Seizing the Moment: a blueprint for Reform of World Cricket Ian Preston University College London

Causes of the cricket crisis and the need for a new competition

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Causes of the cricket crisis and the need for a new competition

It is plain that corruption has made headway in cricket to an extent far greater than other sports of comparable significance. At the level of individual players, no-one would deny that “greed and opportunity” – the factors stressed by Condon - are the main factors in explaining why one cricketer will have succumbed to temptation while another will not. However this is inadequate as an explanation for why the sport as a whole should have been so vulnerable. Rather than suggest that cricketers as a whole are more venal characters than other sportsmen we would argue that the proven susceptibility of the sport to corruption is a product of the incentives provided to them by the economic structure of the sport.

Cheating in cricket can to a significant degree be attributed to the remarkably low rewards that international test match cricketers can earn. According to the published accounts of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB 1999) English cricket generates an income of around £50m in a typical year and in the recent World Cup year made over £80m4. A recent three-year TV deal was said to be worth about £150m. However, the central contracts offered by the ECB to its international players are worth only around £100,000 per year5, leaving the entire squad with less than 10% of the final take through contracted payments. The principal reason that the clubs receive such a small proportion of the final take is the need to subsidise the domestic game of county cricket. County cricket is a game mostly played over four days, mostly during the working week and so few people can attend, and often those that can attend are on low incomes (for example, pensioners). The counties simply cannot fund their own expenses, even when the average player receives a wage of only around £30,000. Cross subsidies from the ECB are therefore essential if any young players are to be raised through the county ranks to a Test Match standard. In 2001 each county received about £1.275m from the ECB.
Much the same can be said of the game in other countries. In Australia, currently the dominant nation in world cricket, the Australian Cricket Board has predicted gross cricket related income averaging about $100m per year over the next four years. The highest pais current contracted Australian player can not earn more than $625,000 though the prospect of pay rising to $1m from 2004 has been mooted These figures are very low when compared to other major world sports. In North America the minimum salaries of major league players negotiated by the player unions are in region of $250,000 per year (although most journeyman players are likely to earn little more than this). But these are not the stars whom the bookmakers would generally set out to tempt. Stars earn much more- for example in 1998 there were over 50 baseball players who started the season with salaries in excess of $5m- about twenty times the minimum salary. On this basis, if the state level salaries remained unchanged in Australia, ACB contracted players would need to receive £360,000. Even allowing for the fact that there is much more money in North American sports, cricket salaries are significantly out of line when it comes to the gap between the highest and lowest. A similar story can be told for soccer, where top players will earn many times the salary of the average journeyman. Even in rugby union, which is far less wealthy than soccer or North American sport, top stars can now earn many times the basic wage earned by the regular club player.
Of course, players can earn more than the basic salaries mentioned here because of sponsorship and endorsement deals. Top stars in cricket can earn an annual income many times in excess of the basic retainer. Furthermore, even within cricket, Test Match players can receive bonuses and other rewards related to performance. But even if the test star earns 10 times their annual retainer, it must be remembered that a player’s career is relatively short and the post career income is highly uncertain. Few cricketers could expect to achieve career earnings in excess of £1m, a sum well below the expected lifetime earnings of even a moderately talented accountant. Cronje’s admission that he had accepted $10,000 to throw a game was as striking for the smallness of the sum (for which, among other misdemeanours, a glittering career was sacrificed) as for its proof of his moral frailty6. Could anyone imagine Michael Jordan or Ronaldo accepting such a small sum to throw a game?
Why do players accept these low rewards? The answer must lie in the dominance of the international representative game in cricket. National eligibility rules prevent competition between teams for the services of players, removing the most potent means for players to bid up their salaries. Recent years have seen several high profile contractual disputes between players and authorities over rates of pay – a symptom perhaps of discontent over the weak position of players.
The root of the problem therefore lies in three observations:

  1. International players receive only a small fraction of the income generated by their playing activities- as little as 10% compared to the average of around 50% common in most professional team sports.

  2. The ratio between the salaries of the best international players and journeyman cricketers – typically less than 2:1 compared to more than 20:1 in most professional team sports

  3. Cricket relies almost exclusively on international representative cricket to generate income - club, state or county level income contributes almost nothing.

Our solution lies in solving problem (c) and using the money generated by our solution to solve problems (a) and (b). Domestic competition is hampered not only by the fact that cricket takes a long time to play and a significant fraction of playing time occurs during working hours (baseball to a degree suffers from the same problem). Most domestic matches are not attractive because only a relatively small number of stars appear in the matches. The top players are spread thinly around a large number of teams, and so that in any given match only a few such players participate. Furthermore the best British county players frequently spend most of their time off on Test duty – even more so with the introduction of central contracts. A club level competition that could generate significant income would have to create a situation where top players regularly faced each other as they do at the international representative level. To achieve this we propose the creation of a new international club competition. This would not replace existing domestic competitions, which are a necessary breeding ground for young talent, but would add an extra tier of club level competition. This competition could involve as few as eight different clubs, based in the major international cricket centres around the world.

These elite clubs would then compete for the services of the top cricket stars- there would be no restrictions on nationality, and perhaps even a requirement to hire foreign players. In this way an active market would be created for services of the stars, a market which is currently missing. As long as the competition in which these clubs participated attracted widespread interest, the clubs that were bidding for the services of the top players would be capable of paying high salaries. In this way the top stars would come to hold a significant financial stake in the development of the game and the likelihood of accepting small bribes to throw matches would diminish. Of course, this scheme can not guarantee the end of corruption in cricket, and even the wealthiest sportsmen could be open to large enough bribes, but our view is that a thriving international club competition to match the interest in Test Match cricket would not only help to discourage corruption, but would also stimulate interest in the game.
It would be important to coordinate the organisation of such a competition with schedules for Test cricket. The aim is not to challenge the central importance of international five day cricket but to reform other aspects of the game so as to enhance its robustness. The decision of the ICC to endorse a league table for international Test cricket is an important step to contextualise and thereby strengthen interest in Test match competition. The new competition being proposed here would be a limited overs game and in order to avoid unacceptable additional pressure on players’ workloads we would propose that it be arranged in conjunction with a diminution in the number of other one day international games7. Condon follows others in pointing to the “large number of One Day Internationals” in which “nothing is really at stake” as a contributory factor in the willingness of cricketers to accept corrupt offers. The growth of the international one day game has occurred largely through a proliferation of small tournaments widely acknowledged to suffer from limited memorability. A club competition of the sort outlined here would be well designed to encourage commitment in one day international cricket, to the general benefit of the game. We would envisage the World Cup remaining as the pinnacle of the one day international game but with a significance enhanced by the reformed context in which it would occur8.

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