Leagues Over Legacy: The Future of Cricket

26 Feb,2021

 

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

Shailesh KapoorIt’s been a bizarre cricket week. A Test match that didn’t last even two full days. The shortest Test match ever since World War II. Test cricket needs exciting games like tone at Gabba. It needs higher batting run rates to attract more audience. It needs innovations like pink-ball, day-night Tests. But a Test that gets done in about 10 hours is no advertisement for a format that’s meant to last four days, if not five. After that spectacular Australia series, this one runs the risk of becoming a tad farcical, though India’s qualification to the World Test Championship finals will mask that conversation fairly quickly.

The much-hyped Narendra Modi Stadium was inaugurated less than two days ago. Its first-ever Test may have seen India on the right side of the result, but it hasn’t flattered the cricketing media. The venue, however, has its hands full. There’s another Test and then five T20s, all at the same stadium.

Which brings me to the itinerary of this England tour. When the T20 format was first introduced about 15 years ago, a solitary match on a tour was all it merited. Over time, that one match became two matches, but Tests and ODIs remained the primary competitive formats for nation vs. nation cricket.

But times have changed. IPL is a huge hit, finding new benchmarks of success with each passing season. Attention spans have dropped anyway. A three-hour format is well-suited to the times, and highly inclusive compared to the other two formats.

But this co-existence of cricketing formats also reflects upon the crossroads cricket administrators, including ICC, find themselves at. It seems they want to keep all three formats alive, and nurture them with nearly-equal priority. For a sport that’s primarily restricted to a dozen nation, a strategy that doesn’t make a conscious choice cannot be a growth strategy.

In my opinion, ICC and its national affiliates are trying to avoid the unavoidable. They are only buying time by keeping all three formats alive. Of the three, the Test format is fairly secure. It’s the niche, connoisseur-endorsed format that can doesn’t need to make much money, as long as it can broadly earn for itself. But it’s the 50-overs format that could have been retired a while ago. It’s an in-between thing that achieves nothing in particular, except keeping a legacy going.

From a broadcast perspective, one would expect the leagues to get stronger with each passing year. Australia’s Big Bash League (BBL) can do well with some Indian players, as its quality of play and telecast makes it one of the most watchable cricket tournaments across the world. The match timings are not India-friendly, but weekends double-headers can take care of that, if India (read BCCI) decides to play a more active role in BBL, say from a talent pool perspective.

Other leagues, like those from Pakistan, Bangladesh, West Indies, England and Sri Lanka, are in initials stages of building some traction among the T20 audience base. But it’s almost certain that this is the direction the viewership will move to, over the next decade.

All that is still a thing of the future, though. The next season of IPL is fast approaching, and one can sense that a blockbuster is in the offing again. So, brace yourself for the most popular cricketing gala, even as a rather bizarre International series plays out before it.

 

 

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