New Zealand’s Alan Isaac has been President of the International Cricket Council for one year as of 30 June 2013. Regardless of his experience and undoubted commitment, the world of cricket is in greater disarray than ever and needs stronger leadership than it has received.
If you asked 100 avid cricket fans what the greatest threat to cricket was, you’d get nearly 100 different answers. Such is the current state of the sport, nearly all of those asked could provide a separate yet equally valid comment or criticism on a game generally defined by its tradition and respectability.
It is accepted that cricket fans typically don’t like change, and in an era in which television audiences are more significant than crowd attendances and new formats are on the rise, the old and the new will inevitably come into conflict. These issues are unavoidable though as the successful reaching of new demographics have benefitted the game greatly, regardless of whether traditionalists call foul and claim their game of gentlemen has been brought into disrepute.
From World Series Cricket to the advent of T20 itself, there will never be a shortage of debate in a game as diverse and global as cricket. Some claim that batting technique has been be abandoned, others that patience has become a virtue of bygone greats. But the issues that have emerged as the greatest challenges to the modern game aren’t these cyclical qualms of old men wanting boundaries to be pushed back to the fence and pitches to favour the bowlers once more, they’re far more entrenched than that, and only leadership from the ICC will lead the sport through them.
But to what extent can we blame a controlling body if they in fact have no control at all? The standard to which we hold the ICC has to be reduced significantly to account for the interest parties which control the sport from behind the scenes – or in the case of the BCCI, from in the spotlight. The ICC does still have an important role to play in the maintenance and improvement of international cricket. Unfortunately, one year into a new administration, few issues have been addressed. Wider acknowledgment and vocalization of the issues facing the sport in recent months however provide an opportunity for Isaac’s ICC to be the hero. Whilst in many ways their hands are tied and their financial dependence on the BCCI in particular renders them largely reliant, Isaac needs to impose himself more on world cricket in the second half of his two year term.
Arguably the greatest blight on cricket is that there is simply too much of it, both domestically and internationally, for all matches to be attributed with some form of significance. Until now, I have maintained that there is no such this as ‘too much’ sport. Even now it isn’t the sheer quantity that I take opposition with, it is the insignificance such a shameless over-scheduling grants to what are becoming obsolete fixtures. In essence, with the exception of major Test series and possibly the two World Cups, cricket matches have become sideshows without a main event.
Much of the confusion and therefore blame is sourced to Twenty20 cricket and the emergence of a ‘tour circuit’ on which players otherwise denied careers in the sport can make a living and international stars can supplement their income. Between the Big Bash, Caribbean Premier League, IPL and Friends Life T20, tournaments formerly reserved for domestic products have become international in scale and are played over a combined 24 weeks of the year. At the ICC Annual Conference at which Alan Isaac was appointed President of the ICC, the protection of cricket within a growing landscape now featuring domestic T20 leagues was one of the primary agenda considerations. With the ICC possessing little control over the scheduling of bilateral series between nations, very few opportunities exist for them to streamline the current international schedule.
Whilst some restraint is being shown by boards like Cricket Australia, who in 43 days of international cricket last summer scheduled just 3 T20 internationals, the presence of three primary formats of the game mean that major changes must be made to ensure responsible scheduling.
For the the benefits of having just 3 T20s last Australian summer, any progress towards de-cluttering the calendar was undone by 10 ODI matches. Having toured with the Australian side throughout the summer, the fatigue in players, commentators and dwindling crowd figures associated with such a decision were all too evident. It became all too clear that the ODI format didn’t have to be abandoned but must be both reformatted and scheduled with more responsibility to ensure an appreciation remains.
Revitalizing the 50-Over Format
Fittingly, another key objective of last year’s conference is the primary means through which the above scheduling issues should be resolved. Attempting to address this issue through providing ‘minor enhancements’ intended on making the game increasingly like a prolonged T20 match, the ICC’s approach to restoring significance to what was the greatest cricketing innovation of the 20th century are sure to fail. Success in the revival of the ODI format requires a rebranding and a significant rule adjustment. There are two ways in which this could occur, one of which has already been addressed by the ICC. The minimizing of ICC scheduled fixtures has already occurred however with the cancellation of the Champions Trophy in order to make room for the Test Championship, leaving our second and more dramatic solution as the lone opportunity for the Isaac to revolutionize a format central to modern cricket.
Not since the infamous ICC Super Series of 2005 in which Australia swept the World XI has there been a tournament with quite so little purpose as the current Champions Trophy. It would have been appropriate and insightful to convert this year’s tournament into somewhat of an experiment. A trial of the oft discussed but rarely considered decision to split ODIs into four innings of 25 overs is a concept which needed to be explored. Incentives for winning by certain margins would need to be explored, as would finer amendments to field restrictions, the allowance of ‘super subs’ and the potential addition of other ploys to reboot a format largely in distress due to abuse, but is there a better chance to experiment than in a tournament whose reputation is irrelevant as in a matter of days it will be defunct?
The ‘minor enhancements’ that have been imposed are no doubt benefitting the format, however for ODIs to regain some form of parity with the other dominant formats, much more must be done.
Corruption and National Boards
Many of the issues facing cricket today are fan-dependent and are easily addressable. The grouping of these two however isn’t meant to imply some form of board conspiracy, but simply acknowledges that unlike rule changes and scheduling conflicts, some issues are more endemic and entrenched, making their resolution incredibly difficult, even for the ICC.
The implication of Pakistan’s Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif and Salman Butt in 2010 and Indian quick Sreesanth earlier this year in spot-fixing controversy has undoubtedly brought the game into disrepute. Even more alarming are the allegations that the son-in-law of BCCI’s President Srinivasan is involved in a betting scandal and that Asad Rauf, Pakistan’s most prominent umpire seemingly maintains incriminating relationships with bookies. Players, officials, fans and administrators are the four main components of cricket and the fact that three of them are currently under inquiry for corruption is of grave concern.
Whilst the ICC cannot be held solely accountable for individual actions, they are the lone body that should accept responsibility for having inadequate structures in place. Rob Steen and Ian Chappell wrote on this issue earlier this month after finding that 56% of Indian cricket fans had completely lost faith in their administration. Such a reaction surely implies that regardless of the stances of national boards, the ICC needs to impose itself more strongly for the benefit of cricket worldwide.
Providing an opportunity to stamp his authority on the game, Isaac needs to ensure that greater protections are available to parties vulnerable to corruption. Agent accreditation requirements must be standardized, not determined by individual boards and conflicts of interest need not only be arbitrarily disclosed – a company heavily associated with Srinivasan owns the Chennai Super Kings, a side which plays in the IPL, a competition managed by his former board. He maintains it is not an issue – but must be avoided in their entirety.
A vacuum of leadership currently exists within cricket when confronting issues like corruption and the ICC must fill be the body to fill the void. No greater opportunity will present itself for the highest body in cricket to assert the dominance it has progressively lost over the past decade and unless it is taken, the impossibility of regulating and managing a sport comprised of several, distinctly differing national boards with polarizing views on the future of the game will become increasingly evident.
In many ways, executive sporting bodies across many sports are being suppressed by the wealth more readily accessible to newer and more innovative institutions. The ICC in many ways is experiencing the same issues of irrelevance as the FA in England, however as the pinnacle body in charge of a multi-billion dollar industry, has the opportunity again to be relevant in the face of adversity.