It’s a rare English summer when an Ashes series vies for top billing with a limited-overs tournament; to discover another like 2009 you have to go back to 1975 when the first World Cup preceded four Tests between Australia and England.
However, 1975 was different to 2009. The World Cup was scheduled and as Australia would be in the country they played a Test series even though it wasn’t an Ashes year. Thirty four years ago the World Cup probably outshone a lacklustre Test series. This time around it appears likely the T20 and the Ashes will share the spotlight.
With cricket in a state of flux this scheduling rarity may provide a blueprint for the game’s future. The international cricket program is a shambles and there’s a feeling that “something has to give”. The future could well feature a more selective Test program, T20 competitions, including globalisation of the game via franchising, with little fifty over cricket.
I’d be tempted to predict the death of fifty-over cricket except that the World Cup is a valuable commodity and administrators will be loathe to let it slide into oblivion.
If Tests and T20 are the main way forward what are the pitfalls? First, administrators need to wind back the peripheral entertainment at T20 matches. It was fine to have dancing girls and players miked up when international T20 was a sideshow.
Now that T20 has proved itself a popular and worthwhile form of the game, which provides thrilling contests and skilful cricket, the balance has shifted. The cricket provides ample entertainment and the extraneous variety should be kept in its place.
This is more than just acknowledging the game can stand on its own feet. The administrators have inadvertently devalued the T20 game and created the thought in the players’ minds that it’s like a blob of fairy floss to be enjoyed following a substantial meal. The problem with planting that thought in the players’ minds is where it could lead.
It’s easy to manipulate a T20 game. A slight alteration to the batting order here, an unconventional bowling change there and the occasional wide slipped down the leg-side at the appropriate moment and the crooks are satisfied. The unscrupulous player can rationalise his greed with the thought; “I haven’t sold out the result.”
There have been widespread rumours about the legitimacy of some of the cricket played in the now defunct ICL tournaments. That should alert the administrators to be on the lookout. There’s no doubt the manipulation of the T20 game is heavily dependant on a corrupt captain. With the explosion in spread betting the crooks could probably survive purely on having the captain in their pocket although their greed generally knows no bounds.
A future involving Test cricket played by just the major nations and including a world championship, plus a variety of T20 competitions that globalise the game through franchises, is a manageable format.