Where has all the international cricket gone?
There is often so much cricket about that you can almost understand people who don't like/understand the amazing game when they say “but it’s on all the time.”
They’re not just referring to the test matches that last up to five days (often ending in a draw) but to the glut of international cricket that always seems to be there or thereabouts. With ten full member nations playing a variety of three different formats of the game (the five day test matches, the full day one day games and the half day twenty/20 games) there never seems to be a break from the coverage available at all. Add in the ever increasing multi nation tournaments (‘The World Cup’, ‘The Champions Trophy’ and the increasing in frequency ‘World t-20’) and there is little wonder that non-understanders complain that it’s on all the bloody time.
So, where has all the international cricket gone recently?
There has not been any international cricket since England left New Zealand (barely holding onto their reputation) on the 26th of March. Between then and the next time they meet in England for the return bout at Lords on May 16th. The only international cricket on offer (besides a few world cricket league bouts for the associate and affiliate nations to move up and down the lower ends of world cricket rankings) is the ‘last’ plays ‘worst’ encounter of Bangladesh v Zimbabwe. Hardly high profile stuff.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m going to watch the Bang/Zim series with interest. These bottom of the barrel encounters can often produce quality matches as two evenly matched teams struggle to drop fewer catches than the other team offers them soft chances. But, at a time of year when its only the extreme southern hemisphere nations aren't playing cricket due to summer having ended (Australia and New Zealand to some extent South Africa) and the extreme northern hemisphere nations not playing cricket due to summer not officially having arrived yet (England/Europe) that still leaves over half the full members available to play and host international tours. All of Asia (India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan [still excluded from hosting tours due to security concerns] and Bangladesh [who actually is on tour in Zimbabwe], has conditions suitable for cricket during this time period as does the West Indies.
So where are they?
They are all in India. Playing cricket of course. Not playing international cricket mind you. Domestic league cricket.
The Indian Premier League (I.P.L.), now in its 6th year, seems to have swallowed the entire world cricket calendar, devouring quality players from every nation besides those it finds unappetizing (hardly any Pakistani players are on contracts by any of the franchise teams despite Pakistan still having a depth of quality that leave many nations envious. The security concerns still plaguing Pakistan for the foreseeable future are making them unappealing prospects). Zimbabwe are not represented either (by virtue of them being a bit rubbish) and Bangladesh have only a few candidates worthy of making the grade (actually on international duty). The only other nation not widely representing their talent at the I.P.L. is England due to the domestic season clashing with the I.P.L. schedule and the E.C.B. wanting all their stars focused on the summer ahead, every summer.
After years of various players, player unions and national boards requesting an international window from the game's governing body, the I.C.C., and after years of the I.C.C. refusing this request it seems that the Indian premier league has actually achieved an official ‘unofficial break’ in international cricket.
such is the money on offer to the players that many national boards know that their star players will turn their back on national duty for the promise of being paid up to 5 times as much as they will earn playing for their country. Sachin Tendulkar and MS Dhoni (two of India’s biggest stars) earn about $180,000 every year as part of India’s centrally contracted players. That is said to be a fair estimate of the amount they also make from a single 20-over, 3.5 hour I.P.L. game !!!
Faced with the prospect of fielding a substandard team lacking in the top tier players against another nation (probably facing the exact same problem/issue themselves) is an unappealing prospect for any national board, the value of international cricket and, more importantly, the fan. Add to this equation that foreign players in the I.P.L. contributes 10% of their salary to their national boards and it works out in favour of the cricket boards to get as many of their players into the league and keep them there. Even the national boards are thinking to hell with the international cricket. It’s just not worth it.
And so the market has spoken. Money has cleared away the international calendar and everyone is happy about it. The players are happy to get rich from it. The national boards are happy to gain income from it. The fans are happy with it as the games in the I.P.L. are of a high quality with the best players from all over the world entertaining in a short, sharp, easily accessible, highly enjoyable format. The I.C.C. are happy with it as long as the national boards commit and complete their obligations to the Future Tours Program (F.T.P. = the bilateral home and away series against each other that form part of the basis of being a full member).
And here comes the problem. The I.P.L. is a domestic series that runs for approximately two months (and is looking at how to extend its season, and its income, all the time) during which time very little international cricket is now being played due to the financial rewards of being involved in it. This erosion of the international calendar for this time period is not a problem as long as all full member nations still complete their F.T.P commitments. There is now so little time put aside by national boards to accommodate the F.T.P. that nations are failing to meet these obligations.
The case of Pakistan v. West Indies.
Pakistan were originally scheduled to play two Tests, five ODIs and two Twenty20s in the Caribbean in June and July (directly after ‘The Champions Trophy’ held in England), but West Indies planned a tri-series involving India and Sri Lanka during that time period, which shortened the window. The WICB had asked the PCB if their tour could be rescheduled to August. That, however, interfered with Pakistan's plan to host India and to play out the Zimbabwe series that was, in turn, postponed from last year.
Already we can see problems in scheduling ahead. The knock on effect of fitting in full tours as the F.T.P. requires is being squeezed by more than one nation and on more than one occasion.
A solution (of sorts) was proposed by the West Indies board of splitting the tour into two different parts with the different formats to be played at two different times. In a report on espncricinfo from January 25th says ... “Pakistan will play two Tests in West Indies in July, while the limited-overs leg of the tour has been deferred to a later date in the Future Tours Programmes cycle for which the dates have not been decided yet.”
Postponement of any tour (or part thereof) in this day and age of ever increasing international commitments (not to mention supplying a gap in the year of two months where everyone wants to play Indian domestic cricket) is a dangerous plan and one that is fraught with dangers of not being able to fulfil your commitments to international cricket in the calendar time specified (which, ironically, is the very reason for the existence of the F.T.P.). It is a plan that is unsustainable in any form of longevity as more and more postponed tours pile up on each of the full members door. Which , in turn, will lead to further postponed tours as everything gets crammed in to even less time in a calendar that increases to grow with domestic T-20 competitions (big bash League –Australia, B.P.L. – Bangladesh, S.L.P.L. – Sri Lanka, whatever South Africa call their T-20 competition and the proposed/forthcoming P.P.L. in Pakistan to name but a few) but steadfastly refuses to grow in terms of how many days there are in it (still only 365 days per year. 366 if you’re lucky ... but you’re never lucky every year !!!)
It is impossible to accommodate everything and eventually this increasing downward spiral will reach critical mass and something will be displaced/destroyed.
A further report dated April 5th has the Pakistan board saying
"Earlier there were plans to split the tour but it's not working as we want to play a full series. West Indies is an important cricket team and we have always had cordial relations with them, and hopefully we will find another window next year."
And so, the whole tour is to be postponed to some unspecified window in the infinite (actually finite) future. This can only be considered absurd and damaging to the future of international cricket.
When the I.P.L. was first brought into existence there were many pundits who warned that it was a monster that would devour or damage the international cricket calendar ( Arjuna Ranatunga, Javed Miandad and Wasim Akram to name but three) but ‘no’ said the fans, ‘no’ said the players and ‘no’ said the boards. It’s been six years since the monster was born and to casual observers the international calendar is still as busy and healthy as ever. But we are only just beginning to realize the true impact that the hungry monster really has. True it didn’t destroy the international scene in one bite but there are more than one way to eat a horse.
This year there was only one international cricket series scheduled during the I.P.L. Wait and see how many there are next year. Then tell me that the monster hasn’t taken another bite out of world cricket.
Incidentally, In order to accommodate the tri-series with Sri Lanka and India, West Indies also scrapped the two Tests they were scheduled to play with Sri Lanka in May, which was also clashing with the I.P.L.
Here is another scheduling problem that will have to be addressed and played at some point in the future ... just not when the I.P.L. is on.