Associate Cricket: WCL5 Review
Russell Degnan

Perhaps the least interesting World Cricket League tournament of recent times, which is not to say it wasn't close. Malaysia's unexpected loss to Bahrain in the final group game meant Guernsey lost out on promotion by only the 4 runs they lost to Malaysia. The two South-East Asian sides were deservingly promoted, particularly Singapore who lost to their neighbour in the group stage but dominated their other games and will fancy their chances of progressing to WCL3. In the opposite direction, Bahrain made a late charge in their final game but couldn't overtake the Cayman Islands on net run-rate. They might have been unlucky in losing on D/L to the Cayman Islands, but their consistent collapses haunted them throughout, and this was an oddly two-speed tournament.

At the bottom of that second group, Argentina continue to free-fall through the leagues. A nation with a long cricket history and big potential, their development programs, as with many of the American sides, aren't keeping them competitive with their nearest competitors; the weakness both financially and logistically of their local test side probably doesn't help, nor the constant problems emanating from the United States. I remarked on twitter that the T20 ratings for American sides look too high; hopefully the qualifiers won't bear that out, because the entire region is slipping down the WCL ladder.

Cricket - Associate 26th February, 2012 23:54:48   [#] [0 comments] 

T20 Ratings - February 2012 - Mega Edition
Russell Degnan

With the WT20 qualifiers fast approaching I've revised the T20 rankings, adding any games I could find, however minor to produce as comprehensive a ranking list as possible. The inclusion of a new batch of nations necessitated another upward adjustment; for consistencies sake, every team was initialised to their ranking after 10 games (or the last, if fewer) to the nearest hundred; teams who played multiple divisions in the recent qualifers were used to normalise groups. This is far from perfect with so few games played, but it is pretty close.

In total, 691 games are included, 227 are "official", a very small minority are test nation specific. Like it or not, T20 is the global format for cricket. The predicted margin for a game between two opponents is 1/8th the rating difference. Thus, England would be expected to beat Macedonia by 305 runs. The standard deviation of the expected margin is approximately 40.

T20 Rankings at 25th February 2012FormGames
3.South Africa2518.0+8.812.1
5.Sri Lanka2486.6+14.49.5
7.New Zealand2472.7-7.214.5
8.West Indies2406.2+1.17.9
30.Hong Kong1470.8+67.19.3
31.Cayman Is1426.3-19.93.5
36.Isle of Man1315.4-28.83.0
44.Saudi Arabia1205.3+0.86.8
54.Sierra Leone1014.9+3.54.0
71.Turks and Caicos Islands802.4-0.72.5
88.Cook Islands540.0-21.53.0
90.Czech Rep.501.0+4.82.5
93.Costa Rica475.5-39.13.0
95.South Korea373.6+17.53.0
102.Falkland Islands136.6-51.33.0

The T20 ratings are both volatile and subject to starting rating. Shading indicates level of certainty.

Cricket - Ratings - T20 25th February, 2012 17:26:21   [#] [0 comments] 

Taming cricket`s wild frontier
Russell Degnan

It is fair to say, there probably no more frustrating nation for those interested in cricket development than the United States. Many associates look at the special attention afforded to them by the ICC - the extra development funds, the promotion without merit into international tournaments - as unfair and detrimental to the game. Doubly so, because its perennial dysfunctional national board, oncetwice banned by the ICC, wastes the advantages it has.

The USACA's problems are well documented, including a failure to hold elections, rampant factionalism, and an inability to host even minor ICC events. Summed up neatly by ICC advisor Inderjit Singh Bandra:

"It's in a bad shape, unfortunately. I don't hold any hope for America. I've given it up as a hopeless case. I normally do not give up, but nothing is going to happen in America because of bad management. It can be the next best market after India, more than England. But we are losing on that. Till those bodies are superseded and the ICC appoints an ad-hoc committee I don't see anything happening in the USA.

Having such pronounced disfunction is difficult to reconcile with a nation with some of the best sports administrators and entrepreneurs. But the history of "initiatives" detailed by David Mutton goes some way to explaining the problem.

The size of the US cricket market, while small in US terms, is big in world cricket terms. The built-in fan-base is attractive to the sorts of quick-buck scam artists that want to scoop the cream off the top without leaving any sort of lasting legacy. The promise of a local product for fans bereft of one has attracted a long stream of prospectors to its proverbial frontier land, without the funds or wherewithal to invest properly to create something substantive, leaving nothing but failure and fodder for literary characters.

Nevertheless, repeated failure of incompetent people doesn't detract from the fact that the market for cricket is huge, and the barriers to a successful cricket league relatively low. If only the right people were involved.

A comparison with football is instructive on this point. Detractors like to point to the long relative failure of the MLS to show how hard cricket has it. I tend to think to the contrary, the MLS overcame enormous structural barriers to create the 9th most popular football league on average attendance. The United States remains a relatively weak football nation, and the MLS a weak league, but these things are relative. That relativity matters a lot for cricket's future there.

Future Prospects for the US National Team

A strong national team is vital if cricket is to succeed in the United States. Sports popularity rests on having star players, and that means local heroes. A large proportion of football supporters in the United States only follow the national side, and its limitations keep the sport in check. Cricket, being a predominantly international sport anyway, will need a similar improvement in fortunes (and a commitment from the ICC to actually play the United States and others in high class competition, as FIFA does). In cricket's favour though, a strong US team is not as distant, nor as difficult as in football.

While a superstar player can emerge from anywhere, in a team sport, the ability to compete at the top level depends on having a comparable playing base to your rivals. Every doubling of the playing base, double the probability of a player of star quality emerging. In football, a comparison can be made with other Western nations (keeping in mind that development also takes money), by looking at their playing base. Germany and the Netherlands are perennial performers at World Cup and European level, the former consistent semi-finalist, the latter more inconsistent.

USA (eq. Ger)31160000063000002.02182%
USA(eq. Ned)31160000010767590.34556%

To succeed at football, the United States needs somewhere between 0.3 and 2% of their population playing football. If we assume that only a fifth of the population plays sport at all, then the German figure requires significant mainstream exposure (some 10% of the population). The United does have that, largely at youth level with some 3 million players, so future success is likely if the talented athletes stay with the sport, but it takes years to build that level of support.

By contrast, cricket is a popular sport only insofar that a few really populous nations play it. The equivalent Western nations to Germany and the Netherlands have relatively small populations and therefore small playing bases (here I'll use adult participation, as I have it to hand).

PopulationAdult Part.%Part.Pop
New Zealand440000058,4741.32895%
USA (eq. Aus)3116000001643000.05273%
USA (eq. NZ)311600000584740.01877%

To reach the level of New Zealand - frequent World Cup semi-finalists, if somewhat weak test team - the US would need only 58 thousand adult participants. Accounting for the proportion of the population that plays adult sports, only 1 in every 500 to 1000 people need to play cricket: roughly two thirds the level of organised participation that US rugby reports. In short: cricket doesn't need to be mainstream for the United States to be competitive. If cricket ever reached the levels of soccer in the United States, they'd be a dominant team.

Future Prospects for an American Cricket League

Starting a league is a difficult proposition. It needs players with sufficient star power to attract fans of the sport, venues in markets with the wealth to support a franchise and the organisational structure for promotion and touring. We'll deal with each in turn.


The MLS struggled and continues to struggle for credibility with its local fan base because it is perceived as a weak league. Faced with competition from European leagues for players and attention it is a sad second best. And that problem can be explained simply: it can't afford to pay market rates for good players.

The table below explains this succinctly. The medium team in the English Premier League has a wage roughly similar to an NBA team (approximately $60 million). Reported survey interest in the two leagues is 30% for the NBA and 45% for the EPL. Dividing the median wage by the interested population gives an interest factor that shows how much money is derived from the local sports market (both leagues make a considerable proportion of their money from off-shore). The US is a more competitive market. For US football to compete with UK football, it needs a similar market awareness to basketball: 30% of viewers, when it is currently at 15%.

PopulationWage%InterestInterested Pop.Interest Factor
UK Football514000006000000045%231300002.59
Aus cricket1000000
US Cricket31160000020000001%31160000.64

Cricket, by contrast has several advantages in breaking the US market with star players:

  • There is limited competition for players: the vast majority of first class cricket is played October to April, whereas the US cricket season would run from May to September. Thus players are available without compromising their existing contracts.
  • Cricket players are paid meagre amounts: The salary cap for the 8-week Big Bash League is $1 million. A 16 week competition in America (which would make it the largest in the world) could afford star (non-English) players for only $2 million.

Applying the factor of interest for the NBA by that wage level gives a interest level of only 1% of Americans - some 3 million fans. A number not far from where some estimates put the American fan base without any American interest at all.

American Players

Nevertheless, a league with no American players will struggle to attract interest outside some narrow confines, so it is important to find players capable of performing close to first class level that can bolster the league. It is often suggested that lesser sports convert college players from various other sports, because a) often their skill sets will more closely match their adopted sport and b) the raw athletic talent from college programs that fails to become professional is very high.

The numbers support this proposition. In the tables below it can be seen from the populations of NZ and Australia, and the number of professional and national team cricketers in each nation that the top 0.01% of Australians (male, young adult) and 0.05% of New Zealanders make it to professional cricket. The equivalents for the a national team squad of 15 players are 0.0007% and 0.0034%.

PopulationProfessionals% Elig. Pop.National Team% Elig. Pop.
New Zealand44000001200.05455%150.00341%

There are around 22 million Americans of college age, so we can translate an equivalent percentage of the population for selected college sports, seen in the second column below. Obviously there is some overlap in the skill-sets of different sports, so the quality of the actual athletes is well below the percentage given. To account for this, we'll consider only the top 10% who'll presumable have the most translatable skills for cricket.

Men's College ParticipationCollege% College Age Pop.Professionals% Elig. Pop.Trans. skillsAus ProfNZ Nat

The number of professionals is an estimate of the total number in various leagues. Basketball includes both the NBA and D-Leagues, but not Europe (although there are Europeans in the NBA, so it balances out). Baseball's league system is massive, even if only major league and triple-A is considered. While there are probably failed baseball players with decent cricket skills, getting them to cross over would be difficult. Tennis and golf are individual sports; every American ranked player as been considered a pro, despite being a gross exaggeration of the number deriving professional employment from the sport. For each sport an estimation of "translatable skills" has been applied: high for tennis, baseball and golf, low for soccer and basketball - although tall strong athletes are potential quick bowlers.

From this it can be estimated that perhaps 112 players per year, mostly from tennis, might be able to transition to Australian level first-class cricket with a system in place; approximately 14 of those might be capable of New Zealand national team representation.1 While a more stable base of players was developed, league franchises could institute a system of invitational training camps following the end of the university year, accompanied by scholarships to play in the Southern Hemisphere in preparation for an April draft.

The take home message: mainstream cricket might be a pipe-dream in the United States (or it might not), but the nation is so big compared to its rivals mainstream penetration is not necessary to find capable American players, whereas in soccer it is.

Markets and Franchises

Assessment of US sports markets are routinely done to discuss expansion franchises. Because cricket is small, and a league relatively inexpensive (equivalent to an MLS team), the number of potential markets is huge, and includes both the obvious (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Washington) and several with significant numbers of existing cricket fans, cricket history and/or no local sports team with a potentially amenable local government (San Jose, Austin, Philadelphia, Hartford, Fort Lauderdale). This is helped too, by the absence of competing sports for a large part of what would constitute the US cricket season. Assuming a May start, the league would kick off during the NBA/NHL playoffs, and middle of the MLB season as it grinds its way towards the playoffs. With an early September finish, it will both avoid the MLB and MLS playoffs and the start of the NFL juggernaut.

Cricket's large ovals have both advantages and disadvantages. The downside is there are no practical venues as of now. Unlike soccer that can use existing athletic or football fields, cricket needs to develop its own grounds, and the only potential ground partner would be Aussie Rules football - an even smaller sport. The upside is they need minimal infrastructure to cater for a large crowd: a grass bank, some corporate marquees, camera emplacements. Light towers are more difficult to organise, but the unique urban forms of the United States offer large tracts of land on the well-to-do suburban fringe, or in a number of cities, a blighted inner area; and in many places former minor league stadiums that could be converted with an expanded playing area and renovations.

Preparing a team and the ground to first class standards requires a different set of expertise however, and there is no evidence those skills are available in the USACA.

Forging Partnerships

Getting a significant number of first class players into the United States in their off season will require a commitment from the full member boards. New Zealand has already signed onto a partnership, but they are a relatively small board; a competition of requisite size to succeed with local fans will need support from Australia, South Africa and India as well. The full member boards are vital because they bring with them skills not found inside the United States that would otherwise cost a significant amount to import: the preparation of quality pitches, coaching, and in India's case: players who can be marketed into cricket's biggest market.

The list of needs particular to the United States is much longer: partnerships with ticket-agents and television broadcasters, internet sites and live streaming capacity, local marketing and researchknowledge, relationships with the press, and experience with making team travel arrangements.

There is some scope for looking at existing American franchises to partner with and provide those services. For NBA teams, specifically, there are several unique advantages:

  • The infrastructure that teams need lies fallow in the off-season. The marginal cost of using it for cricket is quite low.
  • Similarly, NBA teams get almost no value from their brands between June and November. There is precedent in other fields (Real Madrid/Barcelona) for playing multiple sports under the same colours.
  • The NBA has an interest in developing the Indian market; cross-promotion of NBA team brands with a sport with a high profile in India seeds the market: fans of the cricket team become fans of its basketball equivalent.
  • And vice versa, the large existing fan bases would mean covering costs by tapping into 3% of the existing NBA market, as well as cross-promotion through the cricket following American market.
  • As a more long-term matter, winning franchises are profitable franchises; doubling the chance to win each year would allow them to better manage the vagaries of income in a single sport
  • More generally, basketball feels similar to T20 cricket: high scoring but punctuated by spectacular scoring plays (sixes/dunks) and defensive plays (wickets/blocks), the scope for individual excellence to dominate a game, and the major point of interest coming in the last 20 minutes.
  • The potential downsides (cost) are quite low as a proportion of their revenue, while the upsides could be huge: a successful American cricket league and/or significant market penetration in India

It is difficult to see how an American league could succeed without some form of partnership with overseas cricket bodies, and the right people in the United States. Unfortunately the USACA are clearly not the right people, and nor are the types of people who've previously been associated with cricket in the United States. A concerted effort by ICC full members to forge a domestic league using their playing resources would come close to breaking even, and allow a base to build. As with the expansion of the World Cup to allow emerging markets access to the promotional benefits of major tournament access, and the playing of international games against weaker nations, the ICC full members have been derelict in their duty to promote the game outside their own narrow confines.2

The American Market and Cricket

American sports have never shied away from worldwide expansion. Australia got its introduction to top flight baseball in 1888, with a tour from the king of sporting entrepreneurs Albert Spalding. A quote from The Argus at the time is illustrative of how deeply the myths about Americans and cricket run:

"Men who are familiar with cricket and baseball consider that the former is the more pleasant game for those who play it, but the latter vastly more attractive to the spectators when they are as familiar with it as with cricket. The very fact that the great lack of interest in cricket evident in this colony for some time past is attributed to want of sufficient excitement in the game and to the issue being too long delayed, justifies the promoters of baseball in the belief that their game is likely to become popular in Australia. In it the excitement is sustained throughout. There is no blocking or what in cricket would he called "playing" the ball. Every effort is either a full force hit or a miss, and three misses with playable balls put the batsman out. Like football the game lasts for two hours only, so that the match is definitely decided one way or another in an afternoon ; while by calling play at four o'clock, as is very often done in America a match can be got through without any material interference with the ordinary duties of the day. In America it would be utterly impossible to sustain public interest through a four days' game at cricket, and inclinations of lovers of field sports in Australia would appear to lean very largely towards those of the Americans."

All the tropes are there. The length of time to play and the advantages of a short game; the belief that multi-day cricket was dying; the excitement in seeing the ball hit as opposed to defended. The popularity of T20 cricket shows that these are not entirely without merit, but it is worth reflecting on cricket's enduring popularity in spite of its decades of struggle.

Also notable was the reference to the "temperament" for watching a four-day game being lacking in Americans, although here apparently it was also lacking in Australians, and there is no sign that is true. Personally I find it hard to fathom how people can equate a nation that supports seven game playoff series and a very rich golf tour with an aversion to multi-day events. But I also bring this up to note that the native supporters of cricket in the United States I've encountered are invariably fans of test match cricket. Because while they first encountered the one-day game, it is the test match that offers the scope for narrative and unique sporting experience. Thus, while it is quite reasonable, as shown, that America could support a T20 summer league sporting the best players from around the world, and use that to develop their own cricketers, cricket's greatest selling point remains the test match.

As a final note on this, cricket cultures are unique. Test match cricket in the United States will not be test match cricket in England, or Australia, or India. Of primary importance in marketing the game is that it is presented as an American sport. Van Bottenburg's study, Global Games on sports popularity made a very important point on this matter:

"When choosing a sport you are not merely deciding between different forms of physical exertion and competition; you are also deciding between different groups of people."

Cricket failed in the United States in the past because it was the "English village sport", popular in periods of Anglophilia, and unpopular in times of nationalism. Similarly, any modern attempts to market cricket need to avoid it being seen as the sport of immigrants - a problem that has always afflicted football in both Australia and the United States - or a sport of gimmicks (which are fads at best). What American cricket most needs, is for its fans to be treated with respect, not potential gold mines for exploitation.

1 As a side note, the numbers for AFL footballers indicate several hundred players capable of being amongst the thousand odd professional footballers. That's the perfect storm for reality TV: last-chance athletes with reasonable name awareness trying to break into obscure but immensely popular Australian basketball/football hybrid through an international draft after 8-9 months of training, overcoming cuts, injuries and their own incompetence along the way.

2 Somehow this trend has worsened in the past 10 years, progressive initiatives like the Champions' Trophy (yes, dud tournament, but still progressive) have gone by the wayside. The Champions League, for example, is the perfect vehicle for an American audience to see decent, not exhibition, cricket.

Cricket - Articles 19th February, 2012 21:58:38   [#] [4 comments] 

Associate Cricket: WCL 5 Preview
Russell Degnan

Singapore may be the unluckiest team in world cricket. Having missed out on promotion from WCL5 in highly controversial circumstances in the last edition, they also missed out on the opportunity to qualify for the WT20Q because of an unfortunate (and slightly unfair) relegation from the Asian T20 championships two years ago. On home soil they will be favourites to progress from this tournament. That is by no means certain though, as only a fool would seek to determine the likely winners when such paper-thin margins separate the teams involve.

The two teams relegated from division four may actually be the two weakest. Both were outmatched by the teams above. Argentina are in a rebuilding phase, and their coach acknowledged Cayman Islands as the better side; it will be a surprise if they can arrest their drop through the divisions. Malaysia will renew its rivalry with Singapore after a strong showing in the Asian WT20Q and looks a good bet to be promoted. Bahrain - also denied an opportunity at the WT20 qualifiers - are something of a dark horse; like Guernsey they are likely to hover at this level, but there is no reason either couldn't be either promoted or relegated in an even competition.

Cricket - Associate 16th February, 2012 07:41:21   [#] [0 comments] 

Ratings - 15th February 2012
Russell Degnan

I-Cup MatchKenyavIreland
Expected MarginIreland by 60 runs
Actual MarginIreland by 10 runs

A remarkable match in a patch of remarkable games. Reports of the ball turning square from early on; it was arguably, the 43 runs Ireland scored before Varaiya was introduced that won them the game. Thereafter the spinners dominated - although surprisingly, Porterfield waited a full 10 overs before bringing on Dockrell. The four spinners on show took all but four wickets: Varaiya 11/73, Ngoche 4/39, van der Merwe 11/68, Dockrell, 9/87. The latter battled a stomach complaint throughout the second innings though you'd hardly know it from his figures.

Amongst the first 38 wickets to fall there were only two knocks of substance. Ragheb Aga scored 46 in the first innings, getting Kenya first innings points after a collapse to 7/50 had made it seem unlikely. Aga is an interesting story. First in the team 8 years ago, he failed to crack county cricket, and is back with Kenya. Reports (and recent results) are indicative of a useful player in a team that needs one. The highest score though, came from the experienced head of Ed Joyce: an attacking 54 (64 balls) that ought to have been more. He retired hurt overnight only to appear just before lunch anyway as Ireland collapsed a second time.

Fortunately for them, Kenya collapsed twice too. At 8/36, Kenya was only a third of their way to the target when Varaiya and Nelson Odhiambo took the crease. But, sensible play took them closer and closer, changing the game from a statistical anomaly into something the (very) few who witnessed will no doubt long remember. Odhiambo was caught (32) at short mid-wicket at 9/94, still 25 short; Ngoche - not one for doing it in singles - smote 13 off 8 balls to bring the target to 11. Unfortunately Varaiya popped a ball up for short-fine-leg the next over.

Kenya will be pleased to have made a contest of a game they were expected to be out-matched in, Ireland might wonder, notwithstanding the pitch, what is wrong with their batting that it continues to collapse so badly. Nevertheless, they once again took the points and are well placed to make the final at year's end.

Forthcoming Series

I-Cup MatchU.A.E.vScotland
Expected MarginScotland by 59 runs

Their failure to qualify for the WT20 qualifiers aside, the U.A.E. have been in outstanding form recently, including in a moral victory over reigning I-Cup champions Afghanistan. Scotland will be missing Coetzer for this game - he is playing in the BPL - and his experience will be sorely missed on pitches that proves difficult for England. The ratings suggest a Scottish victory, and they still have the team to do so. My sense is that an upset for the gulf state on the back of their high scoring middle order, is more likely.

Rankings at 15th February 2012
2.South Africa1181.00
5.Sri Lanka1036.56
7.West Indies923.80
8.New Zealand885.37

22.Hong Kong148.65
23.Cayman Is134.24

Shaded teams have played fewer than 2 games per season. Non-test team ratings are not comparable to test ratings as they don't play each other.

Cricket - Ratings - Test 15th February, 2012 07:55:15   [#] [0 comments] 

Ratings - 9th February 2012
Russell Degnan

3rd TestPakistanvEngland
Expected MarginEngland by 100 runs
Actual MarginPakistan by 71 runs
Series Rating1328.781079.93

There are two types of straight sets losses in a tennis match; the type where the winner waltzes through; and the type where the loser fails to win the right moments in tie-breaks. England's loss was the cricketing equivalent of the latter. Arguably they ought to have won the series; except they didn't, because they couldn't get the job done when it mattered.

The failures were almost entirely the fault of the batsmen. Broad and Anderson were far better than they ought to have been on relatively flat pitches; Panesar and Swann were both very good. Yet Pakistan won the war, because, as they do most often these days, they stayed in the game long enough. Azhar Ali is a very impressive young batsman, and Younis Khan a very under-rated great one. Together they and Misbah ul Haq put together 303 second innings runs in two partnership, book-ended by collapses of 12/127 and 7/34.

England's batting against spin was marginally better in this game, but they still found themselves stroke-less, prodding and poking at the ball like children armed with sticks fighting off a snake. The middle order that dominated last year ended the series in the record books: Pietersen, so paranoid about the lbw threat his normal stride forward could bring left his stumps open again; Bell, unable to read the spin was a mercy kill; Morgan betraying his lack of confidence through his attacking play.

Ajmal and Rehman did the damage with the ball, although Umar Gul proved useful in the second innings. Owing to their horrible start to the game (5/21 and 7/44), Pakistan were never completely comfortable. But they had the confidence in their ability, and the slow scoring rate ensured they'd have plenty of time to broach defences. England's failures bring their ranking down a little, with little prospect of immediate gains; Pakistan, by contrast could move into second with some more big wins. Unfortunately it will be many months until they have that opportunity.

Forthcoming Series

I-Cup MatchKenyavIreland
Expected MarginIreland by 60 runs

These are bad times for Kenyan cricket. Their golden generation retied, their youth not as strong, but still saddled with the expectation that they be in the top few associates. Their recent form is dire, losing a string of games to their fellow African nations, and being thrashed by the UAE in their previous I-Cup game (the game against the Netherlands being washed out). At home to Ireland at the tail-end of their summer, they ought to be competitive. But (nearly) full strength Ireland are almost certainly beyond them. An innings loss looks a more likely bet than a win.

Rankings at 9th February 2012
2.South Africa1181.00
5.Sri Lanka1036.56
7.West Indies923.80
8.New Zealand885.37

22.Hong Kong148.65
23.Cayman Is134.24

Shaded teams have played fewer than 2 games per season. Non-test team ratings are not comparable to test ratings as they don't play each other.

Cricket - Ratings - Test 9th February, 2012 23:17:30   [#] [0 comments] 

Goat tracks in the media landscape
Russell Degnan

For urban designers, the placement of paths in a manner that is both functional and aesthetically pleasing can be a problematic process. It happens, frequently, that the path they designed doesn't correlate with the path people want; formed where the people do want a path, is a desire path (referred to colloquially as a goat track, or cow path).

The example at right, in Melbourne's Flagstaff Gardens is typical, connecting the corner of the gardens with the actual path and cutting out a considerable distance. Faced with such paths, designers have a choice: repave the path, or in some enlightened cases, post-pone paving until a path has formed; or in the case at right, build small fences to deter or prevent pedestrians messing up the landscape.

Both the former and the latter are solutions, either can enhance or detract from the aesthetic experience. But the latter does so at an additional cost: inhibiting movement, slowing people down, changing the pattern to something less optimal.

A week ago Giles Clarke stated that internet piracy was cricket's biggest danger. Samir Chopra has already done a good job demonstrating the foolishness of such an exagerration, and making a case for embracing, not repelling internet media. But he left unstated the basic market case for embracing internet streaming.

I watch internet streams semi-regularly, not because I don't pay for the cricket I watch, but because that payment is inadequate to cover all the cricket I want to watch. Cricket Australia's legal streams of Shield games are the only method of watching those games outside the ground; the test between Bangladesh and Zimbabwe wasn't televised, the first two tests of England-Pakistan weren't televised live, the Asian T20 qualifiers needed to be hunted down from a stream of Nepalese television, the New Zealand-Zimbabwe games were on at the same time as the India-Australia test match, parts of the Australia-India and India-West Indies test matches were watched not on tv, but on my phone or computer, because I wasn't at home. Some of them are probably illegal streams, some are ambiguous, and some hint at enlightenment amongst administrators of Australia and India.

Internet streams are the desire paths of the media landscape; administrators have a choice, they can expend great energy to fence people off from them, or they can pave them, turning them from dodgy, ad-ridden, jerky and slow, into high quality, watchable, and potentially profitable markets. The NBA and MLB, blessed with more games than it is theoretically possible to watch both sell online passes for watchers of their sport; they know tv stations, bound to a geographic locality and limited in terrestrial bandwidth have no interest in showing every game, and they know that fans have diverse preferences that the internet enables them to fulfill. For a fee.

Cricket administrators, and particularly the ICC, have been negligent in exploiting this method. The evidence of market demand is everywhere. The rationale ought to be straight-forward. This is particularly the case for ICC associate tournaments whose primary market is not necessarily small, but is very dispersed. It is, frankly, a disgrace, that the ICC hasn't made it a priority to ensure that the most important tournament for the 16 biggest markets outside the full members is broadcast for fans in those nations to access. Given the relative cost (perhaps $200,000 to show all 72 games), that they were willing to gift six times as much to the four nations that absolutely don't need the money via test championship prize-money is an embarrassing sign of their priorities.

Cricket, particularly test cricket, needs internet streaming, for promotion, and for income. Its fans would pay for it, because many already do; many more suffering intolerable poor streams to watch their favourite sport. It is not the mid-90s anymore, online streaming of sport has been a reality for some time; if cricket's administrators are unwilling to stay abreast of the media landscape they operate in, then it is about time it got new ones.

Cricket - Articles 5th February, 2012 09:50:25   [#] [1 comment] 

Reviewing the Woolf review: Ideals, politics and economics
Russell Degnan

The Woolf review of ICC governance will be remembered as either a significant turning point in cricket's quest to become a global sport, or an interesting foot-note in the ICC's troubled history. It is radical to the point of excess, yet despite acknowledging at length the financial implications of the current structure, leaves any detail of how they might be usefully reformed.

Let us begin with the good aspects however. The chapters on the role of the ICC and fundamental issues are outstanding, leaving almost nothing of importance out. Woolf stakes out his position from the off:

"In the past, ["Member Boards using the ICC as a 'club for Members', with new Full Members being admitted at their discretion"] might have been appropriate but that is no longer the case. If cricket is to be a truly international game, it is essential that a body exists that is responsible for, and in charge of, the global game. The ICC has reached a point in its development where [the role of the ICC] is more far reaching. Its role should be to act in the best interests of cricket generally and promote, lead and develop the international game. It should be held accountable to all its 105 Members, not just the existing 10 Full Members. Therefore it is critical that the ICC acknowledges that it is the body to lead the global game and Member Boards and the Members of the ICC accept that is the position. This does not mean it cannot continue in its role to support the Full Member Boards."

This is a fundamental change, and one that in the past many full members - by reported word, or action - have failed to acknowledge. If that remains the case, Woolf might as well have stopped there. If his goals, and those of his many respondents don't align with the ICC members, the only feasible solution is for the many to go their own way. Woolf says as much, concluding chapter two with a warning that:

"If the ICC is prevented from developing, promoting and protecting world cricket, public opinion will be increasingly critical of the Members of the ICC Board who are responsible for this."

He is pleasantly straight-forward about what this means for full members:

"This may be seen as involving the surrender of what are perceived to be long established privileges of Members to the ICC. Whether they are perceived or real they should be given up. [...] The FTP at present solely benefits the Test playing nations. [..] this needs to come under the governance and oversight of the ICC for the global good of the game, [...] Other examples include the automatic right to Board Membership, distribution of surplus revenues and automatic participation in ICC events currently enjoyed by Full Members."

The remainder of the report deals with a number of issues, particularly the submissions from the global cricket community and those relating to transparency; on which also see Deryck Murray's submission on behalf of transperency international. I want to focus on three, where the Woolf review remains lacking in some way.

ICC Membership

This is perhaps the strangest aspect of the report. Woolf is assiduous to ensure no parts of the ICC can be used to exclude others - certainly a good thing - but pays almost no attention to member responsibilities.

The removal of affiliate membership - allowing all members to vote on the full council - is potentially problematic unless the standard of affiliate membership is increased - which has its own problems, not least the exclusion of small members from competition. While some affiliates are big nations, and even strong ones (Afghanistan) their problems are not just poor infrastructure and limited playing members. They are also run on a shoe-string, with limited governance. Applying one-member-one-vote to the affiliates when they outnumber the full and associate members risks some very odd decisions at full council level. Even when it is limited to membership and judgement of the board. The case for removing that category of membership seems weak, given it was one of the aspects of the ICC that was working reasonably well, with clear guidelines for progression.

The strangest notion however seems to apply to the separation of test cricket and full membership. Separating them is a very good idea. But the main reason to separate them is to recognise that there are certain members with highly developed infrastruture and finance who have greater responsibilities and a greater capacity to run the game; but that that capacity is only peripherally related to on-field performance. The notion put forward that a nation ought to have full membership rights and not play test cricket is entirely back-to-front. Full members must play test cricket, because they have a responsibility to preserve that format of the game - or an equivalent first-class international format if standards are so precious. Associate members ought to be allowed to play test cricket - or some equivalent, merit based version of first-class international cricket that leads to test cricket.

Letting Ireland become a full member but continuing to exclude them from test cricket won't help them keep their players. And while it is reasonable to remove the onerous (and never used) requirements for full members, it makes absolutely no sense to state that they aren't able to play test cricket, when the reality is they are perfectly able (and in fact do, in its I-Cup equivalent), but are being excluded for reasons of competition.

Board Membership

Here is where it gets political. Woolf's proposals for a board include four full members, two associate members, a chairman, three independent (business/governance) directors and two independent (cricket) directors "representing the wider game" to provide diversity of views. Here it is worth revisiting a quote on politics by Crick, from our own review submission:

"Politics then, can be simply defined as the activity by which differing interests within a given unit of rule are conciliated by giving them a share in power in proportion to their importance to the welfare and the survival of the whole community. [...] A political system is that type of government where politics proves successful in ensuring reasonable stability and order."

The fundamental question on the board composition is: will it be stable. I fear not, England, Australia and India will demand representation on the board, and given their global influence need to have it. There is no nice way to solve that, nor would it be a permanent solution, as relative political strengths are never fixed. Similarly, asking the full members to give up representation and reform the financial structure of cricket (whereon they will feel the most need for representation) is an unlikely wish. The first proposal is for the addition of independent directors, and the removal of the full member veto (which is the most important step). This is a simpler step; it seems likely that the board will grow to be unwieldy before it becomes small. Whatever the solution, this promises to be a messy, drawn out, and ugly.

Financial Reform

The Woolf review makes a number of very salient points on finances. It is also lacking, stating that "We have been unable to obtain a full picture of the current financial position of global cricket." What it did determine ought to be familiar for those who understand the general concept of global cricket finances:

  • 75% of ICC finances are evenly distributed direct to full members. The remaining 25% are used by the ICC or directed to associate development.
  • Many full members are dependent on overseas tours from India and England, and the ICC distribution to pay for normal operations. (As an aside, this would also make them inelgible for full member status, as they couldn't support first-class cricket without test status).
  • No evaluation of the financial implications of the FTP have been made.
  • The ICC is unable to adequately monitor financial information.

Needless to say, the financial question is central to the scheduling and membership questions, and the absence of adequate knowledge of it detracts from the Woolf review.

Despite this, Woolf advocates that the ICC become independent of its members financially, removing the subscriptions members pay to support he global body, and allowing it to keep its event revenue, so that it can target that revenue more effectively. If that means less money going to boards that don't need it and a significant increase in global development programs then it is definitely a good thing. If it means member boards have to scale back professionalism, first-class programs, or lose more players to domestic T20 leagues, then it is going to be a problem.

There is no easy solution to this problem, and ultimately the ICC will be judged on its ability to handle the problem of cricket finance, as that issue underpins many of the niggling scheduling problems that give rise to complaint.

We might hope that the full members vote themselves into a submissive role under the benevolence of the ICC administration, but it is unlikely to happen. The transitional plan proposed by Woolf - removal of the veto, new full members and a chairman and three independent directors - will go some way to improving the existing disfunction. But the ICC will need to conduct a further review into finances - something they could have voted for in the previous meeting - and into a method of scheduling that supports the broader member base.

Given the only reliable way if distributing funds is via the ICC, the likely outcome will be to submerse larger chunks of cricket into ICC tournaments where the ICC owns the tv rights, and can therefore sell subsidise smaller nations from Indian and English viewership. If, as in my plan, two years of the test schedule became ICC tournaments, then ICC revenue would increase from approximately 400 million to one billion. The marquee series that provide the largest chunk of India, England and Australia's home-generated revenue will be maintained, reducing their losses.

If the finances cannot be arranged to satisfaction, and in the past it has been a stumbling block, then this plan won't go far. Which will be a pity, because it talks a lot of sense.

Cricket - Articles 4th February, 2012 13:47:51   [#] [0 comments] 

Ratings - 1st February 2012
Russell Degnan

2nd TestPakistanvEngland
Expected MarginEngland by 116 runs
Actual MarginPakistan by 72 runs

England played much better in this match, and ooked the certain winners with only 145 to chase in the last innings. Panesar came into the side, taking 6 second innings wickets. Both he and Swann were well supported by Anderson and Broad, bowling with economy, and keeping Pakistan to gettable totals despite the advantage they'd gained through the toss. They were held up only twice, by Misbah (84) and Asad Shafiq (58) in the first innings, and Azhar Ali (68) and Asad Shafiq (43) again in the second. Both partnerships proved vital in providing enough runs for Pakistan to defend on the fourth day.

They oughtn't have been sufficient however. Cook (94) and Trott (74) put England in a commanding position, yet the middle order collapse was severe enough that it needed some lusty hitting from Broad (58), Swann and Anderson to earn them a decent lead. In the second innings, and faced by three quality spinners, England needed similar luck and didn't get it. Instead they played as if mired in quick sand. Strauss and Cook survived merely by standing still. The rest, unwilling to get to the pitch of the ball, vulnerable playing back to the speed of Rehman and Ajmal, and forward to the generosity of the DRS sunk quickly. The last 5 wickets in a mere 11 balls.

It wasn't mere English incompetence and impotence however. Abdur Rehman's 6/25 (10.1) and Saeed Ajmal's 3/22 (15) were a testament to their accuracy and threat. Misbah ul-Haq, often criticised for being boring, showed brilliant attacking instincts when he had to, with the field, and with the bat when mired with the tail. Pakistan probably still lack a genuine quick to compete in all conditions, but their form since ditching the clique uninterested in winning games is putting them back near the top three on the ratings.

Only TestNew ZealandvZimbabwe
Expected MarginNew Zealand by 211 runs
Actual MarginNew Zealand by an innings and 301 runs

A short game that needs little description. Inaccurate bowling and poor fielding let New Zealand score at a healthy rate, with tons from Taylor and Watling. By contrast, on a pitch offering plenty of swing, New Zealand exploited the conditions well, and Zimbabwe collapsed pretty ignomiously - at one stage having lost 15/63. If not for Waller's 23 they'd have probably beaten New Zealand's lowest test score, and although a 63 from Chakabva took them to 143 at the second attempt, it wasn't the greatest effort. Martin, rightly winning the man of the match for his 2/5 off 6 and 6/26 off 8.3. Ratings wise, it was the second worst performance ever, but coupled with their reasonable showings at home, it indicates a lack of experience against a moving ball more than anything, and they were not even the only side to lose 10 for 51 that day, let alone this season.

3rd TestAustraliavIndia
Expected MarginAustralia by 109 runs
Actual MarginAustralia by 298 runs
Series rating1360.36847.86

Like the series, this game was decided before it begun. Despite making some early break-throughs, there was an inevitability about Clarke and Ponting's partnership, and India's inability to match it themselves. That partnership earnt the pair the second highest consecutive partnership runs record (the highest, between Ponsford and Bradman is nearly unassailable). But otherwise, except for Kohli's century there was little of note in the match.

India's slump down the ratings continues. While Sehwag was happy to point to a 2-0 victory at home against the West Indies, the fact is in the past 14 games they have beaten their expected margin only once. In this series their performance was on par with the West Indies they managed to squeek past in their only recent wins. Every batsman who struggled here can point to recent runs, but also extended slumps - a sure sign of age - and although the bowling had their moments, they also had whole days of nothing. Fitness is surely an issue here; a bowler can't maintain accuracy if they are fatigued, and while Ishant and Zaheer were both coming off injuries, India need to improve in that area if their pace bowling is to live up to its potential (which is quite high, given their pace and control of the seam).

For Australia, another confusing series. Their batting has struggled at times, but Clarke and Ponting hid that by scoring extremely heavily. Marsh's form is dire, but Watson could theoretically slot back into three, should he ever return. The bowling is vastly improved, but it helps playing batsmen willing to gift their wickets. Lyon has been unfairly criticised, given his lack of penetration, but he'll get more helpful places to bowl, and less adept players of spin, and be a match winner. An economy rate of 3.11 is the key figure.

Rankings at 1st February 2012
2.South Africa1181.00
5.Sri Lanka1036.56
7.West Indies923.80
8.New Zealand885.37

22.Hong Kong148.65
23.Cayman Is134.24

Shaded teams have played fewer than 2 games per season. Non-test team ratings are not comparable to test ratings as they don't play each other.

Cricket - Ratings - Test 1st February, 2012 08:22:35   [#] [0 comments]