the T20's glitz and glamour: all show and no substance. I don't believe the T20 game need be an entertainment vehicle full of gimmicks. The debatably useful bowling and fielding restrictions, the cheer-leaders, music and fire-works, are all undesirable, but the game is still fundamentally skillful and entertaining, with enormous potential to develop cricket in hitherto unforeseen markets. Turning something as fundamentally valuable as a champions league into a gimmicky sideshow is not in the best interests of the sport (not just T20). The sooner the national boards get together to reform the scheduling the better.

Cricket - Manifesto 10th February, 2010 15:56:44   [#] [0 comments] 

A Manifesto for World Cricket
Russell Degnan

Previously: Part 1 a b c d e f g h

Part 2. Guiding Principles

Aims are not, by themselves, sufficient to produce a plan of action. They must be balanced against one another, striking a balance between the financial forces that drive the game forward, the emotion and history that make it great, and the logistics of scheduling games across three formats, diverse seasonal conditions and a seemingly infinite number of competitions.

The second part of this manifesto will deal with those issues, developing an over-arching competitive structure to produce competitive and meaningful fixtures, a domestic schedule to rationalise the existing mess of international tours and, now lucrative and expansionistic, domestic cricket seasons, and some general principles of tournament play to ensure fairness.

Part 2a. Structural pillars

The international side of the game has always been at the centre, and it is that that needs straightening first. The recent FTP driven expansion of the fixture list has not been kind to the sport, burning out players and fans alike on meaningless games. As a corrective I propose that the international fixture list be pared back to a handful of core fixtures played over a four year cycle: world and regional championships in each format and the marquee test tours.

There are a number of reasons why this is both desirable and possible. Firstly, the emergence of domestic T20 leagues reduces the need for money spinning limited overs friendlies to generate revenue. Given they have been, for a long time, merely used to prepare for the world cup and champions trophy, their almost complete removal will be lamented by few and will open up much needed space in the schedule.

Secondly, the expansion of world cup places to minnows has resulted in a bloated tournament while delivering only limited development opportunities. Pushing the development emphasis to a regional level allows both more opportunities to the smaller nations and a tighter, better world cup.

Thirdly, many lament the lack of interest in test cricket outside the major teams. In reality, the fans of those nations recognise those tours for what they are: perfunctory obligations of little value. Structuring the vast bulk of test matches into year long tournaments, and freeing them from the burden of short series should both increase the interest in test cricket in those nations and, as above, free up scheduling space for T20 games that will vastly improve the financial status of players in those nations.

Finally, by scheduling for marquee series every second season, there is ample room to continue playing those traditional series, such as the Ashes, upon which much of cricket's heritage, and no little interest or money, rests.

A final word then, on the future of one day cricket. As someone who gave up watching it some years ago, I was tempted to expunge it from the schedule entirely. That would be presumptuous and premature. The fact remains however, that ODI cricket is faced with dwindling interest and numerous challenges. Something that should be obvious from the rule tinkering that has beset the game of late. It has few core supporters, being neither as short or action packed as the t20 game so loved by the general public, nor as stern a test of character as the preferred format of the purist. Like games of professional vs players, or xxii vs xi, its time has passed. I suspect the only real question is how long will it linger.

Cricket - Manifesto 30th January, 2010 21:09:02   [#] [0 comments] 

A Manifesto for World Cricket
Russell Degnan

Previously: Part 1 a b c d e f g

Part 1h. Domestic and International Windows

No doubt, until two years ago, the idea that there should be times available in the international calendar for domestic cricket was laughable. Domestic cricket made no money, international cricket dominated the media and television schedules, and that was the way it was. Then came the IPL.

The impact of T20 Domestic leagues are a long way from playing out, but given their increasing popularity with the fans, and the obvious benefits for players currently struggling to maintain a regular place in their national side, it is not hard to envisage a time when international cricket intrudes on domestic schedules, as happens in most other sports.

International players will become quickly disgruntled if they are not granted full access to the riches of the T20 domestic leagues, and that will put pressure on administrators to reform the international calendar. This is no bad thing. At the moment, tours are a disorganised mess, players have substantial breaks over the course of the season, but there is always some international cricket on, somewhere. The most straight-forward reform of the international calendar is not to reduce the number of games, but to ensure that when international cricket is on, all teams are involved, not just one or two. Once this is achieved, large slabs of the season will be free, allowing all players to participate in the league system, further strengthening that part of the game.

It would be nice, at this point, to see test players return to first class cricket as well, given the sharp reduction in appearances at that level that has occurred in the past two decades, and the consequent diminished standards at that level, and quite probably, at test level as well. It is hard to see that happening, however, not unless ODIs were substantially reduced in number or excised completely from the calendar (I could only hope).

Nevertheless, there is still a question over how large a window is necessary. While other nations have failed, to date, to challenge the IPL with their own big money national or regional T20 leagues, it is almost certainly only a matter of time. A much larger window than has currently been shoe-horned in for the IPL will be necessary soon. As with the scheduling of international cricket, regional summers affect the amount of time available in different places. In the non-tropical parts of the world, it would be possible to have two months (8-9 weeks) set aside for domestic T20 games, but little more without a reduction in international cricket. In Asia, however, both domestic windows are feasible, allowing up to four months of domestic cricket a year.

Reform of the calendar would seem to be inevitable, though as with most things, it may take an entrepreneur to radically remake cricket before the ICC and the boards of control take action themselves. Despite the worries over scheduling conflicts and the drop-out of big name players, fitting several extensive domestic league windows into the schedule is feasible and desirable. More than anything, it is the international schedule that needs work, by forcing the current mess of tours starting and finishing any time they are able, into a strict timetable. The sooner players are able to move between international and domestic cricket without conflict, the stronger both the international and domestic games will be.

Cricket - Manifesto 31st December, 2009 00:35:39   [#] [0 comments] 

A Manifesto for World Cricket
Russell Degnan

Previously: Part 1 a b c d e f

Part 1g. Regional Rivalries

International cricket teams have odd relationships with their neighbours. Cricket's most celebrated rivalry, the Ashes, is not regional at all, yet it is played more regularly than any other contest for a simple reason: Australia and England have always been able to schedule tours in their off-season, and their opponents summer. By contrast, the contest between Australia and South Africa, while every bit as keen, and usually of the highest quality, is limited to three tests a piece, with the South African leg shuttled into March, and the South African administrators having to forgo their now traditional December/January test program.

While scheduling isn't always a problem - India and Pakistan have tended to fluctuate from playing almost monthly, to not at all, depending on the political climate - cricket's best potential rivalries are often stunted affairs. New Zealand have always been far more likely to play Pakistan or Sri Lanka than their tri-nations rivals they really want to contest against; the Asian cup was last seen bereft of Indian involvement; and despite being surrounded by high profile associates, England play just two ODI games a year against their near neighbours.

Other sports have much better regional rivalries. Football has as its main structure world cup qualifiers and regional championships; likewise, rugby is centred around the tri-nations and six nations tournaments. And for obvious reasons: travel is cheaper and less burdensome on players, allowing more games to be played; regional rivalries build on the natural tendency of people to aspire first and foremost to beat those most like themselves; and the absence of regular games against more exotic locales brings greater interest to those games when they occur.

While world championships have often been cited as a way of introducing greater meaning into test cricket, regional championships are rarely considered. Yet, for many teams, being regional champion (or finalist) is a far more realistic goal than world champion. Regional championships too, serve a useful purpose in providing a structure to introduce smaller nations into the fray against major teams without them needing to travel across the world, nor, more importantly, requiring more than one of the game's heavy-weights to play the minnows in any qualification sequence.

There is a question over what constitutes a "region". Depth is important. With so few top class teams, it makes little sense for a championship to follow the ICC development regions, where only the Asian region has a real contest for the local champion. Here, I favour regions sorted by scheduling arrangements, split between those teams playing in the Northern Hemisphere's summer (England, West Indies), those playing in the Southern Hemisphere (South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Zimbabwe) and those playing in the Asian semi-tropical zone (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh).

This arrangement has the advantage of being relatively even. While the Northern hemisphere is weakest in its test sides, it has the best associates (Canada, USA, Ireland, Netherlands, Scotland, Bermuda, Denmark, Italy). By contrast, the Asian zone has strong test sides, but weak associates (UAE, Nepal, Afghanistan, Hong Kong, Oman) and the Southern hemisphere lies in the middle (Kenya, Namibia, Uganda, PNG).

Scheduling a regional championship is more problematic, requiring a whole summer of densely scheduled games to contest even the most basic of championships. Yet that density may be a blessing for players, instead of ad hoc scheduling where blocks of games are preceded and followed by a few weeks rest, a more organised schedule and extensive breaks would allow better recovery times from injury. Unfortunately that is not the only scheduling issue that needs resolving.

Cricket - Manifesto 30th December, 2009 20:51:24   [#] [0 comments] 

A Manifesto for World Cricket
Russell Degnan

Previously: Part 1 a b c d e

Part 1f. World Championships

On the surface, the need for a world championship is a facile point. Almost every neutral observer agrees on the need for one. But in its absence, and given the inherent difficulties of organising a championship for the elongated test match format, it is worth discussing the options available for instituting one.

There are, broadly, three standard methods of finding the "best" in a sporting context: a ranking system, a league system, and a championship (or cup). Most sports us a combination of several, and cricket is no different. Each has certain advantages and disadvantages, most particularly with respect to "meaning".

If you want an accurate measure of the best team, a ranking system is unparalleled. Most sports have some sort of ranking system in addition to competition, because no competition can be a perfect indicator of the best team. Luck plays too big a role, even in test cricket. Cricket's existing rating system is not flawless, but it does a reasonable job. The problem with a rating system is that they are fluid measures, with no end and no beginning (except 1877, I suppose).

Tennis works around this problem with a year end rating, but tennis also structures its tournament system around that year, allowing year-on-year comparisons. Cricket has no such luxury, with even the mooted 4-5 year cycle of the FTP being heavily compromised, and the ratings of different sides with it. Thus, the narrative of a rating-based championship is of constant flux - this series will decide the number on ranking, as will the next one, and the one after, until we tire of knowing that every game is equally important, and equally unimportant.

In most sports, a league provides both the narrative context and the necessary structure. Every team plays each other, normally twice, and the winner is the team with the most accumulated points, or the winner of a play-off, should a final be organised. But test cricket is poorly suited to a league system. The big teams shy away from long series against un-financial sides, and gravitate towards extended series with the history and interest those bring. The FTP always intended that all teams would play each other, but political reality and logistical constraints have prevented it being implemented, and will likely continue to do so.

Those logistical constraints are even more acute if cricket is to expand. Nine teams, playing two teams per summer can rotate through a full roster in four years. But 11 teams, or 15, require 5 and 7 years respectively, at which point the earlier games are a distant memory (and an irrelevance when judging quality); with the marquee series unreasonably separated. The standard proposed solution is a tiered system, be it eight - if for no other reason than there have been, in the recent past, eight decent sides - or six. But a tiered system has little support. The teams in danger of falling off the top tier are averse to the financial burden that would impose, the teams assured of a place at the top, averse to a structure that prevents them maximising revenue from marquee series.

That leaves a cup format. For ODI and T20 cricket this exists already, with most teams structuring their programs around the four year cycle of preparation and infrequent competition the World Cup and Champions Trophy bring. But test cricket is different. A two month tournament would lack the ebb and flow of normal test match series, around which the game has always based itself. Neutral venues would struggle to attract crowds, be heavily biased towards the home side, and extremely difficult to schedule more than a handful of matches.

A non-neutral cup, played over a season or more is more feasible, but must be structured carefully, as, unlike football or tennis (in which the Davis Cup is a good example), a cricket team is limited to home games in their summer. September/October and March/April offer the only period in which all teams can reasonably schedule games, and would therefore be the ideal time for a final series on alternate home grounds. Preliminary rounds, more easily scheduled, could be played across the year, allowing the cup to unfold its narrative as the finals approach.

Just as importantly, a test world championship would need to be restrictive in the number of teams playing, to allow decent length series (at least 3 games) between teams, and the time period over which it is played. Qualification therefore, becomes paramount, such that every team should have reasonable opportunity to progress to each subsequent stage, with the vagaries of fortune reduced as much as possible. This type of qualification therefore entails a broader scope than normal for cricket. Rather than a single quadrennial tournament, a test championship must be a quadrennial program of games that move through a series of stages, culminating in a final.

How this might work will be reserved for the second part of this series. The conclusion from this post is that much effort expended on test championships are misguided, focusing too much on either rankings or leagues to provide champions, and wedded to the idea that all teams should play each other - an idea only feasible with an excessively restrictive cricketing family. A cup is the most natural and flexible format for a true world championship, as evidenced by the numerous sports that use it for national competition. The difficulty is providing an acceptable format for that form of competition.

Cricket - Manifesto 16th December, 2009 00:54:34   [#] [0 comments] 

A Manifesto for World Cricket
Russell Degnan

Previously: Part 1 a b c d

Part 1e. Preserving Marquee Tours

Having ended the last post proposing a test championship, now I will retract my unqualified support for same. The bulk of test nations recoil from a tiered system because of 1b - providing access to the highest level, for players, but also teams - where the possibility of relegation to a lower level will prevent them from engaging in tours to the places that pay well, and (ultimately) subsidise the game as we know it: India, Australia, England and South Africa.

Those big four teams are opposed for their own, equally selfish reasons. A proper tiered tournament - not the unholy compromise currently tabled - entails playing equal amounts of cricket in every nation, which will rarely be as profitable as a five game series between the big four. It would also, potentially, prevent those tours happening at all, should one member of the match-up be pushed down a level.

The idea that the Ashes might not happen for several years is anathema to most cricket fans in both countries, and down-right frightening to the administrators in each. The financial ramifications are too great to even risk it, which means, practically, that any test championship must find a way to preserve the marquee tours.

Leaving aside practicality, it is worthwhile for the previously cited reason, to preserve and enhance these historic rivalries, steeped as they are in history. The rivalries have their own, internal narratives that span decades, on which the new histories are built. To destroy, or diminish those would be a great loss to a sport that has made those histories such a central part of its character.

Fortunately, there is a relatively straight-forward way to preserve them, and that is to ensure that any format for a test championship has open windows for them to played. Logistically, that implies that a test championship could occupy no more than two seasons in four, allowing time for the long marquee tours on the traditional rolling four year cycle, and setting aside the periods currently devoted to so-called "meaningless" tours to the championship.

Those teams currently excluded from marquee tours have several options in this period. Certainly, where test cricket is unpopular, they may be tempted to ignore it completely, albeit at the expense of necessary practice. Alternatively, the aim should be to build new rivalries, between neighbours and close competitors. It would not be the end of the world if teams play less international cricket, but all these are problems for a different post.

Cricket - Manifesto 26th November, 2009 19:33:26   [#] [0 comments] 

A Manifesto for World Cricket
Russell Degnan

Previously: Part 1 a b c

Part 1d. Meaningful Cricket

The refrain for the age is the need for "meaningful" cricket. But as DB rightly noted, there is no real way of defining what meaning is. In one sense, all cricket is meaningless, as is all sport, and one suspects, all of life. How can one explore meaning is a mere game when one cannot define it for our very existence. That type of question may well be too deep for what this project, being a practical exposition of the game's strengths and weaknesses, but we might practically draw an answer to meaning from philosophy itself.

Meaning must be, I believe, self-referential; drawing on Descarte's idea that he must exist, because he thinks, we can say the same for cricket: it is meaningful when those involved, both on and off the field think it is meaningful. The question then becomes not existential, but one of motivation: why do players play, and why do fans watch?

The answer, I believe, is best conceived by making the analogy between sport and the narrative that underlies all sports. The most meaningful contest in test cricket today is the Ashes. They have meaning because they are steeped in history, the players play regularly, both team's structure their selections and goals around winning that one contest. There is, therefore, a running narrative surrounding the game, starting in discussions over selection a year or more before, and carried throughout a long five or six test series.

Most other contests are not so lucky. The lamentable 7 match ODI series are forgotten almost before they've finished. Despite their popularity their narrative interest exists only in as much as they relate to selection issues and form leading up to the two tournaments where the trophy counts for something. The cricket, as a spectacle, is not to blame, nor is there too much of it, necessarily. The problem is a lack of over-arching narrative, expressed through overkill of short tournaments.

Other sports do better. Perhaps the most astonishing narrative in international sports concerns the elongated process for FIFA World Cup qualification. Each team undergoes it, sometimes playing teams so poor they would never agree to play if not compelled to, sometimes games with more drama than the best narrated movie plot. Australia's seven consecutive failures, normally at the last hurdle, completely captured a nation largely indifferent to the sport. The World Cup itself was an adventure in itself, but it also finished well before the defining games of the tournament.

The important point to take from this is that good narratives relate to all teams. It is too much to hang the whole hat of a World Test Championship on the hats of the top contenders. Meaning for the ranks of second tier test teams, and more importantly, the aspirational associate nations, depends on finding a path that plays tem to the highest level, gives them scope for unlikely progression, historic upsets, and ultimately, in the interests of even competition and financial gain, their disappearance when the business end of the tournament concludes.

Meaning therefore, demands the best possible set of narratives, for each team, the elimination of games that lack meaning - the short bilateral tours that lack history or rivalry - and the development of a new format that develops its own twists and turns as the season(s) progress.

Mooted plans for a tiered system of test cricket, with home and away fixtures between a limited number of nations, and relegation every year or two allow this, to an extent, because there is a lead-up to a final, or competition winner. But it is not the only possible narrative format, and I don't believe the best one, leaving aside the deeper issues that are preventing it from gaining broader acceptance. Nevertheless, meaning, to me, means having a narrative, that puts each game into a context, whether that context is a tournament, or what is possibly the world's longest running sporting rivalry.

Cricket - Manifesto 26th November, 2009 19:03:03   [#] [0 comments] 

A Manifesto for World Cricket
Russell Degnan

Previously: Part 1 a b

Part 1c. Expanding the Professional Playing Base

The previous two posts dealt exclusively with the need to allow an expansion of access to the international game. The financial realities of cricket, and indeed most sport, don't support an expanded international competition. The IPL, but more importantly, the ICL point to increasing pressures to expand the club based system.

With the current system of international cricket fixture dominating the coverage and therefore sponsorship and attendances, the total number of players making a living off their games (as opposed to being subsidised by their national team) is no more than a hundred. The system scoops the cream off the top of competitive cricket, and distributes the high earnings to an even smaller set of players: the top dozen players in Australia, England, India and South Africa.

This has ramifications for total potential earnings as well. TV coverage is limited to at most a dozen days worth of cricket footage (world-wide) per week, as are attendances, limiting international cricket to each stadium to less than a dozen days per year. By contrast, each major US domestic sport, operating in markets broadly similar in total size, but with closer to 30 teams competing, has upwards of five simultaneous games per day, and closer to fifty games per week (baseball, cricket's closest equivalent averages close to one hundred). Local fans therefore, get thirty or forty days of sport per year, which makes better use of facilities, allowing stadium expansion, producing several times the revenue, albeit dispersed across more players.

The now defunct ICL recognised this potential, and as became quickly apparent, players outside the big-four test sides were extremely interested in making 5-10 times their existing income playing in a league system. That the venture subsequently failed had to do with two things: the restraint of trade (or threat thereof) imposed on those players by their home boards; and the introduction of the IPL to partly assuage the players needs.

Cricket has long been subject to these types of ventures, and a future attempt is not unlikely unless the playing base is expanded significantly, most likely to upwards of 1000 well paid professionals, in at least three leagues (or conferences in a world league). Those types of numbers mean having around 50 teams playing T20 Domestic league cricket, for a minimum of 16 weeks per year.

That type of system has a number of advantages:

  • It reduces the burden placed on international cricket to fund domestic cricket, allowing fewer and more meaningful international fixtures and competitions
  • It gives fans much greater access to the game, making better use of facilities, and building a narratives around a season that will improve local attendances.
  • It gives scope for franchise opportunities in nations with substandard cricketers, allowing game development in those nations.
  • More players at a higher level will improve the general standard, improving international competition.

The economics of team sports strongly favour close contests and locally based teams that play week-in week-out in the same stadium. Cricket has survived and prospered despite itself, but the advent of T20 means there are both good reasons for making a change, and a ground-swell of public interest in doing so. The international game will not die, and may even prosper, if the ongoing grumbles over meaningless fixtures continue to rumble. The alternative is players retiring earlier from the international circuit, and non-international players shifting loyalties to wherever the money is, which is far more likely to damage the international game, and that would be a pity.

Cricket - Manifesto 23rd November, 2009 13:27:29   [#] [0 comments] 

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