The IPL’s announcement that it will expand by two teams next season could force the International Cricket Council to confront an issue they've so far sidestepped; a wide-ranging vision for the game’s future.
Whilst the IPL insists the expansion won’t result in a longer tournament, it’s clear that the rise of T20 cricket has already put the squeeze on scheduling. Now is the time to rationalise cricket’s various itineraries and decide what role each version has in the future.
One way to clarify this situation would be to scrap country versus country T20 contests and make the highest level of competition a battle between cities. This way a “T20 season” could evolve with the champions of each domestic league playing off to decide the best side. Eventually, a World Series could be held, pitting the IPL champions against the winner of the domestic team competition. The way to globalise cricket is via T20, by employing a franchise system, especially in the non-traditional cricket areas. Question is: What form should these franchises take?
One lucrative income stream has already by-passed the ICC with the IPL franchises run by Indian entrepreneurs and the substantial money that's returned to cricket benefits the BCCI. The ICC need to ensure that any franchise system they devise results in a reasonable percentage of the money being ploughed back into the development of the game.
This means coming up with a formula that involves cricket administrators working with entrepreneurial businessmen.
If the ICC doesn't take firm control over the rampant T20 expansion, the IPL will. They'll quickly spread their wings ensuring the bulk of the income ends up either in the bulging pockets of rich entrepreneurs or the abundant coffers of the BCCI.
If, on the other hand the ICC develop the right formula for franchising it could have a profound effect on the future direction of the game — expansion in regions like North America, Europe and the non-traditional cricket areas of Asia.
A clearly defined schedule could eventually lead to separate “seasons” for the different versions of the game.
Currently, countries like Australia have a dilemma; the domestic T20 competition is becoming more popular but this has diluted the fans' spending power for international cricket. In fact, India is the only cricket-playing country with the population, the thriving economy and the fanatical interest in the game to be able to program matches at virtually anytime and still attract big crowds.
Hence, the need for the ICC is to explore other potentially productive markets that will decrease their dependence on India’s financial clout, while also adding to the number of venues available at varying times of the year. If what Harsha Bhogle tells me is true: “India thrives in chaos”, then the rest of the cricket world is in trouble. Currently, cricket's scheduling is chaotic.