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

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The demand for a new competition

We propose the creation of a new international club cricket competition to run alongside Test Match cricket (the most distinguished form of the international representative game). The scope for a new competition is difficult to gauge without a detailed feasibility study, but there are several indicators which suggest that the scope exists. First, perhaps is the notable success of the “World Series Cricket” organised by Kerry Packer, owner of Australian Channel 9, at the end of the 1970s. This breakaway competition was created because Packer was dissatisfied with the Test Match broadcasting deal on offer and therefore he hired the top international stars to play a series of “international” matches. The players received considerably higher salaries to participate in the venture, and the Series introduced a number of important innovations such as night cricket. While Packer ultimately abandoned World Series Cricket after reaching agreement with the cricket authorities, its success with the public in Australia was unquestioned. Our argument is that this kind of “all-star” competition is potentially more interesting to cricket fans than domestic competitions. The sheer number of teams and matches in domestic competition is worth documenting, since it is this fragmentation that limits the scope for interesting competitions.

(a) Existing domestic competition
Each of the major cricket nations operate to a different system. This in itself prevents the creation of something like a “Champions’ League” which is superimposed on domestic competition in European soccer. In Rugby Union, the need to create an international club competition in southern hemisphere, the Super-12’s obliged the national rugby competitions to be significantly restructured.

  1. England

The England season currently runs from mid April to mid September. The 18 first class cricket counties are now divided into two divisions (9 teams each), with promotion and relegation. Teams participate in two leagues- a four day match competition and one-day (Sunday) tournament. In addition there are two Cup competitions played at different stages of the season and which also involve counties below the first class level (in one competition).

  1. Australia

The season runs from October to March. Australia has narrowed down the variety of competition and number of teams at the first class level to a far greater degree. Thus competition operates at the State level, involving only six teams. Moreover, there are only two main competitions, the Pura Cup for the 3-day game and the Mercantile Mutual Cup for the one-day game.

  1. India

The season runs from May to February. The main competitions are the Ranji Cup and the Ranji One-Day Cup, which involve 23 teams, mainly representing the states (although there are some others such as the Indian Railways team). The teams are divided into 5 zones, with zonal champions progressing to a set of play-offs to produce an overall national champion.

  1. Pakistan

The season runs from mid-October to January. There are two main competitions, the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy and the Patron’s Trophy. These are played at first and second class levels. The Patron’s Trophy first grade involves 9 teams divided into two groups playing both one-day and four-day matches. The Quaid-e-Azam Trophy involves 12 teams in two divisions playing four-day matches leading to a final played between the winners of each division.

  1. South Africa

The South African season runs from October to March. There are 11 first class teams representing the provinces of South Africa, and they play in three main tournaments. The Super Sports Series consists of four-day matches, the Standard Bank Series consists of one-day matches and the UCB Bowl involves both three and one-day matches.

  1. West Indies

West Indies cricket is complicated by the fact that the region is not a single country, although they play as a single unit at Test Match level. The “domestic” season runs from October to March. The main competitions are the Red Stripe Bowl (including the USA and Canada) which is one day competition based around ten teams in two zonal divisions and the Busta Cup, which is a four-day competition involving Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Windward Islands, Trinidad & Tobago, Leeward Islands, Trinidad, England 'A' and West Indies 'B'.

In total therefore there appear to be in the region of seventy first class teams in world cricket, most of whom play during the southern hemisphere summer. These figures do not include the teams based in other cricketing nations such as New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. While the progression from southern hemisphere summer to northern hemisphere summer enables many of the top players to play all year round if they sign contracts with English counties, the fact remains that cricket boasts far more “first class” teams than any north American sport, and even in Europe it would be hard to argue that there were more than fifty top rank soccer clubs. Given that there is probably a smaller supply of top class cricketers than top class athletes in these other sports, and that the diffusion of these contests spreads the spectator base very thinly, it seems reasonable to suppose that there could be a significant gain to focusing the interest of cricket fans on a narrower range of tournaments and clubs. Whereas soccer, as the dominant international sport, can survive with a fragmented range of competitions, sports such as cricket and rugby, with their smaller revenue base, need to focus the interest of the fans.

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