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:

TVR2007Matches2011MatchesxBase
India (all)10.3312.09
India (non-final)10.338.66x6
Final4.5123.21x4
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
Overall2.0513.949

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
2007expected9x6-2x21x42118101
2007actual3x6-2x21x4212471
2011/15expected6x66x1.5+3x1.52x21x436-92.5
2011/15actual6x66x1.5+3x1.51x2+6x26x436-122.5
2019expected9x6-2x21x436-98
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.

Concluding...

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. %)0.93.84.34.44.54.74.84.8
CA (Dist Cost. %)0.62.32.62.72.82.92.92.9

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] 

Redistribution but no Growth in Cricket`s Pie
Russell Degnan

If one was to go off the most recent financial reports of Australia or England or India and you'd conclude that cricket's financial health has never been better. Total revenue has been increasing, almost as quickly as in the recent past. But scratch down below and the story is not as pretty. The ICC is scaling back tournaments, denying opportunities for international play to roughly a third of its members. At least five full member cricket boards border on bankruptcy, with another facing a crippling loss if India refuse to tour.

Meanwhile, the BCCI looks at the ICC dividend - a full 75% of revenue amongst the ten most privileged members - does some sums, and concludes that, as Indian fans are the major source of revenue, and as those fans mostly want to watch India, that they are entitled to much more.

The article cites La Liga as a model, referencing the larger tv rights deals negotiated by Barcelona and Real Madrid, for their own home games. It isn't clear if this is the BCCI view, though as Gideon Haigh notes, there is an underlying view that the BCCI's control over revenue affords it the same position as the NBA, NFL or other major sporting league.

The problem is that these analogies are both broken and actively destructive.


Let's start with La Liga. The first thing to note is that the BCCI (and the ECB and CA) already has a better position than either Barcelona or Real Madrid. Not only do they control their home tv revenues, they get to modify the fixture to suit their own purposes. Want to play El Clasico ten times in one season? Done. Over a five period, from October 2010 to October 2015, England, Australia and India will play 47 tests against each other; I don't even want to count how many ODIs. The gradual replacement of other fixtures with those between the big-3 has meant there is now roughly double the number of these matches against any comparable period. European football's giants don't entertain playing that level of glamour fixtures in their wildest dreams.

The second thing to note is that every commentator agrees that La Liga's financial model is hopelessly broken. That the league has become uncompetitive with most clubs mired in debt. That the inequitable tv deal is so bad there was a threatened strike before the start of the season. TV revenues for La Liga are only fourth largest as well; despite the quality on display. And this is a model for cricket?

On the right is what baseball looked like in 1875, before they realised that having one team play six times as many games as another, leveraging their success for solid profits, while others quit half-way through the season for lack of funds, was not in the best interests of the league, the teams in it, and the sport generally. Cricket is a 135 years behind other major sports in terms of the structure of its scheduling and the means by which that structure adds context and financial stability to its participants. And it is getting worse, not better, driven by the schemes of its most secure participants.

The major difference between cricket and other sports is obviously its international flavour. Numerous sports economists - Szymanski is the most cited - have commented on the difficulties of international (representative) sports compared to domestic (franchise) structures. Notably with uneven competition, the waste of talent unable to gain representation and the inefficiency of multiple stadiums being used for a few days per year. The IPL gets around some of these issues, as does the BBL and other T20 leagues. Their success would leave open the possibility of player wages being paid by domestic competition, and the international arm of the sport making only enough money to pay for its structures. But in order to achieve that, they need to be integrated with each other; and that is not happening; instead each tries to cannibalise the other, leaving both poorer for it.

There is another element to these leagues that we are decidedly not seeing in the case of the cricket governance. The NBA, EPL and others care first and foremost about their product, its growth, and development. They are aggressively targeting emerging East-Asian markets; they push to find players in any pocket of the world, and bring them into their league; they work on competitive balance and fixturing to chase market appeal and increase total revenue. Cricket, be it the ICC, the BCCI, ECB, CA or the other full members summarily fails to build its product. They are engaged in a game of redistribution, chasing every last piece of the Indian/Ashes market through whatever means gains them some access, destroying the good-will of fans with endless repetition of fixtures with barely a point.

If the BCCI wants to control cricket then they have that option. They have the market strength and sufficient control over the major stars of its biggest market to pursue that end. But that control comes with a need to actually develop cricket, as a product, not just at grass-roots level or by advancing the prospects of their national team. They have an enormous head start in the Indian market, but as ex-pat Indians return from Europe and the USA, and as the satellite dishes of the youth increasingly turn to what is globally popular, cricket's lead disintegrates.

Cricket's biggest threat won't come from the internecine fighting amongst the boards; it will come from globally dominant sports that have better products to sell. And cricket, great sport that it is, has a rubbish product to sell. Over-long events, uncompetitive structures, no context to fixtures, lack of media access to players, incoherent last-minute fixturing and an obsession with local appeal over the total package.

If the ICC executive board cannot organise itself sufficiently to fix the product and make it competitive; then the players need to realise that their livelihood is damaged from the incompetence above and break with the boards. It was players who invented modern cricket; they remain the star turn, the indispensable part of the appeal; and as with the ATP forty years ago, and twenty years ago, they are not being served by the administrators who ought to be doing the job. And if not them, then who?

Cricket - Articles 18th September, 2013 03:06:49   [#] [4 comments] 

A treatise on DRS
Russell Degnan

DRS controversy has been rumbling along in the background since the ICC introduced it. Whether for umpiring incompetence or bad luck, it has taken on a larger life since the Ashes started. That both teams (and their fans) are committed and experienced in its use has made its errors more obvious and troublesome. Weirdly, although I have quite firm views on the system, and have commented on numerous websites about it, I've only ever written a short piece discussing potential changes; rather than taking the time to write a thorough analysis. Now would seem an opportune time.

The DRS is often conflated with *-eye, or with technology. Properly, it is composed of three parts, and numerous sub-parts: the technology, which comprises *-eye, hotspot, snicko, and naturally, the tv cameras and audio; the player review; and the interface and process by which the review is actually done.

All three are flawed in current incarnations.

Although the technology receives the most criticism, by and large it is the least flawed component. It has limitations, rather than outright problems, and these aren't well dealt with by the system.

  • Snicko is not used because it is too slow to match the image with the audio. The interface of image to picture is never quite clear - is the centre the frame, or one of the edges. And it has unknown reliability - it isn't clear if a ball passing the bat can cause a noise. That's a lot of interpretation, even if it picks up sounds reliably.
  • Hotspot was sold up the river by over-enthusiastic commentators, because it has been clear for years that it cannot pick up fine nicks - though what is a nick, and at what level must we see one: visual? molecular? It also needs a lot of interpretation, as it must match the ball to various heat spots, some of which can be caused by incidental contact. But while false negatives abound, a clear edge that appears hotspot is often definitive, so it has some value.
  • *-eye is probably the most reliable, though Hawkeye is oversold by its proponents. For reasons unknown the exact margin of error is never discussed, nor the circumstances under which it becomes unreliable. The ICC has put forward two interpretations that are both unnecessarily lenient - the 3m rule and the half ball hitting - and inconsistent depending on the decision being made. Interpreting it as "within 95% certainty" would be a big step forward, because the current rules invite ridicule.
  • And lest we forget, a very large portion of the review system depends on television technology not far advanced from several decades ago. Its limitations are plainly obvious, and the lack of energy put into improving them is pathetic: the pictures remain of low quality, confused by shadow, with limited frame-rates that confuse runouts and make deflections harder to see, and the problem of foreshortening on catches near the ground is well known, but continues to cause problems.

In short, the technology is incapable, as presently designed, to provide fast, consistent, and objective decisions. You need only listen to the commentary to see that a dependence on televisuals for decisions is prone to interpretation and error; and not necessarily an improvement on the central umpire. Some of these can be fixed: improved frame-rates and higher definition cameras for runouts and stumpings; the introduction of automated no-ball checking, a trivial problem for computer vision; the use of *-eye systems to track deflections with high frame-rates, avoiding the need for hotspot and snicko. The ICC could easily invest in a proper decision system, and it has failed to do so, leaving the technology in the hands of the television studios, and the money in the hands of people whose primary aim is entertainment, not better decisions.


I've never felt comfortable with player reviews, mostly for aesthetic reasons. I like to see a raised finger and the game move on; I don't like to see extended discussions of dismissals, costing many minutes (and therefore overs) each day; I especially hate waiting around for an umpire the check a no-ball. The absence of any sense of what the umpires are looking for compounds the problem.

The players, needless to say, have reacted to the ability to review some decisions as economic theory suggests they would. While the system was sold as removing howlers, the players treat it as a resource. Reviews are spent on key wickets, and at key moments - particularly the final wicket of close matches, both Hobart and Trent Bridge suffering the indignity. They are overly cautious when holding one review, and reckless with their first; and they play the odds, looking for opportunities where the system will help them, rather than working to improve decisions over-all.

We should expect nothing less, and adding players to the decision making process has had entirely predictable results, which, unless you are a keen student of game theory hasn't added much to the game except extended footage of earnest discussions; and the opportunity to swear at deluded batsmen.


The most misunderstood part of the DRS is the process itself. Expectations have been put on it to make decisions, when it has been primarily designed to augment decisions. This is obvious if one reads the DRS protocol, though judging by the number of journalists claiming the third umpire "over-turns" the decision few have.

We can discuss the system as a series of decisions made based on different information, drawn for observation and the technological output. The central umpire has a set of observed occurrences (call it \(\{O_C\}\)); the third umpire has a different set of observations - not necessarily superior, but consistent with what the viewer at home sees - \(\{O_T\}\).

For the original decision, the central umpire makes a decision, \(D\), by determining if there was a wicket (\(W\)) based on the balance of probabilities - usually giving the batsman some benefit of the doubt, but not required by the laws.

\begin{equation}
D_C = Decision_C( P( W | \{O_C\} ))
\end{equation}

It is important to note here that the third umpire does not make the final decision, but rather it rests with the central umpire. There is an expectation from viewers that the third umpire makes the decision themselves, based on what they see and the original decision:

\begin{equation}
D_R = Decision_T( P( W | D_C \wedge \{O_T\} ))
\end{equation}

However, as the central umpire makes the decision, and the third umpire merely conveys the observations to him, it is actually as follows:

\begin{equation}
D_R = Decision_C( P( W | \{O_C\} \wedge \{O_T\} ))
\end{equation}

This would not matter if the observations of the third umpire always led to a certain value for \(W\), as there is no difference between the two equations in that case. But the absence of certainty means the system produces results that aren't always easy to interpret.

The Trott LBW at Trent Bridge was a case in point. The decision rested on whether he had hit the ball, for which there was no conclusive evidence. Hotspot, as discussed above, can only prove an edge if a mark in the right position, (\(H\)) is detected, otherwise the probability of an edge, \(E\) is an unknown (let's say \(a\)).

\begin{eqnarray}
P( E | H ) = 1 \\
P( E | \neg H ) = a
\end{eqnarray}

The central umpire may have based his determination that there was an edge on hearing a noise, \(N\), holding that opinion with probability b. As hotspot came up negative, the probability of there being an edge is reduced, but there is no set amount by which it might be reduced, we only know that:

\begin{eqnarray}
P( E | N ) = b \\
a \leq P( E | N \wedge \neg H ) \leq b
\end{eqnarray}

If potential sources of the noise are found - the ground or pad being hit by the bat - then it is reasonable for the umpire to re-think their determination of an edge, and therefore change their decision as \(P( E )\) declines - remembering that this may have been the key observation in determining \(D\).

The downside to this process is that in general, the central umpire's faith in their own judgement declines. Further observations are as likely to be inconclusive or contradictory as confirmative. The central umpire is forced to make a decision on their own, and then decide if, based on footage they don't see, but only have relayed to them, that original judgement was wrong.

This is further confused by strict process under which Hawkeye is used, whereby the technology does make a decision, and that depends on the original decision.

\begin{equation}
D_R = Decision_H( P( W | D_C \wedge \{O_H\} ))
\end{equation}

This creates its own inconsistency, in that should the central umpire decide that there was an edge, but was satisfied that the ball was hitting the stumps, the absence of an edge does not change the first decision. And hence a ball clipping leg stump is not out (umpire's call), even if the umpire would have given it out, if not for the edge.


The path forward for the DRS is to recognise that the technology has severe limitations, and focus our attention on those aspects of it that work, and work quickly and without intervention. The central umpire is only undermined by making multiple decisions, and given easily accessible technology, there is no reason they could not augment their original decision with help, rather than a complicated process involving player requests and an interpreted but inconclusive technology. Where the technology is conclusive, and can be relayed to the umpire, the right decision will always be made. Where it is not conclusive, then nothing is lost by ignoring it as in these cases:

\begin{equation}
P( W | \{O_C\} \wedge \{O_T\} ) \approx P( W | \{O_C\} )
\end{equation}

That is, there is no change in the probability of a wicket with more, but useless and time consuming observations.

The central umpire, given a hand-held device to show the results - as now, either out, not out, or unpire's call - of automated no-ball, *-eye, and edge detection could make prompt and unambiguous decisions with confidence that the tv replays would struggle to second-guess them. There would be no need for player reviews because a player couldn't reasonably expect the decision to be over-turned when the primary evidence has already been examined. In particular cases (such as whether the ball hit bat or pad first), when necessary, they could instigate discussion with the third umpire to review the footage. But by and large, there is no reason why in today's technological environment, a central umpire should be subject to review by television footage that is very often inconclusive and adding little.

That sort of system is easily achievable, but some way off. Right now, the ICC needs to do two things: firstly, focus on improving the quality of the technology to meet the requirements of a decision system, and not a broadcaster; and secondly, better communicate the process of decision making, by broadcasting the umpire's discussions to allow people to understand the reasoning behind the decision. Despite boundless good-will from people who believe in technological solutions to umpiring ills, trust in the DRS has fallen to levels where it cannot survive.

Cricket - Articles 9th August, 2013 00:30:38   [#] [4 comments] 

Australia's Relative Decline; The Distribution and Production of Talent
Russell Degnan

When I started gathering these statistics the aim was to put together a post on the difficulties of associate cricket. That will now be part three. Australia's recent, somewhat lamentable, performances have allowed me to retool and add to them to create a broader picture of how talent appears from a playing base, how it improves and declines with age, and the challenges in creating a competitive environment for much smaller teams.

Australia's challenges against England and before that India and South Africa need to be kept in perspective. They are still rated as an above average test team - let alone amongst the ICC's 106 cricket nations; they are the most successful, the equal oldest test team, the second or third richest in annual income, the third largest test team in gross domestic product - one of the best indicators of sporting excellence. The total playing base is 800,000 plus, of which around 500,000 play in club competitions, equal with England and South Africa.

There are good reasons to think Australia aren't adequately developing their talent - on which I will try and show in part two - but these are persistent problems, and problems not unique to Australia: talent must be spotted from within a large pool and this is very difficult; it must be kept in the game while it develops, which in the modern world means paying under-performing youth; and selecting the right players based on a handful of data points means talent and temperament spotting is often as important as analysis and results. The rejoinder that these weren't problems ten years ago is false; they were, but when you have Warne, McGrath, Ponting and Gilchrist, it doesn't matter if selectors choose a batsman with a career average of 35 over one of 45 for several years. The team is starting 100 runs ahead of average. That is not the case when a team is at its normal level.

Likewise, the current Australian team is not that dissimilar to the one that played in 1989. That team had recently, and continued to be until 1993, dismantled by the West Indies. It was youthful, and where it wasn't - Border aside - it wasn't performing terribly well. But it came up against an English side that only beat Sri Lanka and a terrible Australia over a 4 year period. A team most of the Australian batsmen of the era averaged 5-10 runs more than their career average against. That's the luck of the draw, but it is worth remembering.

Australia can't be great all the time. They draw on the far-end of the talent curve, (hopefully) picking the best six batsmen available, and then (hopefully) they perform near to or above their talent. Over the course of test history Australia's population has increased, as have several comparable nations. For the purposes of this exercise I'll compare New Zealand, a nation with roughly a fifth the number of cricketers as Australia, and therefore (at least in theory) they will have a fifth the number of batsmen at each elite level - meaning they'll select a lot of weaker batsmen.

In order to create blocks with sufficient number of data points, I've looked at performance by batting position, not individuals, split into three year blocks. I'll also be looking at the reciprocal of the average - more easily understood as the probability a batsman makes another run before being dismissed - because it better fits a normal curve. Below is the graph of Australia's talent distribution, for batting (bowling is much harder to analyse by position) dating back to the 1920s - when overall averages leveled out to approximately the current level.

The spread was much larger before the war, mostly because of fewer games being played, but the average is broadly consistent: 39.5

The current period is unusual in having two positions in the bottom 5% of historical performances and one in the top (number five, needless to say) but a t-test isn't significant at the 5% level. In fact only four lineups are: the invincibles of 1947-1949 (well above), the mostly all-rounders Laker-bait of 1956-58 (well below), the WSC years of 1977 (below) and 2001-03 (above). Expecting the present lineup to be anywhere near the last of those is crazy, and matches previously weak teams (the mid-80s) or weaker sides playing strong English sides (the 1950s).

New Zealand exhibits a similar graph, but it is shifted to the right. The mean batting average by position for New Zealand in test history is 28.0. They have had very good batsmen, but they draw from a smaller pool. This can best be demonstrated with this graph, also showing England:

This graph shows the historical distribution of three-year position averages for several teams, and some modelled distribution probabilities for different sized playing bases. Needless to say, the probability of getting Bradman is miniscule, but it is mostly interesting for what it says about the effect of playing base size.

Two things stand out on this graph. Firstly, modelling talent is hard, because variation in performance is huge. In theory the worst players in the side should be a mass of replacable pieces - that's not to say you should replace them, merely that most replacements are as good as each other - but players can fail to meet their true talent for long periods - Steve Waugh, after 52 tests, the same as Bradman and Ramprakash, averaged only 34. Hence the long swinging tail, accentuated by the log scale.

Secondly, the first modeled dotted grey lines is fitted to Australia's talent curve. The others, from 100,000 players (roughly New Zealand) down to 5000 (roughly the Netherlands), are calculated from Australia's line. Each average on the 100,000 line has one fifth the probability of occurring as on the 500,000 line. Australia and England have similarly sized playing bases, and both sit quite close to where they ought to be. More interestingly (and the fit is rather remarkable), New Zealand's historical distribution line meets almost exactly where the model predicts.

Any team can luck into having great players, but the bigger the playing base, the higher the probability. Every team is constantly rolling the dice and hoping to draw a collection of high performers - and even small playing bases can produce excellent teams, if intermittently. A nation can also fail to use its vast population - as India has failed to do until very recently, and which may fundamentally change international cricket, if they succeed in doing so. Or not have the money or opportunities to develop what talent they have.

But they are always slaves to their playing base. In the long term, that's the mean they regress to. Unless someone can show something has fundamentally changed in the production of Australia's cricketers, that breaks a hundred years of landing on or near that line pretty consistently, it is safe to assume Australia will find decent batsmen again. Given the comparative youth of this side it may have already, and we must merely be patient.

In the long term Australia and England are evenly matched. In the short-term, development and selection matter in order to get the (probable) best players in the team for each match. There are good reasons to think Australia does this badly which I'll explore in part two.

Cricket - Articles 28th July, 2013 02:59:15   [#] [2 comments] 

Cricket in the Australian Media Landscape
Russell Degnan

There was much self-congratulatory noise emanating from all parties to the Cricket Australia press conference on the new TV deal this afternoon. Channel Nine affirmed their commitment to being the international cricket station; one that underpins their entire summer schedule and something they will never relinquish without a long look. Channel Ten, with a generous bid for the international rights, and an extra chip for the BBL got what they probably wanted in the first place: their rival bid high, and they came away with a risky but promising sporting franchise they can build on. And Cricket Australia got not just a significant increase in cash, but reduced their dependence on Indian TV money from nearly a quarter of their revenue to closer to a sixth. With every day that bigger cushion looks a lot safer to fall back on.

What they also managed to do is get something closer to what cricket's TV rights are actually worth. TV rights in Australia have increased significantly since the last contract was signed in 2006. There must have been some concern that they'd increased so much that no outlet would present a challenging bid.

Comparing the various codes is not straight-forward. Actual value depends not just on ratings, but the length of programs, the total number of ads shown, the number of fixtures and the demographics. We can simplify a little by ignoring the demographics and the ad-rate - which is any-case, once surrounding programming is considered generally works out to around one minute of advertising for every five minutes of programming.

The linked document details the basic outline of tv rights in various codes. Netball, NBL and Super Rugby were ignored because in the former cases no details of rights deals could be found, and in the latter, the international competition makes it harder to calculate.

Two deals - the AFL's $250.6m per year and the NRL's $205m per year are comparable against the programming created last season. Cricket ($90m and $20m plus $8m in digital rights) and the A-League ($40m) have been signed, but the ratings are from the previous season - which for both the BBL and A-League has partially moved from Foxtel to FTA. The Australian Open has yet to sign a new deal, having rejected Seven's low-ball $21m offer (quite rightly). By then calculating the average rating (or total viewers) and multiplying that by the total number of hours broadcast and adding on extra programming (preview and highlight shows) we can calculate a total viewing hours. Dividing that figure by the money offered gives the graph of viewer hours per dollar spent:

A few things can be drawn from this:

  • Either SBS and Foxtel significantly over-spent for the A-League or they are banking on a significant increase in ratings. The latter is likely, as the ratio of viewers to attendance for the AFL and NRL is between 15 and 30 to 1, while the A-League it is 7 to 1. Bringing that ratio in line would also bring the cost per viewer level.
  • Because sport is a loss-leader for other programming the length of season matters. The commentators horrific play-acting aside, the tennis and cricket seasons promote less programming and take up a larger segment of the available schedule than the football codes, which may explain why they cost less per viewer.
  • The BBL is already relatively good value on pay-tv at the price Ten spent. If the ratings increase they will have found a bargain.
  • The pay-tv components of AFL and NRL drag down their average rating, while significantly increasing the programming. Cricket continues to suffer from a lack of content (roughly 200 hours versus 700+ for AFL) which is why it makes less than half the other codes per year.
  • Another factor lowering the value in Ten's eyes is that the BBL ratings carry a significant opportunity cost in the evening time-slot. One benefit of test cricket is that even the weaker weekday morning ratings offer significantly more viewers than comparable programming.

That cricket rates as well as football can be seen from this graph:

The benefits of moving into prime-time and onto the weekend - as the BBL does, and test cricket would if they ever got the right ball - are obvious here. The bulk of cricket programming lies during weekdays when people are at work. Cricket is an immensely popular sport nationally, despite its many problems with context, inequality of fixturing and troublesome scheduling.

The BBL deal may be seen as a bargain in five years time. It represents a significant opportunity for Cricket Australia and Channel Ten, to build up a franchise that ought to be two or three times more valuable - and probably much longer when the next tv rights package comes around. Having it separate from the broader cricketing public on Channel Nine may make that harder in the short-term, but will also allow it to promote a separate coherent identity.

Conversely, Ten's record with sport is abysmal and if they can't increase the ratings they will have over-paid for something that will fill their prime-time schedule and not rate. As changes to the sporting landscape go, this is the biggest since the founding of the A-League. The next five years will bear watching.

Cricket - Articles 5th June, 2013 01:45:24   [#] [0 comments] 

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