An English Cricketing Carol
Russell Degnan

Almost a decade ago, as Australia reeled from back-to-back Ashes losses, I put together a piece that put Australia's historical batting performance in context. The conclusion, that while those losses were below recent peaks, they were consistent with Australia's historical performance and what you'd expect to see given a largely random availability of elite talent within their talent pool.

As England reel, not from back-to-back Ashes losses, but an historically poor batting performance from the top-order that is not Joe Root, it is worth re-examining those statistics from the other side. They show that, while England is not performing wildly below expectations, there are underlying issues that are making it increasingly difficult for England to compete with Australia regularly.

It is odd, in one way, to look at England's Test performance, because the underlying definition of "Test cricket" is "how good is a team, relative to England". England are the base case, the stable comparative, always armed with some capable seamers, technically correct batters and one or two all-rounders who are neither, but win the odd game. They have had good and bad sides of late, but they haven't tended to reach the highs or lows of other teams.

The ghost of cricketing past

Historically, by which I mean, across the entire history of Test cricket, England and Australia have been well matched, with Australia having a slight edge. That said, the periods that England have been dominant have got shorter and less frequent over many decades. The graph below looks at this through the lens of my ratings, highlighting in blue where one team would be rated high enough to win both home and away, and tracking a decadal average gap relative to home advantage (100 rating points or 50 runs) between the teams in green.

A trend line would show Australia getting more dominant, but that would be driven somewhat by the relative performances of England at the turn of the 20th century and Australia at the turn of the 21st. Across a decade Australia has averaged more than home advantage on only four occasions: immediately after World War I, the age of Bradman, the age of McGrath and Warne, and the last five years. England have not done so since 1886-1895 but they got close in Australia's slump from 1978-1987. About 36% of the time the two teams have been evenly matched, such that each would be expected to win at home, and lose away. You could reasonably conclude from this graph though, that England have, largely been a reasonable side, but sometimes inferior to a great side.

That perception that England have been a consistent side is largely borne out in the batting statistics. Here I have taken the three year average of each position in the order, to eliminate the vagaries of selection changes, and the immediacy of who they play.

In the post-war period England have consistently averaged slightly above 35 with their top-six. That average was a little higher in the 1950s and 1960s, and has had a little bit of variability, especially with the team from 2009-2011. The last four years have been below that historical average, but the markedly poor outcome in 2021 includes only one year of data, and a regression back to the mean is likely. England though, are a team that has always had a solid and consistent top-6, with perhaps fewer names hitting the heights above 50 than other nations.

Not having looked at the bowling, and it is the bowling that wins games, this only loosely translates to results, but those results - being slightly worse than Australia across a long period - are consistent with the same graph for Australia.

In this case, a higher level of variability, marked by an average typically above 40 for most of the past 30 years. It is worth noting here too, that England is a more difficult place to bat, generally, than other parts of the world, and that is likely to impact England's batting averages. This was particularly true last year, when they played the three top sides in Test cricket. For the most part I'll be comparing the trajectory of change, not the absolute values of averages.

The ghost of cricketing present

It's here I'd like to talk about player production. It is easy to focus on the Test side and lose site of the broader context, but think of a cricketing nation from the base: hundreds of thousands of players, normally distributed in terms of talent, the worst playing for some hack village side, the best couple of hundred playing first-class cricket, and the best six batting for their country. That tiny tip of the distribution is the selection quandary, but it is the big broad base that defines who will be available for selection.

In the graph below (from 1945 to 1972) you can see the probability that in any particular year, that position in the top-6 averaged that amount. Averages over 50 were quite rare with around 15% of players for both Australia and England; the median average was around 40, and then it drops off. Some small percentage of years, a position would average less than 20, but with relatively few Tests each year, that could happen, as performance itself will be somewhat randomly distributed.

There are three other things worth noting from this graph. The first is the idea of a "replacement player". That is, if you picked the next best player out of County Cricket, what would the average in the Test side: the seventh best player, in other words. In practice, the seventh best player in the nation is probably about as good as the sixth best. The normal curve of talent distribution gets fatter as you go along, and while any individual may underperform in any one year, their true talent is going to be roughly where this line ought to cross the 100% mark if you projected the first 50% up. Assumign this is about the 80th percentile, for Australia, across all post-war players, that historical replacement player will average about 33. For England about 30, and for New Zealand, about 23.

The second thing to notice about this graph is that England close the gap to Australia. Fewer players averaging over 50 than anyone other than New Zealand but more players averaging 35 than anyone other than Australia, and closing that gap to them. There is an ongoing question in English cricket about the number of County sides, and this graph supports why that is, in my opinion, misplaced.

Consider the career arc of an average Test cricketer. They come out of school at 18, struggle to find a place at first-class level for several years until 22 to 24, reach their prime and the Test side around 27 years old, get dropped around 30 years old, then play a few years at first-class level, passing on their experience to the next generation.

In order for a player to push for Test selection in their late 20s they need to stay in the system in their early 20s. That means having professional contracts and support in a period when they probably aren't good enough for first-class cricket. Having more counties helps this, because it provides opportunities to keep talent around, particularly late bloomers. Greg Chappell had a theory, based on the trajectory of transcendent talents, that if a player was not showing by age 24 they should move out for someone else. The impact of this approach was to dillute the quality of the Shield competition (particularly the second XIs) and lose players before they reached their peaks. England's greater ability to find replacement level players who can average 35 is a testament to the larger system, and their ability to ensure that an 18 year old potential Test players are able to find opportunities within their first class system.

By contrast, Australia's tendency to pick undercooked 22 year olds in the hope they learn on the job does not always help the Test side. In more specialised positions, like spinners, there just aren't enough spots across the six Shield sides to provide a learning environment for young players, with Test spinners picked more in hope than anticipation. Introducing substitutes for the third innings would help get around this issue, but it remains a pipe dream.

The final thing to take from this graph is the proportion of players at each average for each nation, and the probability each team has of finding them. Australia and New Zealand have a reasonably consistent gap across the entire spectrum of averages, where Australia is roughly 2.5-3 times as likely to have a player in their side with that average than their smaller neighbour. That doesn't rule New Zealand out from getting a great collection of talent in any particular year. But it does mean, as a rule of thumb, that Australia will generally have a player averaging 50+ and a couple average 40+, while New Zealand are more likely to have one averaging 45+, and a couple averaging 35+. This is borne out in their historical averages, noting a gradual improvement over time.

The ghost of cricketing future

If we switch our focus to the last 25 years you see a quite different prduction function from the post-war period. Most obviously, there has been a general improvement in batting average across the world, with the notable exceptions of the West Indies (alarmingly!), and England.

Large parts of this period were poor for England results-wise, so much as Australia has been ahistorically strong, it could be argued England have been ahistorically mediocre. But they have shifted from being on par with Australia in the post-war period, to well behind, and it is reasonable to suspect there are greater headwinds than the vagaries of player development.

At the turn of the 20th century Australia looked to England as the paragon of quality cricket. They were a superior side, even when best amateurs didn't tour, but Australia was capable of producing great cricketers, and won plenty of games. England had a healthy demographic advantage though, and it showed, with almost 9 times as many people as their antipodean colony.

Australia has grown markedly faster (percentage-wise) than England across the last 100 years however. By 1960, that population ratio had dropped to 4.5. In cricketing terms, with Australia's broader cricketing popularity that crossed class barriers, 1960 also appears to be the inflection point, when Australia were consistently producing batters to match England. And while England had a period of relative superiority across the 1970s and 1980s, that merely masked that they were slowly falling behind.

As of 2020, England's population remains 2.3 times as large as Australia's, but adjusting for the relative popularity of cricket, Australia's production function is almost double England's. In other words, for every Joe Root England has in their side, Australia will have two (Smith and Labuschagne), for every Anderson, a Cummins and Hazlewood. Whereas Australia's replacement player averages around 36 across the last 25 years, England's averages 30.

While England will continue to look to the Ashes as their rivalry series, the modelling suggests that majority of the time, England will be competitive at home and flogged away. In fact, while the finances will say otherwise, the more interesting series is less likely to be the Ashes than that against Australia's smaller neighbour.

While England's population remains 10 times that of New Zealand, the latter is a much more efficient producer of cricketers, versus their population. There are fewer competing sports, and the smaller base of players has made recognition easier. When New Zealand entered Test cricket in the 1930s the production gap was around 3.5, but it is down to only 1.5 now, and their current side is one of the best in the world, and with some recent debuts playing well, expected to stay there for a while yet.

There are other reasons to suspect that England's future production will be worse than even this relative decline though. England's class gap has deteriorated over the past 15 years following the shift from Free-to-Air television. Cricket was always an upper-middle-class sport, but no amount of targeted advertising can make up for day-in-day-out cricket coverage over a summer, and it takes a lot of coaching to make up for young cricketers being able to emulate the players they see on television.

The ECB does not operate a census, unlike Australia, New Zealand and every associate nation, so we need to draw on alternate, and less consistent measurements for participation. Sport England has only been tracking participation since 2015, but this still showed a 20% drop to 2019, before a World Cup bump (of 15%) and a Coronavirus drop (of closer to 40%).

Where English cricket lands in the coming years in terms of participation remains to be seen. There is, at least, some acknowledgement that the current numbers are not adequately drawing on the resources of the nation. The next generation (those currently aged between 20 and 25) grew up with the 2005-2011 English team that was the best of any English side over the past 50 years.

But if that generation fizzles out over the next five years; if the opportunities that come with a successful team to build a larger base of participation for future success were squandered; then the post-Anderson/Root/Stokes team will be depressing viewing for English fans.

Which is not to say that England will not have good or even great teams in the future; New Zealand are the World Test Champions after all. But unless they can boost participation, which is a 20-year goal, not a short-term option, then it is increasingly likely that England will perform closer to New Zealand's test record in Australia (won 3, drawn 11, lost 20) and England's since 2000 (won 4, drawn 2, lost 22) than their record from 1970 to 2000 (won 13, drawn 14, lost 21) which will make series victories infrequent at best.

Cricket - Articles 2nd January, 2022 13:09:55   [#] [0 comments] 

A bad format, associates or not
Russell Degnan

The long lamented and dreaded ten-team World Cup has finally started and the arguments over the format are unlikely to cease until the trophy has been lifted if not after.

Strangely, within the general public, the argument over whether Associates should be included has been largely won. That doesn't mean the ICC will change the format, but the change from a decade ago when a smaller World Cup was the majority position amongst journalists to now reflects a growing realisation that the game depends on its smaller (actually, mid-sized) nations.

The question for this World Cup will be not whether it lacks something without the Associate teams, but whether a ten-team World Cup is what the ICC promised: the most competitive and exciting format, harking back to 1992; or just a money-making exercise by guaranteeing India nine matches.

Bertus de Jong has been a consistent voice for reason on the problems with a ten-team league-format World Cup and highlighted several on twitter around the narrative that such a long group stage brings.

My position has always been that there is no "right number" rationale for twelve, fourteen or sixteen teams over ten, eight or six. Obviously, fewer teams will have smaller gaps in performance between best and worst - though not necessarily more competitive matches. Equally obviously, large groups where a team can lose many games and still qualify, or be knocked out with matches still to play will have more dead-rubbers than knock-outs. To some extent the "correct" size of a World Cup is the one that allows all the members a reasonable opportunity to participate.

Almost ten years ago, when the ten-team tournament was first mooted, I wrote about how large a World Cup should be noting that cricket was far removed from the roughly six-to-one ration of Association Football and Rugby Union.

I also highlighted five myths that had been inflicted on the debate at that time:

  1. That more teams led to a longer World Cup when that is derived from the format;
  2. That low odds of victory for teams with lower ranks against the top teams is normal in sport;
  3. That cricket doesn't have sufficient depth for a large World Cup;
  4. That a larger World Cup has more pointless matches; and
  5. That the only purpose of a World Cup is to anoint a winner: that many teams participate to reach the next stage, or just to get there.

The third and fourth points are particularly important because they speak to the quality of the viewing experience. A few months afterwards, not satisfied with a hand-waving explanation I put forward an analytical method to look at formats. Put simply, the excitement inherent to a match is related to the change in probable outcomes.

There are beautiful match graphs for baseball that look at probabilities within a game. They show the probability of victory as a game progresses, and it is easy to see the difference between the very exciting (such as the Red Sox-Indians game shown) where the probability of each team winning shifts violently, and the not (Giants-Athletic) where it remains the same throughout.

We can assess the likely excitement of a World Cup match against a similar formula. In this case, the expected change in the probability of each team qualifying for the next stage of the World Cup.

Start with a simple example: in a knockout between evenly matched teams the probability of progressing for both starts at 50% and ends at either 0% or 100%. The change in probability adds to 1.00

A tournament where the expected change in probability was always 1.00 would be non-stop excitement. However it is also impossible. Between non-evenly matched teams the expected change in probability drops substantially.

In group matches the expected change drops further. An evenly matched four-team group has slightly less than half the excitement per game of a knockout at around 0.46. A calculation of the 2014 FIFA World Cup where teams are not equal produced an average expected change of around 0.35.

The perfect tournament would maximise the expected change in probability within other constraints - making sure each team plays a few games, getting enough content for television and so forth. The Cricket World Cup had a TV deal requiring at least 48 matches which rules out a simple 16-team with four groups of 4 and knockouts. But since 2003 it has had formats with at least this number of matches.

By simulating each round of previous World Cups we can assess them against how exciting they ought to have been. For the most part, since the small cups from 1975-1987: pretty fucking bad. Note that the key column to look at here is the simulated result, remembering that it should be as close to 1.00 as possible.

(Note that super-6 and super-8 games were not replayed. I have not adjusted for any additional interest factor from the first round matches because it is not clear how to do so).

1999 was the best World Cup format of recent times. Not surprising then that it is well remembered amongst everyone who wasn't an English journalist. 2007 was unlucky: the first round was actually exciting, but the second round was very long and it lacked take-off as the 8-team round-robin drifted over many weeks. Recent cups have also been poor by this measure, but the 10-team World Cup will be the worst ever for interest. And it is not close. We might get lucky with multiple contenders at the pointy-end but don't bet on it and it will be a loooong journey.

The best formats offer incentives to all teams. The recently axed World Cricket League tournaments with 6 teams, 2-up, 2-down were inherently exciting because the margin between qualification and relegation was thin. Teams expected change in probability was an average of 0.18 on both measures, giving a combined 0.36 per match.

It is for this reason that I landed on my preferred 20-team format that sends first place to a quarter-final and second and third to a repechage. First place in the group would be strongly incentivised as the winner can both skip the round of 16 and play an easier quarter-final opponent. So much so that the probability of overall victory is roughly double than for coming second or third place. More importantly, the depth of associate cricket is such that all five teams in the group would have a reasonable change of qualification in at least third place, removing the just-hear-for-the-scenery nature of most associate participation to date.

Based on rankings after the qualification tournament for 2019 a 20-team would have looked like this:

By running a similar simulation on both that format and a 32-team World Cup we can assess them against the formats to date. a 32-team World Cup would be a bridge too far - and yet still be better than a 10-team one! But a 20-team competition with a repechage and eleven knockout matches has sufficient uncertainty that it would be the best since the 8-team format last used in 1987.

Would a better format make up for lost revenue when India doesn't slog through 9 games over two months? Perhaps not, but it is not as far off as might be expected. A calculation of revenue based on Indian TV ratings indicated that the loss would be as small as 10%. And because it is based on a more reliable revenue stream than interest in one team, it would retain value even if India flame out early.

Given the flow-on benefits to participating teams in terms of sponsorship and recognition, a larger World Cup should be a no-brainer. But, here we are, almost 10 years after it was first announced, a 10-team World Cup.
Bring coffee, you'll need it.

Cricket - Articles 1st June, 2019 22:41:34   [#] [0 comments] 

The WSC Transition
Russell Degnan

Bradman and Packer: The deal that changed cricket - Dan Brettig

Of the various revolutions to convulse cricket since its inception, the Packer one has garnered the most attention, and courtesy of several decades of Nine commentators, the most praise.

In its own way though, it was the least impactful on the nature of cricket. The International revolution, when Australia first defeated England in 1877 then, more importantly, followed up with tours and further victories in England was part of a continuum of touring sides dating to William Clarke's All England Eleven. But the Australian Eleven was a box-office draw like no other, and set the shape of international Test Match tours that continues almost unabated to this day.

The Board of Control takeover, from 1905-1912, that saw tours shift from the hands of Player's Elevens to national boards, concomitant with the founding of the ICC was less revolutionary, with almost no impact on the general public, but had enormous influence on the nature of cricket administration and player payments that eventually led to World Series Cricket 70 years later. More recently, the advent of domestic T20 has had more significant impacts on the shape of cricket than any event since the advent of the International game.

The ructions caused by World Series Cricket were significant, but short lived. The "peace treaty" was signed in 1979, but the public face of cricket, particularly in Australia was changed forever.

Most histories focus on those public changes: the white balls, coloured clothes and changed emphasis to ODI cricket. Dan Brettig's new book focuses on the private changes, and most importantly, the role of Australian cricket's most important figure: Donald Bradman. In doing so, it makes the Packer revolution look less like a revolution, and more like an extended transition from amateur to professional cricket board.

International cricket boards exist for three purposes: to administer the game, to act as a monopoly employer of cricket talent, and to sell a product. The Board of Control takeover was a victory for the first of these tasks at the expense of the latter. In the Board's eyes, the player led tours were reaping undue rewards from a product they had no right to control. It was a victory for establishment amateurism and sporting purity.

Bradman came into international cricket 16 years after the Board takeover in the dying days of players having control of their income. League cricket - with more in common with today's T20 leagues than County cricket - could still lure Sydney Barnes and Learie Constantine with reasonable salaries; and some of the older Australian test players had played with those of the earlier era of player control. Some, like Victor Richardson, had markedly different approaches on and off the field to Bradman who, despite an early run-in with the Board, was philosophically and politically inclined to the establishment. As a member (and for most of that period, Chairman) of the Board for 35 years he did more than any other to entrench a Board approach that focused on the administration of cricket at the expense of labour.

The graph above provides an inflation adjusted (to 2012) summary of cricketing salaries from 1893 to 2018, taken from Trove news articles and Brettig's research for the WSC/PBL era. The Players era pre-1912 provided variable but healthy incomes from tours to England (and therefore higher when home receipts are considered) that exceeded what cricketers would earn from the game until the Packer revolution.

Not that tours were unprofitable (at least to England) in the ACB-era. Players could expect around 50,000 in today's money for their six months on tour. It was the home salaries that lagged, and even a late increase (undercut by rising inflation) prior to World Series Cricket did little to bridge the gap between what they earnt, and what Packer was willing to pay.

Brettig picks up the story in 1979. Both Packer and the ACB were haemorrhaging money trying to compete for local interest, the ACB for lack of star players and control of their game, and Packer for lack of cost control. The untold story, until now, of Bradman and Packer agreeing to treat for a resolution puts these into perspective. Packer had no need to retain either the players nor overall control of cricket; his interests lay in selling the product and in Bradman he found an unlikely ally.

The stability of player incomes over almost 50 years was underpinned by the inherent conservatism of the Board. Its membership was driven by continuity. A certain amount of income was received from ticket sales, an amount allocated to associations and player expenses. Bradman didn't believe in full professionalism, but he did believe in attractive cricket and his later writings showed plenty of willingness to embrace innovation in the game. Unlike most of the board, paralysed by fury and disbelief, Bradman was pragmatic and readily acceded to Packer having not only the TV rights, but the marketing of the game via PBL in exchange for certainty and control.

The deal was a fleecing of the ACB, but it made sense for a Board entrenched in the amateur era. As Brettig describes the post-WSC period, it took almost a decade and a South African rebel for the ACB to realise that they were seeing a fraction of the money coming in to cricket. For players on the ACB books, renumeration was well above the pre-WSC era, but remained well below what it could have been.

There was a further issue with PBL having marketing control of the game, and that was their focus on ODI cricket as the core product of Nine's summer. Test matches and ODIs were interspersed throughout the 1980s and early 1990s with the tri-series competition given higher standing and better promotion. Lynton Taylor as Chairman of PBL marketing had no problems telling the ACB that Test cricket was dying. Average crowds declined through the 1980s as Australia struggled, and beyond before reaching a nadir in the early 1990s when the MCG was hosting as many days of ODIs as Test matches with three times the average crowds.

A change had been sweeping through the Australian Cricket Board though. Empowered by younger business oriented members in Malcolm Gray and Graham Halbish, the retirement of Colin Egar and Bradman (officially), and the success in hosting the 1992 World Cup the board took back control of selling their product.

The "revolution" in the management of Australian cricket, that started in 1977 with WSC, became a Board transition that didn't end until 1994 (if not later when it achieved independence from the State Associations). Whereas the Bradman-era Board was unwilling to treat with Packer, then blindsided by his ability and willingness to outbid them for players, the Board from the mid-90s on has been more frequently accused of being for players and product over administration. The players, empowered by the Board's growing income, unionised and ensured their contracts soon jumped far above the y-axis of graph shown above.

The rhythm of cricket changed too. Test cricket returned to the centre, and not unremarkably, soon recovered both crowds and prestige. The ODI tri-series carnival that drip fed cricket into lounge-rooms nightly for the entire summer went into a terminal decline, was progressively shortened, and finally replaced by domestic T20 cricket.

This book provides an important glimpse into these changes, the personalities involved and the downsides to Nine/PBL's control of many aspects of cricket in an era otherwise tinged with nostalgia and a belief that everything changed, when in some important aspects nothing changed at all, and in others the change was fundamental, but much more drawn out than supposed.

Cricket - Articles 4th March, 2019 00:39:38   [#] [0 comments] 

Thoughts on the state of cricket analytics
Russell Degnan

Cricket is a sport that has always held itself in high regard with respect to the quality of its writing and statistics. In some ways this is deserved. It has a record base dating back to middle of the eighteenth century, and a steadily growing set of data on what happened ball by ball. The writing has followed the records, idolising landmarks, achievements and placing them in the context of almost 150 years of internationals.

In other ways cricket is slipping well behind the quality of analysis, both written and statistical found in other professional sports. The recent Sloan Conference gives a taste of the kinds of questions being asked in basketball, baseball and football (soccer), and the complexity of analysis that affords.

The analytics research is backing a revolution in journalism, with writers like Zach Lowe or Ben Falk digging into specific plays (with video) and their variations; using the analytics to analyse tactics, performance and tendencies that makes us (as consumers) better informed by what players are trying to achieve, and where they might succeed (or not).

Cricket writers aren't matching their peers because not only is the analysis not available, the data to perform it is lacking even further behind. There is a pyramid on which those insights have to sit. At base are the raw statistics of runs scored, balls faced, actions and decisions. Above it, in which cricket has excelled, are the records, compiled averages, accumulations and events.

On records sit ratings, the judgement of which player is better, based on analysis of the statistical record, and corrections for advantages in conditions or opposition. Cricket has a healthy ratings base, but (and this may be rich from someone who has compiled ratings for over a decade) they are low-rent statistical analysis. Most rating systems will give the same answer for who is best and worst - naturally - and rarely do they provide some insight into those in between, or the game being played in front of us.

Predictions, based on ratings provide a more useful function, as they allow comparison between what is happening and what ought to. At some level cricket offers these insights, though they rarely go into detail on the calculation or the variation, which leaves them prone to mocking laughter when they are wrong, and banal observations (such as that a side is 90% likely to win) when they are right.

To really dig into a match we need analytics: an understanding not just of the outcomes of a match, but the outcomes of individual balls and the wealth of data that underpins the actions in a match. Because, only by understanding the likely consequence of a tactical decision, can you offer insight into why a decision was right or wrong.

The state of cricket analytics is dire.

There are several reasons for these problems, each compounding on others.

Firstly, cricket data of any value is not only not public but proprietary. In the NBA the league office provides an obscene amount of data on play outcomes by player, match-up comparisons, and means to download and conduct analysis. Their partners in turn want the insights of analysts, and provide options to subscribe to data sources, apis and promotion of good ideas (via Sloan and other means). The ecosystem of analysts and data providers is rich and ever-growing, even as those analysts are picked up by teams who (at least for a while) hide their private advantages.

In cricket the ICC provides no cricket data, so it is left to media partners, ball tracking companies and others to provide a mish-mash of difficult to access and near impossible to analyse data. They in turn look only to broadcasters for the capital to develop analysis, which tends to both limit its scope and output.

Secondly, really important things aren't tracked at all. Peter Della Penna has written at length on the need for improved fielding statistics: for dropped catches and fielded balls, in order to understand defence. But this barely touches the surface of the types of analysis available to baseball writers. Consider the types of questions we can't answer about cricket that are only a few clicks away for baseball writers:

  • How many slips were in place for each bowler, throughout the day? When did they change? Does an aggressive field induce different shots?
  • How many edges were taken? Where on the bat did a batter hit the ball? Or a bowler? How does the cricket stat that is collected but hidden (about control) correlate with ball position?
  • What was the ball speed off the bat? The carry? The fielded position? The location of the fielder in relation to the ball fielded or missed? Which fielders have the best range and how many runs do they cut off?
  • Which stroke did a batter play? What is their average (and control) on those strokes? Do they choose the right ball to hit?

This last question is key to a vast array of questions, which shift us from analytics to insight. Because thirdly, cricket has no baseline of performance in specific situations to determine if something is good or expected. Wickets, in this situation, are not an ideal measure, much as goals aren't for football, as the sample size is miniscule. But measures of control, and the probability of poor control leading to a dismissal need to be calibrated and brought into the discussion around decision making.

In basketball the difference between high efficiency and low efficiency shots is vast, and a massive tactical shift has occurred driving players to choose high efficiency shots even at the expense of more turnovers. That leads to gorgeous charts (courtesy of Kirk Goldsberry) of, for example, James Harden's shooting frequency and relative efficiency:

Cricviz has some level of this information, but their pitch maps and beehives lack context without some understanding of not only the shot played, but whether that is an efficient shot (in general, or for that specific batter). It should be very easy to call up data that shows whether or not David Warner is an above average player of the drive (based on different passing points) and by extension, whether his zone of played ball is larger (and perhaps less circumspect) than other players. But for writers that is pure speculation, based on what we think we are seeing, and our preconception of how Warner plays.

Fourthly, in the absence of ball-by-ball highlight footage it is very difficult to craft a good story around the tactical decisions of bowlers and batters that would enhance the game. Between League Pass and the highlights it is possible to examine a mountain of NBA footage, enough to track down play-by-play to see how a defence set up, how they reacted, and learnt from subsequent events, and how the offence in turn shifted to take advantage of the change.

For T20 cricket, where matches can shift from ball to ball, and the field is set in precise ways to bowl to, and for the batter to evaluate the risk against, this insight is essential to shift the conversation from it as a sport of sloggers (which is surely is not) into a sport of nuanced risk assessments and occasional blunders.

That requires the analytical information on field placements and how bowlers choose to bowl to them, how they shift from ground to ground, how batter react to them, and how they feed into the strengths and weaknesses of the players. From there, the video footage can highlight what was tried, and how it succeeded (or didn't).

This shift to decent cricket analytics will be a long process, other sports have two decades of work to draw on, while cricket remains mired in light-weight rubbish. The gap between the best tactical writing on cricket and other sports is vast, growing, and depressing if you want to watch and gain insights into the game.

And it matters, beyond my personal nerddom, because poor analytics feeds poor commentary and weak insights. Cricket writers spend too much time on contrived controversy, quotes and milestones, when they ought to be talking about how an actual game was played out in front of them. Occasionally a retired player shows glimpses of the game they played, but as the game continually shifts away from them, the insights become less acute, and the breadth of events on the field can elude even a keen observer (being generous).

Cricket analytics ought to be a huge and interesting field of research, and I don't know of anyone who would think it is any of those things, because of the problems outlined above.

Cricket - Articles 11th March, 2018 14:29:59   [#] [2 comments] 

Revisiting formal time
Russell Degnan

The issue of over rates in Test cricket is one of those periodic issues that engenders more hang wringing than fixes, and more articles than effects on the game itself. Nevertheless, as my thinking on it has evolved since the last time I wrote on it, and as Liam Cromar has proposed a possible solution it is worth revising.

In the main, Cromar is correct: the current regime of fines and possible suspensions has little effect on the match at hand, and it has broader negative effects he didn't mention. Not least, the sight of part-time trundlers ripping through overs to get the rate up, in lieu of the competition at hand.

But I am less convinced by the broader structure of "90 overs in a day" that is the rule, but so regularly breached that the official close is now effectively 6:30pm.

Firstly, the placing penalty runs on the bowling side is likely to cause some problems at the margin, as batsmen - who regularly block an over at the interval if they can avoid one - slow play just enough to earn an unjust penalty. The current measurement, over a whole Test match, allows for some adjustment and leniency, but it is harder to do that within a match context.

Unintended consequences being what they are, any penalty runs approach probably shouldn't be working with a fixed number of overs in mind. Especially given question marks over the number itself.

Secondly, it isn't clear that 90 overs in a day is regularly possible, and may even not be desirable, if it means preventing pace bowlers from operating. The walking pace of an adult striding, but not exerting themselves is 6km per hour, 100m per minute, or 1.6m per second. A 30m runup therefore, with a 10m follow-through, requires some 24 seconds to complete, another 10 to run in from plus the play itself (5-10 seconds). That's 45 second per ball, or four and a half minutes per over; 30 seconds longer than allowed. Add in drinks, changing ends, and wickets and it becomes clear that we need a better understanding of what is taking all that time.

Were it cricket seasons, I'd provide that, as precise timing of these can be done at the ground, and would be useful if someone wanted to shave time to speed up the game. Read these as estimates as a starting point.

Pace BowlerSpin BowlerChange of EndsDrinksWicketsReplaysChange of Innings
Walk to mark5 x 255 x 101 x 302 x 301 x 1201 x 201 x 600
Setting field5 x 15 x 11 x 102 x 301 x 60-1 x 60
Action6 x 17.56 x 7.5---1 x 180-
Combined Time23510040120180200660
Occurences per day6030873860.6
Time per day141003000348036014401200400

That amounts to a total time of 23,980 seconds or 400 minutes. Hence, a typical, if interesting, day is expected to take 6 hours 40 minutes. Accounting for a few extra minutes at the end of each session (already begun overs), it is possible to squeeze in 90 overs a day, but the emphasis is on squeeze. More likely, the ideal of 90 overs in a 6 hour day is unrealistic outside Asia where spinners will operate for much longer.

Thirdly, it isn't clear why 90 overs is the aim, or the standard. From the 1980s onwards, once four pace bowlers, and little medium pace, became the norm, the rate dropped to 13.5 overs per hour (81 overs per day), where it has stubbornly remained. The early 1990s had over rates in the mid-70s during West Indies vs Australia series - one of the ABC almanacks lamented the pace. But the matches themselves weren't overly changed - certainly most finished on the fourth or fifth day.

The true question is whether the game is moving, and interesting. Excessive drink breaks, glove changes, field setting, team meetings, pointless delays around rain or light, and frivolous umpire referrals are a bigger problem than the actual rate of play. "Cricket time" depends on the flow of the match, the approach of each side, and the state of play. What matters is that the umpires keep the players playing. Which is why I'd suggest an alternative approach.

Relying on players to police the clock, as with any rule falling under the spirit of cricket, will be more often broken than enforced. Players are not Gentleman, and a simple set of time rules, enforced by the umpire, would bring cricket into line with other sports - such as baseball, or tennis - that (despite lacking any need for a clock) maintain a strict schedule for the fans.

In my opinion, only four time checks are all that is needed, for both batsman and bowler to comply with:

  • A maximum of 180 seconds to be ready after a wicket.
  • A maximum of 30 seconds to bowl after the previous ball goes dead.
  • A maximum of 60 seconds to change between overs, or 120 seconds for a change of bowler
  • The bowling side would also be given four 60 second timeouts per session, the batting side two, to talk tactics or obtain a drink

Other breaks, such as drinks or replays are at the discretion of the umpire already, but they should be prodded to keep them moving.

If players are playing too slowly, then a series of warnings can operate - relayed via the third umpire, who can watch the clock, if he perceives that they are taking too long:

  1. First warning, no penalty
  2. Second warning, five run penalty
  3. Third and subsequent warnings, five run penalty and batsman dismissed, or bowler removed from the attack

These are harsh, but not excessive, as a lot of time wasting occurs in close matches, and the first warning is sufficient to lay down a line for general slow play.

The fines, suspensions and expectations that a bowling captain will watch the over rate while trying to captain will disappear (as will the complaints about over rates). But most importantly, play will continue, at the pace it ought, unless a team asks for it to stop. And players would quickly adjust to the reality of a fixed time to make field changes, or have conversations, as they do, already, in making DRS referrals.

Cricket - Articles 5th August, 2016 01:03:42   [#] [2 comments] 

Fears for Tiers
Russell Degnan

"I can't stand this indecision
Married with a lack of vision"

There is a point in the timeline of any policy decision when an organisation has to switch from consulting to selling. Where the process of ensuring that the decision is robust to challenge and has broad support gives way to garnering acceptance. It needs to be timed. Too late and the policy looks like and ill-thought through. Too early, and the problems settle into outright opposition. The consulting phase fails to inform the decision and becomes an exercise in marketing instead.

The growing opposition to the proposed two-tier Test proposal would indicate that the ICC settled on their plan too early.

While there was much talk of consultation and planning throughout the first six months of the year, there is little to no sign that the plan has changed from that leaked in late February. Indeed, there is little sign that the planning has moved much beyond what was proposed some twelve years ago. A little tinkering with the number of teams, some discussion over the financial model, but still essentially a two-tier system.

Inadequate consultation is a long-running problem throughout Richardson's tenure at the ICC. The DRS was proposed by Richardson as a way to fix "clear mistakes", but the proposal was pushed forward without a decent understanding of the uncertainty of the technology, the technical requirements of the host broadcaster, the likely expense, the way it would change players behaviour and umpiring decisions. The shambolic implementation riled the Indian players and board, and it lies in a half-completed stasis almost a decade on.

We've seen similar thought-bubbles rise and pop from the offices of the ICC throughout the period, from super-subs, and super-series, to the previous aborted incarnations of the Test championship, and the muddle over World Cup places, qualification and formats. The big questions, over financial stability, context, development pathways and the split of domestic and international cricket have been left for trivialities like the Test championship mace.

The failure to properly consult on or implement trivialities well isn't really a problem. The failure to properly consult on the Test championship is a problem. The ramifications of these changes matter to Test cricket and could do so for decades. The proposal needs to address a very real problem with exposure, when playing cricket in the second tier. Financial inducements and "context" are not sufficient to make up for a lack of star power - the currency on which major sport runs. Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the less vocal dissenters are right to complain, and the ICC risks failing to make any reforms if they don't make changes that address their concerns.

While the proposal has its dissenters, the ICC is at least working from sound principles. Richardson outlined four of them at the ICC Annual Conference.

"We want to provide fair opportunities to all members based on merit rather than necessarily on membership status"

Promoting teams on merit, rather than status, is about as fundamental change as can be made to the ICC full member structure. It is a view that has widespread support amongst fans. In the recent survey I conducted, only seven percent wanting the system to stay as hierarchical or more than the status quo. Questions relating to the importance of "opportunity" and to "expansion" expressed similarly high levels of agreement. The downgrading of member entitlements is a necessary decision in order to create a meritocratic system, but it means some full members won't have opportunities they currently do. Something will be lost, and how significant that loss is matters, to players, to administrators and to fans.

"We need to put in place more meaningful cricket competition structures"

Even moreso than a meritocracy, adding meaning to the competition changes the fundamental nature of Test cricket. From the start of international competition, nations have organised tours, with no more context than the historical memory of previous match-ups. The ubiquity of competition structures in other sports entices, rather than repels, most fans, with almost three quarters of respondents considering it either important or essential. The ICC needs to convince few people that schedule reform will improve the sport. But it does need to pick the right approach.

"It’s impossible for India to play everyone, like people expecting (sic) in the past."

The inevitable consequence of more opportunity for more teams is fewer opportunities to play specific teams. This is a hugely important admission from the ICC, as the longstanding aim of the FTP was to provide exactly that. Loosening this restriction is essential if cricket is to expand its (Test) frontiers, and it needed to be stated.

Nevertheless, it throws open issues the FTP was also designed to prevent. While for Australia and England this largely manifests itself as a concern about the Ashes not being played, for most full members the concern is over their budgetary need to sell television rights to tours from India. The proposal for members to pool TV rights earnt outside the host nation would mitigate the financial impacts, as that benefit is (very broadly) shared under the current arrangement. The impact of touring opponent on promotion, crowds and the prestige of the sport is another matter. And it is here that Richardson is both right, and wrong.

"It’s impossible for everyone to play everyone in a first division of Test cricket."

The fourth point, though stated prior to the third above, is the logical conclusion of those prior: growth combined with a competition structure that limits the available time to play, ensures that not all teams can play each other, and not all teams will have access to the best teams. It is at this point that the concerns of fans over relegation become salient: their primary concern was the absence of popular or key fixtures, combined with a lack of prestige that would flow onto players, crowds, and from an administrative perspective, finances.

The original aim to construct a Test championship that would add value to fixtures is undermined if those fixtures that most need value - those between the bottom ranked full members - are regarded as second-rate. Though the point made by Richardson is obviously correct.

Under current arrangements, Test cricket operates in something like a four tier system: the Big-3 who play roughly half of their cricket amongst themselves; the five middle income full members who receive shorter, less prestigious tours; Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, who have played only 16 matches at Big-3 venues in the past 16 years; and the Intercontinental Cup, which serves as an eight-team division for associate nations.

The problems that concern Sri Lanka and other dissenters are manifest in the current structure. Associate nations, unable to play the full members, also find it difficult to promote a competition that is perceived as (and is) second-rate, to attract even local media to report on nations without an obvious cricketing pedigree, and to generate money to fund their local structures. Sport runs on star power - Steph Curry, LeBron, KD, Russ, Dirk; there are a limited number of star players, and most are in the top few sides. One star is enough to generate a crowd and always has been - read any contemporary report on WG Grace, Bradman or Sobers - but they need to periodically appear to build interest, and help nations establish their own stars in comparison.

Despite itself, this informal arrangement broadly reflects the number of fixtures teams in different tiers ought to play. The issues (though numerous) lie in the unstructured context-free schedule, and the rigidity of the tiers that prevents both associates and full members finding their correct level.

The proposed two leagued Test structure, while adding some context, dispenses with fixtures that many fans would like to see play. Between tiers, the proposed promotion and relegation playoffs provide a structure almost as rigid as that it is meant to replace. While it is true that not all teams can play in the top tier, the proposed league structure is far from the only arrangement of tiers that could be made. And others are undoubtedly better at addressing the concerns of the members likely to face relegation.

Eventually, every competition does have a "first division". But much emphasis should be placed on the word "eventually". The more important question that should be asked is how a team qualifies for the top tier. There are five broad categories of qualification to any stage of a competition structure

  • A bye - meaning a team does not need to play in that tier
  • Automatic entry - based on status or entitlement
  • Qualification based on ranking prior to the draw
  • Qualification based on performances at the previous running of the competition
  • Qualification based on performance in the previous stage/ lower tier

Cricket, indeed all sports, use each of these methods in their competition structures. The World T20 combines three tiered regional qualifications with a global qualifier to which six entrants qualify on past performances, and the four tier WT20 itself. The first division in this sense is the final, to which two teams qualify. The exact nature of the qualification pathway for the next World Cup is still to be announced, but it will be broadly similar to previous editions. Deeper but narrower and more rigid, with a three team competition, built on top of seven tiers of world cricket league events.

The ICC World Cup and ICC World T20. The shades vary from light to dark in the list above, with the darkest representing team who qualified via the previous stage.

The striking feature of ICC competitions is the limited opportunity to qualify for subsequent rounds - normally either one or two sides out of six - and the large number of teams with byes to subsequent rounds. By contrast, the FIFA World Cup exhibits a broad structure with relatively few byes and many opportunities - though early rounds in some confederation are two-leg playoffs.

The structure of the entire football World Cup does not preclude the points made by Richardson. The top tier (whether the final, or the 32 teams in the World Cup) is restricted to the best teams, and not every team can play every other, separated as they are by geography and group divisions. However, unlike the cricketing equivalents, the inclusion of top-tier nations in qualifying ensures that teams have the opportunity to play a select number of top tier teams on a semi-regular basis.

The rigid and limited structure of the proposed Test championship is revealed starkly in the chart below. Both for its limitations on teams being able to progress upwards (or downwards) and for the long grey line of exclusion that represents the bulk of ICC members.

More importantly, it is unnecessarily exclusionary. Staged tournaments are standard practice at international level. Leagues are rare to non-existent outside of rugby union. The Test championship, run over two years, could easily incorporate a year of qualifying with a broad base of participants, and a shorter top tier operating in groups of three or four. Indeed, this was the format I proposed in 2010 and nothing has emerged to persuade me that a tiered league is a superior option. The repeated failures of the ICC to move forward with a format acceptable to their members is further proof that a tiered league is a limited an second rate plan.

Lest you demur, the proposal below isn't a free-for-all for lower ranked teams and uncompetitive matches. The total number of matches against associate opposition that the Big-3 would play over a four-year cycle (two years being set aside for bilateral contests) amounts to only four matches each. Not many, but importantly, not zero either. Nor is it the only possible format that a broad-based Test championship could take. A sixteen team tournament with four groups of four - playing two test series. Relaxing the requirement to play home-and-away (as the ICC does) allows a five-team top tier over a single season, still playing three-test series. Nevertheless, I believe the combination of regional championships, emphasising the close links between the nations involved, and the six-team top tier represents the best balance between inclusion, meaning and competitiveness.

The proposed Test championship may be accepted - most likely the smaller nations will be bought off with additional, if temporary, bilateral series - but that won't make it the best option. The associate nations have years of playing in a structure that is low profile and hard to market. Conversely, we see across many sports the benefits of broad based tiered structures that allow smaller nations to have their day in the sun - and just occasionally, as with Iceland and Wales at the European championships, a few more justly deserved days.

Rigid leagues make those stories less likely, ossifying the nations involved and churning a handful of others. Test cricket needs to change, grow and accept the benefits of meritocracy, but it can do that in better ways than those proposed by the ICC.

Cricket - Articles 26th July, 2016 20:26:51   [#] [0 comments] 

Review: Whitewash to Whitewash - Daniel Brettig
Russell Degnan

Whitewash to Whitewash is not actually a book about the Australian team as a flawed hero who overcomes. But it could be. Like our archetypical hero, the Ashes defeat of 2005, at the tail-end of an extended run as the most dominant side of that, and perhaps any, era, came as a call: to regain the Ashes, and pride.

Daniel Brettig, who I suspect I joined as the only other member of a club who wrote their first overseas match report from Kinrara Oval, begins the narrative at the dream stage, but dwells less on the victory than the retirements that followed. It would be easy to be harsh on the selectors for not managing the process. But as Brettig details the reasons for each, there was an inevitability to the break-up of this side, driven by the time-line of the Ashes loss to later victory, and the dynamic of the team. When Healy and Mark Waugh were tapped, there were ready made (superior) replacements. But except for Martyn, that wasn't the case here. Not Langer, whose absence would only have destabilised Hayden earlier, nor Gilchrist, Warne and McGrath, who were irreplacable. Injuries did for MacGill and Lee; noone could have predicted the form slumps of Ponting and Hussey that contributed so much to the uncertainty.

It is a testament to the research and writing, that the chronicle of the period of frustration and unchecked decline that followed maintains its balanced and even reporting. The breakdown in trust following Monkey-gate and subsequent disengagement of Symonds is covered in depth, as is the rise of cliques amongst the squad, and the problems of selection and leadership from the Ashes loss of 2009 to the disasters of Boxing Day 2010. The book works through each and every step of those four years that eventually led to this:

"Nothing about the Test team functioned properly. Batsmen were unprepared for England's plan, bowlers incapable of carrying out their own. Fielding and running between the wickets were never better than average, often catastrophic. Ponting's form evaporated and his composure followed, while his deputy Michael Clarke, fared almost as poorly. The coach, Tim Nielsen, and his assistants seemed unable to tackle the problems before them, whether through technical advice or sage readings of the team's darkening mood. And the selectors abandoned many of the players and the plans honed over the preceding eighteen months, leaving the likes of Phillip Hughes, Steve Smith, Xaxier Doherty and Michael Beer to squint at the harsh light of Ashes exposure. Not surprisingly, none were able to conjure the miracles suddenly required of them."

It would have been easy (and better suited to the narrative) to maintain a triumphalist tone across the resolving chapters, concluding as they do with aggressive winning cricket under a new coach and captain, defeating England 5-0 and regaining the number one ranking away in South Africa. Brettig wisely doesn't:

"It cannot be disputed that between November 2013 and March 2014 Australia's Test side played the most powerful and compelling cricket mustered by the baggy green at any time since Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer all bowed out on the same day in Sydney seven years before. But the achievements were those of the moment, and any groundwork for longer-term success remains some way from bedding down. After the travails of India, CA - its board, management, selectors, and coaches - focused all their energies completely on regaining the Ashes. The victory in South Africa was a capstone on that achievement, proving that Australia had indeed reached a very high level of proficiency, albeit in conditions that largely suited them."

These seven years were the most interesting in Australian cricket since 1984-1994, that stretched from the retirements of Lilee, Chappell and Marsh to that of Border, tragically short of his triumphant moment, but with a conveyor-belt of incredible talent left to his successor. Australia has no such certainties in its next few years, and no shortage of looming retirements. Hopefully Dan is taking notes.

Interspersed with the depiction of on-field events are the equally important changes occurring off. Cricket Australia had been resting on their laurels, a monopoly sport in the summer market, and a national cultural institution still without peer. In the period since it has undergone a shift to an independent board; launched a profitable domestic competition based around cities, not states; been part of a significant political re-alignment of the ICC; shifted their touring program to accommodate the IPL, Champions League and the unmatched riches of hosting the BCCI on tour; appointed full-time selectors and a director of cricket; and experimented unsuccessfully with its talent pathways in the form of the futures league.

These are significant, even unprecedented, changes to the sport in Australia. The ramifications of most are yet to be felt. As a reference point for why many were tried, and whether they have worked to date, there is a lot to mull over in this book. A few have come and gone already, notably around the role of the captain in selections. Perhaps the most poorly thought-out was the move away from a century of tradition that promoted boys into the grades of men, in favour of pathways and the futures league. Australia has always tried to distinguish itself from England's over-coached under-competitive cricket environment, but in trying to improve on what they had, they went too far.

There is less cricket in this book than you'd expect. There is enough to provide context, but it is a book about culture and management more-so than about cricket. There are numerous fascinating vignettes of players who came and went, including many who might have felt hard-done by.

The culture of the team of the early-2000s was bound up in the legacy of Steve Waugh's captaincy. Given a choice of quality personnel, the players who stuck were those most immersed in that mindset. The era that followed seems to have struggled to reconcile other personalities. The personal struggles of Nathan Hauritz, Bryce McGain and Mitchell Johnson are evident in their on-field performance, and the weaknesses of Ponting's captaincy; Shane Watson and Andrew Symonds were given both extended opportunities and a different set of expectations, and both have encountered a different weakness in Clarke's leadership

For much of the era, the selectors themselves seemed to want to replace the irreplacable with the next best option, without considering the team around them. The squad became divided into permanent players, who no matter their form, and the team's form, seemed to remain; and temporary players, who were marked, given a role to fill, but always one match from being dropped. The difference in October 2010 between Hussey, woefully out-of-form but being backed by the selectors, and North, fresh off a hundred but sure he was going to be given only two tests, was particularly telling. The side that won in South Africa in 2009, where the enigmatic talent of Hughes and Johnson, meshed with the solid, if limited McDonald and North, was never seen on the field again. It was a false dawn, not only in performance, but in pragmatic, considered choices.

In the period since the Ashes whitewash we've seen Australia suffer their biggest statistical defeat in any series, against Pakistan in the UAE. A series that saw Maxwell promoted to number three, Johnson used as a cart-horse, and the limitations of the squad laid bare. The looming Ashes series means making a number of not only hard decisions, but decisions the public takes an interest in. There is a lot of luck to whether a selection will pan out, but there is none in the process. It is still quite unclear whether Australia has learnt from the mistakes in process that characterised the era in question. Brettig withholds his opinion on many of the decisions made in this book. But you can sense the disapproval.

Even at its worst, Australia has too much strength in depth, too much talent, to be really bad. This is a book packed with lessons, though many of them might be gleaned from any era, and it isn't clear they'll be learnt. The treatment of spinners, and the selection lottery that sees them brought into the side on half a dozen Shield appearances, is consistent either side of the Warne era; as too is the quixotic search for an all-rounder, when four bowlers is deemed too few. It is, nevertheless, amongst only a handful of books that have ever tried to find out what those lessons might be, and for that reason it is worth a read.

Cricket - Articles 8th March, 2015 19:21:45   [#] [0 comments] 

Leaving money on the table
Russell Degnan

If the ICC wants to be judged on sporting ideals, then I will happily judge them on sporting ideals, but if they want to be judged on business ideals then I think we can also judge them on business ideals, and they are failing on both.

It seems to be a matter of faith that the ICC is acting purely for the sake of money. It was even part of the justification David Richardson gave for shifting to a 10-team world cup: that they needed the money to fund programs. We Fisked those comments at length on the last podcast, but there is another nagging issues, related to the quote above.

The ICC does a poor job of making money for its members.

Four examples will suffice, though I suspect there are more.

Playing the WT20 every four years

The ICC annual reports detail the profits made on various global events. The World T20 was a big unknown (if it existed at all) when the previous rights were being negotiated, but quickly became a key product, bringing in $78m in 2009, $105m in 2010, $129m in 2012 and approximately $150m in 2014. Then the ICC decided to have it only every four years. There is no replacement, nor is there any indication that having it on a four year cycle will increase the rights value. There are (perhaps) a few savings in qualification costs, but the last WT20 qualifiers had a broadcast partner and made a small profit. In short: the ICC decided to forego in the order of $300-400m in revenue over the eight-year cycle to make the WT20 a four year event, starting in 2016.

Ignoring the Olympics

The choice of 2016 was in itself interesting.

The ICC commissioned a report to examine the costs and benefits of being in the Olympic games. They measured the costs assiduously, noting both that England would be disadvantaged - though they exaggerated the degree to a ludicrous extent, claiming to lose 160m for what amounts to a two week gap in their schedule - and that the $85.5m in revenue distribution from the WT20 was not offset by the $14m cricket would receive from the IOC as an Olympic sport. But this was predicated on their being two WT20 tournaments in a four year cycle and that one would conflict with the Olympic tournament. Otherwise the ICC was merely giving up the chance to get an IOC distribution. Nevertheless, through a miracle of board incompetence, the ICC achieved both those aims, stifling any opportunity to promote cricket through the Olympic movement.

The $14 million figure was, nevertheless, also a gross exaggeration. National Olympic committees routinely give large funding grants to Olympic sports, in the hope of qualifying, or achieving a medal. And for western nations these are not small amounts. Germany spends 130m a year on Olympic sports. Numbers ten times what the ICC currently gives to associate nations are routine. In Second XI, Sahil Dutta reported the figure as $20m from various bodies in China, even before other benefits from exposure and programs are included.

On the other hand, the ECB will host India for 5 tests, 5 ODIs and a T20 in 2018, in addition to 5 ODIs and a T20 with Australia. How fortunate for them, that the WT20 is no longer in potential conflict with their most lucrative tour.

Playing one game per day

The cricket world cup consists of 49 matches, around 400 hours of programming and earns somewhat more than $500m USD in television revenue. The graph above shows the ending times (more or less) for each day of the world cup in AEST. Notice that there are gaps; there are also gaps in the mornings of most days - though mornings have half the viewers of the evening. All told, there are some 50 hours of Australian prime-time / Indian afternoon that is not being used.

The consequences of this are two-fold. The first is that it stalls momentum in the tournament. A home world cup should never leave local fans with nothing to watch. Secondly, while having one game per day ensures matches aren't competing for a tv audience, when 70% of that audience is (largely) interested in six specific matches, the others are gravy. The cost of putting on a match is a long way below the value of even a pair of associate teams.

There is ample slack in the scheduling to include more teams and more matches. Having multiple matches ensures that an early finish, or dud game allows the viewers other options. In a world of multi-channels, it would be easy to add an extra $20-30 million to the rights value of the world cup. Instead we are treated to empty, drawn-out schedules and the sense of a tournament grinding instead of accelerating to a conclusion.

Long group stages

It is taken as an article of faith that because India will play 9 matches in the next world cup, the ICC will earn more from the tournament than a tournament with more knockouts but potentially fewer Indian matches.

It may therefore come as a surprise that Indian fans, loyal as they are, also happen to like matches with meaning and context. The tv ratings for 2007 and 2011 are telling in this respect. The reported TVR figures are somewhat inconsistent but the following figures seem broadly correct:

India (all)10.3312.09
India (non-final)10.338.66x6
Semi-Final (w India)--21.01
Semi-Final (non-India)2.524.31x2
Q-Final (w India)--12.31x1.5
Non-India (all)1.4481.340x1

The final column estimates the increase in audience for each type of match, from a 6x increase for Indian matches, to a 4x increase for a final. There is a somewhat significant multiplier for matches against Pakistan as well. The important point is the extra value of knock-out games: meaningful games.

If we calculate the multiple of extra fans we can make some rough calculations on the size of the India tv audience for each format (assuming India makes the quarter-finals but no better).

TournamentIndiaQ/FS/FF1st Rd2nd RdTotal
20 Teamexpected4x66x1.5+7x1.52x21x436-87.5
32 Teamexpected3x66x1.5+11x1.52x21x445-96.5

For broadcasters in India, and therefore more than a little dependent on how India performs: you win some, you lose some. The losses suffered when India exited early in 2007 were more than made up in their run to the final in 2011. But the risk of that in 2007 was high, the format was a dud, with few knock-outs, and a ludicrously long second round.

But the added value of the long round-robin is not found in the tv figures. Knock-outs rate better (recalling too, that this is only India, and therefore only 2/3 of the total market). More matches can make up the difference, and there is plenty of room for more. And this table doesn't take into account the future value of a well produced and therefore more marketable format, nor the value in promoting to markets who find themselves with a local representative. While my preferred 20-team format is worth marginally less by the model, it is marginal (less than 10% probably). FIFA's 32 team world cup, while probably a step too far for cricket, makes up the difference by having 63 matches, even if India made an (unlikely) exit at the round of 16.


The ICC can do better. Adding 5-10% to the value of a tournament because Indian matches are guaranteed to rate better in their biggest market, while ignoring the significant value of meaningful matches is a pathetic short-term return, and a long-term loss. The cricket world cup lasts a long time, but has fewer matches than it might, leaving all those supposed gains on the table.

And yet those gains are pitiful when compared with the losses suffered by reducing the number of WT20 tournaments, or to their smaller members, by not pursuing the Olympic dream - one the IOC would back, given their weakness on the sub-continent. Coupled with the redirection of profits into the big-three, the decision to put the ECB's domestic schedule over the interests of every other member ought to be called out and examined.

The associates have done a good job of showing the folly of the ICC on sporting grounds, but even they might be shocked at how pathetic the supposed financial gains are for their betrayal.

Cricket - Articles 27th February, 2015 00:25:49   [#] [2 comments] 

Pragmatism, but not good governance
Russell Degnan

It is difficult to know how to assess what will be the true motivations and effect of the ICC governance reforms. Srinivasan and the BCCI are almost admirably direct: they expected more money to guarantee their future participation in ICC events, and they got what they wanted. There has been no hiding from this fact by anyone party to it; both Wally Edwards and Giles Clarke highlight the threat that India would withdraw from ICC tournaments in interviews, and argue that it isn't a risk they are willing to take.

Srinivasan, for his part, has no issue stating that his aim has been to further the interests of the BCCI, regardless of what is best for world cricket:

"During my tenure at ICC, I have at all times, furthered the interests of BCCI. My crowning achievement has been to effect a re-structuring of the ICC and a re-working of the financial distribution model to reflect India's contribution to the economics of world Cricket. As a result, BCCI now stands to receive 21.6% of the top line of the media rights and sponsorship income of ICC, for ICC events between 2015-23. Further, it has been agreed that even in the subsequent cycle, 2023-31, BCCI cannot get anything lower."

The motivations of Wally Edwards and Giles Clarke are harder to assess though. Their belief in the worth of the actions taken seems genuine; a pragmatic need to ensure India was onside coupled with a belief that cricket will be better placed with a change in the constitution and the introduction of the test fund. Whether a substantial amount of coin is sufficient to stop the BCCI from being "unhappy", given they already had de-facto control over board decisions remains to be seen. Their junior partners seem to believe they are now on the "inside", from which we might conclude that by sidelining BCCI's lackeys on the board in favour of a smaller executive council they believe they can influence decision making in their favour.

At least in some respects they may be correct; but in many other respects this is no great boon. In both mens' case, the evidence points to a singular lack of vision and a limited understanding of modern sports administration. They've been elevated to their position because of their connections and time spent in the sport. Given a forum to demonstrate their capacity to lead, we are left with platitudes, statements inconsistent with action and a clear lack of expertise.

The title of Clarke's piece in this year's Wisden - "Our vision for a better game" - doesn't live up to its billing. It is a facile and banal piece, pre-occupied with the finances of the ICC administration and the injustice of cricket administrators being held up to public scrutiny. Decisions have been made; but Clarke sees no need to justify their worthiness. They need to be judged though, because they are often inadequate to the goals they set themselves, the product of a system that resists both scrutiny and outside expertise.

A classic example concerns Clarke's comments on digital streaming. Stating that internet piracy was cricket's biggest threat was laughable, but his lack of knowledge is damning. As Mike Jakeman relates in a Radio Cricket interview, Clarke had no knowledge of a major revenue stream of American sports. The ICC, even after some success streaming cricket at associate level, still failed to provide that service for the Women's WT20, and the ECB failed to provide similar coverage for the Women's Ashes. Apportioning some of their ICC windfall to professionalising the women's game in their own nations is great for those athletes, but their inability to market and promote the matches they play is an ongoing failure.

Other aspects of Clarke's Wisden article are more cynically put forward. After discussing the excessive "cost" of ICC administration, under which he tables the staging of tournaments for affiliate and associate members and the regional development programs, he goes on:

"But a disproportionate amount of money was being spent - wasted, some might argue - on costs, rather than being used to develop and promote cricket in the membership."

Yet under the terms of the new agreement, the test nations must be "hired out" to the ICC as a "cost", creatively allocating a billion dollars to the test nations (three in particular). The ICC development arm is being scaled back for cost-cutting, and the member dividend that goes to the developing members of the ICC left at the current level regardless of the revenue increase. For Clarke, like Srinivasan, the "membership" means his own board.

Similarly, there is a marked aversion to dependence on the ICC. Regardless that collective fixturing and sale of tv rights is a cornerstone of successful sports leagues, cricket's boards are expected to grow their own revenue:

"There is an argument that there was no need for change, that cricket was working fine, that the previous model was fair and sustainable. The finances of the majority of nations suggested otherwise; and most members were dependent on visits from India and England."

But as the statements of the three hold-outs - Sri Lanka, South Africa and Pakistan - following their capitulation make clear, the reduction in relative importance of a central source of revenue untied to the scheduling whims of the BCCI has made them more, not less, dependent. Or to quote Wally Edwards

"And in reality it's not a lot of money. The most important money is: "Does India tour you?" We all know that."

No-one with any knowledge of cricket's financial structure had proclaimed it sustainable. And it is no more sustainable for the reforms that have been made, which merely entrenched the two most undesirable elements of that system: the dependence on bilateral tours from certain nations that entail the need for an touring program designed purely to make money; and the inability of that program to accommodate growth in the number of nations playing test cricket.

Either Clarke and Edwards know this, but are happy to keep the other full members under a yoke of financial dependence so as to control the sport; or they are delusional. If Edwards comments are any indication he might be suffering from the latter. Contained with an extended discussion of the need to use "market forces" to encourage weaker teams to improve was this comment on India:

"Look at India, in 1980 - where were they? And they won a World Cup in 1983, cricket took off in that country and they've been fairly well run. A lot of people criticise BCCI but look what they've achieved, and not one dollar of ICC money has been required to do that. If Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, West Indies and a few others could take a leaf out of their book, cricket would be better off. We want ten or 12 or 15 nations being competitive."

As a history of Indian cricket's emergence as a financial power it is sorely lacking. No doubt the BCCI made some good decisions, but they did so in the context of the world's second largest nation opening its economy to the market, and the phenomenal growth across all sports of television income from the mid-90s onwards. But that growth is constrained by the local market; and the local market can basically be defined as GDP x Size of Cricket Watching Population. For the other full members to grow their financial bases (and both population and wealth are a significant factor in their long-term competitive ability), then they need to either increase their GDP (which is somewhat outside the remit of a cricket board), or they need to increase their base of support. In a few places this is feasible - South Africa for instance - but by and large, in the full members there is no growth to be had.

Moreover, none of the other full members have particularly strong economies - lacking either population, wealth of both. The Nominal GDP of each of the big-3: UK $2.5b, India $1.8b, Australia $1.6b. Of the other 7 full members combined: $1.1 billion. There is no untapped local market they can grow to match the big-3: if retaining players, financial stability and dependence is a problem with the bilateral touring structure, it will remain a problem until it is changed.

Similarly, there are few candidates to match the big-3 outside the existing full members. Each of them occupies a place in the world's dozen largest economies. Cricket is unlikely to ever occupy a central place in well developed industrial economies of comparable size. It is another sign of Clarke's myopia that he rejects the two exceptions as "pie in the sky": China continues to grow but already has a GDP larger than every full member combined; and the USA, with a population some 80 times larger than New Zealand, is twice as large again. Even a small segment of those markets is significant because cricket's economy is so small. To reject them is to reject a third of the world's economic potential. Similarly, there is ample potential for growth in the larger associates to push them into the same realm as the smaller full members, even while cricket remains a minority sport in those nations; and for other associates such as Ireland, Scotland, Nepal or Afghanistan to peak at or around that same level.

But to achieve that a fundamental point needs to be grasped. Not by the big-3, but by the other full members: the problems that afflict them are the same as those at associate level. The "Irish Question" is also the "New Zealand Question": what to do with a financial light-weight that is intermittently competitive with the biggest teams. The smaller full members are as financially unstable now as they've ever been; they might have a "legally binding" future tours program, but it will leave them no better off a decade from now. There are better ways to guarantee their financial survival; methods that work in other sports, for teams in big markets and small; and which permit growth and expansion within those sports. That method is to band together: sell their tv rights collectively, and market a competitive structure in a way that lifts their profile as part of a collective, not as individual brands. Unfortunately cricket has moved further away from this model; the short and pointless bilateral tours that numb the mind and spirit remain; while associate nations have been offered a mere fig-leaf in the form of a playoff every two years.

Both Edwards and Clarke lamented the failure to find an adequate model for the test championship. But in this, as with many aspects of ICC governance, their primary failure is not to achieve the impossible, but to generate ideas from interested parties. There are many models bandied about for the restructuring of test cricket, the creation of more context to the benefit of the smaller full members, and the incorporation of the associate members. A body interested in good governance would release a working paper, invite comment and bring in expertise. They'd move from that to a model that worked, that could be justified, and that had some measure of acceptance by those who make comment on these things. Clarke's attitude to external comment on his reforms is telling:

"As so often in cricket administration, these [meetings] were widely - perhaps deliberately - misinterpreted. We had to harden ourselves against uninformed and biased comment to deliver our vision for a better and more financially secure cricketing world."

The failings of the ICC at governance are only partly the result of ineptitude and internal politics. They are also a symptom of insularity and arrogance. The ICC creates reports and discuss matters across a range of areas - most with no bearing on commercial operations. Yet they continually refuse to release reports that might justify their decisions, if they release details of decisions at all. They are (rightly) criticised for their poor governance, as they continue to lag behind what fans expect from the body governing their sport. The ICC - and certainly Giles Clarke - don't believe they are accountable to the fans of the sport, or the players; they are, to use his words "a member's organisation" that cares only for its (full) members. But if the bulk of those members are represented by people with no competence at their position then they will invariably make bad choices, selfish choices that ultimately hurt them too.

The success of the big-3 in taking over control of the ICC (and bleeding its finances) is as much a story of the other full members inability and unwillingness to recognise the ICC as the governing body of cricket, and to cede their independence for the greater good. Their partial removal from the decision making process is perhaps a step in the right direction, as (probably) is greater influence on decision-making for the big-3. But the records to date of those now at the fore is unpromising. The reforms made have not addressed any of the governance problems identified two and a half years ago. Nor is there any prospect of them being. It may not matter: cricket has pottered along for decades with a failing financial system and poorly constructed fixturing. The only difference now is that people are starting to notice.

Cricket - Articles 18th April, 2014 05:01:29   [#] [2 comments] 

The F&CA working paper: cashing out the future of the sport
Russell Degnan

In many ways I'm surprised by the angst generated by the ICC's F&CA working group paper. It does after all, propose things that have been proposed by many people many times: the removal of underperforming Bangladesh and Zimbabwe from test cricket; tiered test leagues with theoretical promotion for associates and no less than four tests against the lowest ranked top-8 side; a significant reduction in the vote-for-tour-trading that plagues the ICC Executive Board; and the marginalisation of several full members up to their arm-pits in corruption and mismanagement. There are also many people who genuinely believe in cricket as a global game, and in better governance from the ICC, but I think it would flatter them to say they are in the majority, particularly amongst ex-players whose influence runs deepest in the generation of policy.

That the decisions being proposed by the leading ICC members are based purely on promoting their own financial benefit oughtn't be a surprise either. The FTP was birthed to give financial security to the full members, and it has declined as cartels inevitably do, as those same members realised more profitable opportunities on their own. Even there though, the draft carefully threads together enough clauses to maintain the full members outside the big-three in their current states, at least in the medium term. The real losers are the ICC administrative arm, castigated for waste and mismanagement, and the dozens of smaller members whose tournaments have been cancelled without anyone outside the tiny development community even noticing.

Taking the long view of ICC history this is perhaps no more than we ought to expect from those who have controlled it. Much is said, in praise, about the revolution of 1996 that saw the veto pass into history, but not enough is said, in condemnation of what replaced it. As Rod Lyall's history of ICC development makes clear, the growth in associate numbers (even with each vote counting for half a full member) had already brought forward a restrictive clause on their influence: that a two-thirds majority of full members be required to pass a binding resolution. Post-1997, under the reforms proposed by NZ's John Anderson, no associate vote mattered; they could no longer influence decisions because they were but three of them on a twelve (then thirteen) member board.

It was those reforms that laid the foundation of the venal and incompetent ICC Executive Board that is sorely in need of reform, even if these are not necessarily the right type, or direction. The combination of a vast increase in ICC revenue, the significant structural limitations most boards face in generating revenue of their own; and the subsequent creation of the FTP to protect revenue streams from the hosting of tours; has been immensely damaging to cricket. Test cricket has stagnated at ten (realistically eight) nations, with no context worthy of the name and the gradual erosion of smaller tours. A tragedy of the commons has played out amongst the smaller members, each fighting for their piece of a large Indian pie, while neglecting to build the multi-lateral institution and robust competition that might have acted as a counter-weight to alternative ambitions. That is, in the main, on their heads.

In theory they remain full members, but while the working paper argues that "no member will lose any of their current voting powers", having the four person Executive Committee act as the "sole recommendation committee" means they are a rubber-stamp, significant beneficiaries of ICC largesse and little else. If reform comes, we oughtn't lament the demise of a body that has been dysfunctional, self-serving, and myopic in its vision. The new prince(s) might become tyrant(s), but the old aristocracy was an oligarchy too.

But any improvement in governance from the proposed reforms would wrest on whether big-three govern sensibly and with some imagination for the development of the game. There is precious little evidence in the draft document to suggest they will. The lack of transparency and wider consultation that leads to paucity of ideas will remain. The chasing of short term financial wealth over development will worsen. The ideas put forth in the working paper are doomed to fail, slowly perhaps, but eventually.

The biggest proposed change to the cricket landscape is the removal of the FTP in favour of bilateral agreements (with an implied guarantee from ECB and CA, though notably not the BCCI), and the introduction of a tiered system of test cricket.

Tiers I have covered at length. They are A solution. They are not a good solution. The working paper manages to recognise this when it states that the big-three cannot be relegated. Finance, much as we'd like it not to be the only thing considered, is important. If India was relegated or the Ashes ceased to be played for a period, the flow-on effects would be monumental. The costs (both financially and in match status) of relegation, even with the protections imposed, are enormous for any member subject to it. Any half-way sensible body would put out a working paper that discusses alternatives, looks across different sports, and analyses the implications. Cricket, with its asinine obsession with maintaining status gaps, presses on, creating, in effect, a four game play-off, and the reasonable probability that their inept rating system will raise some interest in a few matches leading up to it.

There is a vastly superior alternative for full members concerned that their bilateral matches aren't profitable: cede the bilateral rights to non-inter-big-3 bi-laterals to the ICC, share the revenue and create a 2-3 year tournament that integrates a large number of nations into a profitable and marketable entity. That, in essence, is what the world cup is: a massively profitable tournament despite India only playing in but ten or fewer of the matches. Instead we have uncertainty and high risk. And still no test championship.

The details pertaining to relegation may overstate the risks in any case. Firstly, a side must lose a four match playoff, against a side with little cricket against strong teams behind them, and if an associate, a significant spending gap. Secondly, even when relegated, a nation will maintain their previous bilateral agreements and lose only 10 per cent of their dividend payments in the following rights cycle. Meanwhile, a promoted team is guaranteed no matches at all, and must find space within the existing (maintained) bilateral agreements for tests of their own, with only that 10 per cent ICC funding increase and whatever hosting rights they can sell to sustain a professional structure.

In essence, this is little more than a convenient way to remove any obligation to play Bangladesh and Zimbabwe by relegating them to the I-Cup. That may not be a bad thing, as it will certainly improve the quality and value of that competition. Similarly, it will be no bad thing if the powers that be have abandoned the whiggish concept of progress amongst cricketing nations. Relegation at least recognises that teams can improve, and decline, that there are (possibly permanent) differences in the quality of sides, and that a structure must accommodate that. It isn't a terribly good structure, but it is something.

At the top-end, the dropping of the FTP merely reflects the unstated status quo. Australia's main summer opponents from 2010/11 until 2014/15 were England, India, South Africa, England, India. Four year cycles good, three year cycles better; except now the ICC lacks even the moral authority to argue for a more even distribution. This is a process, needless to say, defined entirely by finance, though there is nothing new in that. The saddest aspect of the working paper is to read through looking for something other than finances to justify the decisions. There isn't. Defining and structuring a competition, even if one does that for financial reasons, is the providence of other sports.

In that, the ICC ought to have a role; indeed, it is hard to see what the point of the ICC is if not to structure and define competitions. The MCC control the laws, noone seems to collect statistics or define what constitutes an official match between the majority of their members; and the ICC rankings are a joke, mathematically flawed and excluding 90 per cent of the membership. Yet, the ICC has done good work in its development offices; work I don't always agree with, but with some reasonable progress, and after some mistakes, they have created a structure that incentivises grass-roots growth and player development.

The working paper absolutely trashes the work being done in the ICC. There are complaints about admin costs, though how they might be saved is not clear; of tournaments being run "without approval", presumably the division three regional ones now scrapped; and of the costs of minor cricket, even though it represents only $20-30 million on $1.5 billion in revenue. The cost of associate and affiliate cricket is inflated by including everything development related, such as the women's world cup, reserves and development funds. Any independence the development committee had is proposed to be reduced, and subject to the F&CA committee.

Costs are to be cut, administration shaved. And the beneficiaries of all these savings?

Far and away the most ethically questionable element in the working paper is the concept of "distribution cost". As I outlined last year, the BCCI receives a much smaller proportion of the money generated in India than comparable nations do from their local markets. This is, in part, because ODI cricket is popular there, and the World Cup is far and away the most popular tournament of that type. The implications of the working paper are that the BCCI has made their future (lucrative) involvement in the tournament that props up the ICC, and by extension, most of its members, on more of that revenue going to them. There are several points to be made on this:

Firstly, deceptively, the working paper doesn't specify amounts, but percentages of total revenue. The table below helps fill some of them in, because actual amounts are much easier to understand and compare. In its last cycle the ICC reported $1,564 million in revenue. If revenue stayed roughly the same, the cost saving outlined above would find their way into the big-3's pockets, the BCCI taking some $63 million. In other words, the likes of Estonia and Peru will not play any international cricket, so the world's richest cricket board will have an extra $63 million to pay some of the world's richest athletes. If revenue increases to $2 billion, the big-3 will take 108 per cent of that increase. That's not just wrong, that's a disgrace.

ICC Revenue:15002000225025002750300032503500
BCCI (Dist Cost. %)4.217.419.720.320.721.921.921.9
ECB (Dist Cost. %)
CA (Dist Cost. %)

Full Member Surplus payment52.555.559.6256370.573.3578.9885.13
BCCI Dist. Cost63348443.25507.5569.25657711.75766.5
ECB Dist. Cost13.57696.75110123.75141156168
CA Dist. Cost94658.567.5778794.25101.5
Distribution Cost (big-3)85.5470598.56857708859621036
% Additional Revenue Captured108%87%73%65%62%57%54%

Secondly, there is an implied ownership of the local market, and for that matter the ICC, now being plucked like a plump turkey. Clearly the representatives of the BCCI are more marketable to the Indian public than other teams, but ICC events are organised and operated by ICC, the business. The money generated by that business is a payment from fans to the ICC, for providing a product. Moreover, the money the ICC generates out of the world cup is significantly higher than what India generates from a whole summer of matches. The world cup has cachet that a bilateral series does not; to claim money generated in a locale as otherwise belonging to that locale's cricket board is a nonsense. As a fan, I object in the strongest possible way to being considered a serf to Cricket Australia.

That money should be cross-subsidising development initiatives, smaller tournaments, administration and anything that grows cricket as an international sport. That should be the ICC's remit and their option as an independent entity. FIFA may be riddled with corruption, but it spends up big on development, and well it should. ICC revenue was already overly orientated towards funding members, and in turn, their professional programs, instead of grass-roots growth, infrastructure and development. The World Cricket League currently shuttles between a small handful of nations for lack of turf pitches and decent facilities. Whereas FIFA would go and build pitches, the full members of the ICC, and particularly now, the big three, are taking every last penny they can.

Thirdly, the accounting of the "distribution cost" is questionable in the same way Goldman Sachs bonuses are. The standard full member/development split is 75/25 per cent of the surplus. But as the table above shows, the surplus barely increases with revenue even though costs (and therefore the scope of services offered by the ICC) stay nearly the same. The difference is made up by accounting for payments made to full members (naturally not associate members), to cover the opportunity cost of participation instead of playing elsewhere. Instead of investing ICC revenues in the game, they are being paid out as a "cost" to nations for the right to have them turn up; a kind of corporate bonus from management to part-owner, that strips value from the firm.

And for associates and affiliates, these payments mean they get a double kicking. Not only is ICC development funding being reduced, but the 25 per cent surplus has now been redefined to exclude the "distribution cost" that makes up almost a third of revenue in most scenarios. As the "distribution cost" is larger than the projected surplus, this represents roughly a halving of the associate and affiliate development payment for most revenue projections. Add in the Test fund, also a cost, and the scrapping of subscriptions, which added to revenue, and the full members are getting an enormous increase in payments without giving anything back in return. Sometimes you just have to stand back and admire the sheer brazenness.

Other issues pertaining to global growth could go either way. The accounting of events as event costs, rather than under development might be an improvement; but the subjugation of development to the F&CA committee means it comes under the control of full member representatives who've repeatedly demonstrated little to no knowledge of development issues, and even less care; and who, via their dividend payments have a vested interest in cutting as many programs as possible. The increase in funding to the top-6 associates is likely to backfire too. We have already seen in the recent past that high performance program grants are mostly used to pay professional players to train, which adds nothing to long-term development. The scorecard system in place provides a much more nuanced assessment of needs and value-added, and while it will no doubt remain, increases in funding to teams without increasing playing opportunities is a waste of time.

Last year I wrote that there is little market growth and development, but a lot of redistribution. The working paper proposal would serve only to exacerbate that problem. There is no development of cricket's products, though the most lucrative bi-laterals can now be played even more often. And there is a clear aim to reduce the scope of ICC operations under guise of cost-cutting; a lot of re-accounting to increase distributions to full members (but mostly the big-three) at the expense of ICC programs, and independence.

Is it disastrous? For test cricket, possibly, as the test fund doesn't kick in unless revenues are high, and even then teams have no significant incentive to play: neither monetary nor competition. But for the most part it leaves cricket exactly where it is now. And that is a very short-sighted solution to ver real problems. The ICC certainly needed reform, but it also needed to build on what was there. Limiting the only multi-lateral body capable of moving the game forward is a backwards step. This proposal is a power and money grab by bodies that believe in little else; with no demonstrated capacity for leadership or growth. Cricket will survive it, as it always will, but any notion of it growing into a global sport recedes. You can't grow a sport without investment, and that just isn't happening, in product development, in market development, or in administrative capacity. Even if we consider the ICC as nothing more than a business, and not a sport, those in charge should still be held accountable for investment decisions; when investment is foregone for asset stripping then it is time to sell your stock instead.

Cricket - Articles 21st January, 2014 01:43:06   [#] [1 comment] 

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