I'll bet the administrators wish they possessed a reliable crystal ball that would provide a glimpse of cricket’s future, especially Twenty20, the shortest but suddenly most desirable form of the game.
Twenty20 cricket is currently in great demand. The fans can’t get enough of it, the players are starting to embrace it and private promoters are spending millions in the hope of cashing in on the popularity of the sport’s latest entertainment craze.
The question the administrators would love to have answered by that glittering crystal ball is; “Does it have a long and viable future?”
If they knew the answer to that question then they would know what approach to take in regard to the fifty-over game. The traditional limited overs game is a very valuable commodity; the showpiece World Cup drags in hundreds of millions of dollars in television rights and sponsorship money. In most countries, it has underwritten Test cricket since the Kerry Packer-led revolution.
However, despite large crowds still attending and viewing the fifty-over game, some are becoming disillusioned and terms like boring and repetitive are regularly used to describe certain periods of the game.
There is so much fifty-over cricket played and yet so few of these games are linked in a meaningful way that player staleness is the greatest contributing factor to the game taking on a repetitive air. The obvious answer is less meaningless games and more matches that are linked to a prestige tournament involving only the stronger nations.
The limited overs game has evolved in a haphazard fashion; a problem with cricket is perceived and a new shortened version of the game is immediately devised. There appears to be little thought given to how the different versions are integrated to form a viable and workable whole.
All the different forms of limited overs cricket serve to popularise and finance cricket but the weakness in the system is the main commodity --- the players. All forms of limited overs cricket are at their most entertaining when the best players are performing.
Therefore, it is the internationals who bear the brunt of the workload; this is the nature of the game, the shorter the duration the more the limitations of a player are exposed.
While the Kerry Packer-led revolution was great for the game, unfortunately in the aftermath, there was little planning for the long-term future. No one formulated a plan to ensure that all layers of the game, from club to international and from limited overs to Test dovetailed, so that the players not only had a clear path to follow but also one that was sustainable.
Consequently, in this era of full professionalism, the best players are being worked to the bone. Rather than utilise one of the shorter forms of the game for the development and promotion of potential new stars, the current headliners are being wheeled out at every opportunity.
However, the game has a habit of forging its own path and private promoters tend to lead the way in this regard.
The privately run Stanford Twenty20 competition in the Caribbean is genuinely trying to develop new players to help West Indies cricket move upwards. The planned ICL competition originally talked about providing a similar path for young Indian cricketers but is currently looking more like a superannuation provider for aging first-class and international players.
To properly develop a players’ technique to the point where he can perform in a skilful and entertaining manner in any form of cricket, he needs time in the middle when he is young. Therefore, he needs to regularly play longer forms of the game to develop into an international cricketer.
The time has come to devise a blueprint for the future; a plan for the game right from the school ground to club cricket on up to international level. Perhaps it’s time to insert another layer at the inter-city level and this is where the stars of the future can be groomed.
The problem for the administrators is which form of the game to hive off to that level? This is why the administrators would dearly love to know the future of both the twenty and fifty over game.
The first ICC Twenty20 World Championship would be the ideal time for all the participants to sit down and plan the way forward; the players, the administrators and the private promoters. And it wouldn’t do any harm if there was a crystal ball sitting right in the middle of that round table discussion.