Time for cricket authorities to act over schedule

Repercussions of a losing one-day series against South Africa were minimal for Australia. Photo: Gallo ImagesComment
Nanjing Night Net

The message is loud and clear. Australia’s top cricketers are complaining there are too many matches, and the need to satisfy bilateral agreements and television contracts is potentially diluting the honour of representing your country.

Cricket Australia officials declare if players are feeling the pinch, then they should rest during April and May, rather than using this time to head off to the lucrative Indian Premier League.

That thought is echoed by Steve Waugh, who says the only difference in scheduling compared to his time in the game is the level of intensity of the matches, for there are more internationals, but players are able to bypass grade and domestic cricket – something he didn’t do.

Meanwhile, the International Cricket Council continues to work on plans to add greater context to the three formats, even considering splitting Test nations into conferences.

Clearly, something needs to give soon, for hostility between players and officials over a congested schedule, exacerbated by complaints about a lack of context, are growing. So, what to do?

Scheduling, no matter what the sport, is tricky, with vested interests, but this summer’s hotchpotch of a calendar adds to the frustration.

Test campaigns against South Africa (the fourth different series they have met Australia in this year) and Pakistan are divided by three one-day matches against New Zealand, as part of the new deal over the Chappell-Hadlee series – a sweetener to the Black Caps agreeing to the inaugural pink-ball Test last summer.

Once the Pakistan Test series is done there are five one-day internationals, then a trip to New Zealand for three one-day internationals. And that’s not the end of the local summer, for there will be three Twenty20 internationals against Sri Lanka back on home shores.

These fall at the same time the Australian Test squad will be preparing for the first Test in India, meaning there will be two Australian sides on the go – potentially diluting the prestige of representing your country, although ensuring a healthy payday for a wider group of players ($5000 a T20 match).

There is no question the T20 format has been a stunning success at a domestic or franchise level, but it still seems an afterthought – outside of the World T20 – at an international level. There is a view among some in the Australian set-up that the commentary gimmicks associated with T20 internationals means the format is more entertainment than sport.

If international T20s were cut from the calendar, outside of the World T20, would it really matter? Probably not. It would allow more rest for the players, and even add to the value of the T20 domestic product, including the Big Bash League. Spots for the T20 World Cup squad could be judged on domestic performances.

In terms of the IPL, such is its lure and power that it’s time players from all nations can participate fully and annually. The Australians have been given about a six-week window in April and May to do so, although this is then used against them in the “rest” debate.

What shouldn’t be forgotten is that an IPL payday is money a governing board doesn’t need to find to help keep players content – an issue particularly among the poorer nations.

The “context” issue is also an important one, for the Test championship lacks public recognition – many judge Australia’s standing on performances in the Ashes rather than overall rankings – while there are too many meaningless one-day internationals. Australia was able to send an under-strength side to South Africa this month because the repercussions of a losing series were minimal.

That would change if these series had an impact on World Cup points qualification – the 2019 event will have 10 nations, a drop of four – and the pool groups countries were placed in. The sooner this happens the better. It may not be revolutionary but at least it’s something.

“There is a conflict within players around the world under the current structure. The game … must find a way to give meaning to each game. Every match must matter,” former South African skipper Graeme Smith said.

Federation of International Cricketers Association executive chairman Tony Irish said there is “rapidly losing spectator appeal” in many countries to bilateral cricket. “Consequently their commercial value is under severe threat,” he said in FICA’s structural review.

It’s not uncommon for players and administrators to be at loggerheads but, in this era when there is much money to be made, surely there is a way to keep all parties happy.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.