The Cricket World Must Come Together to SurviveMaria Luisa Gomes |
England’s recent decision to cancel their tour of Pakistan was met with consternation in Asian cricketing circles but also rang alarm bells for lovers of the game around the world. The worry was that rather than coming together with the game’s future in the balance, one of its foremost powers, England, were turning their backs on a country and international side already brought to its knees by a multitude of factors beyond their control.
This drama aside, it is clear that the international game and especially test cricket are coming under increasing threat, as big money, limited over, competitions offer top players better financial opportunities, and some international teams appear reluctant to tour parts of the world where cricket is still trying to gain a foothold in the sporting landscape. Here we take a look at what cricket as a sport must do in order to survive, considering the challenges a new world is confronting it with.
Cricket Needs to Think Globally
Former Commonwealth countries have always been the bedrock of the international game with some like India and Pakistan becoming the biggest players on the world stage, with more fans wagering on them to win than any other international team.
However, while the likes of India and Pakistan have done a great job of spreading the game to nearby countries like Bangladesh and Afghanistan, other major cricketing nations like England and Australia have done very little to expand the game’s horizons. This is evident in the European tier system, where teams hailing from the likes of Spain and France are so woefully off the pace that their players and teams would crumble against even a mediocre English village club side, meaning they are a long way from ever seeing their names appear on odds lines for betting punters to use their free bets on.
When you consider the rise of much less established sports like ultimate frisbee have managed to make more of an impact than cricket in both Europe and the Americas, and it is clear to see that cricket is falling woefully short of its mission to reach a wider audience. This means that much more has to be done in terms of outreach and development programs, which can spread the game far and wide, so that one day sports free bets can be used to wager on competitive cricket teams from Southern Europe to South America, rather than just the same old international sides.
Maintaining Global Bonds
While growing the sport is vital to its future survival, major cricketing nations should not take their eye off the ball when it comes to maintaining relationships between themselves. Cancelling tours to the likes of Pakistan while openly prioritising an Ashes series is not a good look for England or Australia, and ultimately the appeal of the Ashes largely depends on the overall survival of the test format as a whole. Another adverse effect of not touring frequently is that some cricket nations are more likely to take it upon themselves to build yet more limited overs leagues and competitions, many of which gradually drain the test game of its talent pool.
The Hundred, IPL, and Big Bash Must Unite
Another thing that is tearing the sport of cricket apart is the lack of coordination between its many different limited overs competitions. This has been exacerbated further by the recent introduction of The Hundred, which joins the likes of the IPL and the Big Bash as money spinning limited overs competitions that draw big crowds and plenty of controversy. Many such competitions pit players against their counties and countries, so that too often they are placed in an impossible position. Nowhere was this clearer than with Moeen Ali, who ultimately gave up trying to make himself available for the England test side as well as the England limited overs teams and various clubs he turns out for. The ICC desperately need to formulate a calendar and new structure of the world game, so that players are no longer left in limbo.
Maybe Test Cricket Should Be Resigned to the Wisden Annals
There is another controversial take to the direction that cricket should go in and that is that its lengthy 5-day test format should be abandoned and superseded by limited overs games played with a white ball, because the latter is a far more accessible form of the game and one which can encourage new generations to adopt the sport. Ask any young player what frustrates them most about the sport and it is the lack of action an individual player can experience during a red ball game – stuck on the boundary twiddling their thumbs for overs on end or trudging back to the pavilion after suffering a dodgy LBW decision in the first over. The skills of players and indeed the interest of sports fans can ultimately only be raised by engaging them with as much high-octane batting and bowling as possible, rather than the tired traditions and boring etiquette of the red ball game.
Cage Cricket Brings the Game to the Streets
Cricket is generally a game played in rural areas where open space is not at such a premium. In urban areas the game tends to only be played in wealthy neighbourhoods, where pitches are protected by exclusive clubs or even private educational facilities. Unfortunately, access to such facilities is not always very easy for people without the financial means to pay expensive memberships or tuition fees. That is where a concept like Cage Cricket can come in, modelling itself on the street games played in places like India, which has created demi-gods of the game like Sachin Tendulkar. Piggybacking on the success of Futsal and cage football, Cage Cricket can be played almost anywhere and often in outdoor spaces that are free for the public to use. The ICC and cricket’s other governing bodies should be doing everything possible to push such accessible forms of the game, to lure the stars of tomorrow away from their computer screens and instead towards a future in the best game in the world.