Thursday, 13 October 2011

Test cricket can't be left at the mercy of the free market

Another ICC meeting and another disappointing retreat by the powers that should-be.The continued flip-flopping on the DRS issue could have been predicted but the likely postponement of the first World Test Championship, considered by some as a key means of re-invigorating the greatest form of the game, is altogether more serious. As so often before, financial considerations appear to have trumped all others.

To be fair, this is not a broken promise - under their long term planning the Champions Trophy 50 over competition was originally scheduled for 2013 and that is what now looks like happening. To all intents and purposes, however, the Test championship had been pencilled into to replace it. Indeed Lord's was awarded, or decided to bid for, only one Test in 2013 on this assumption. The MCC must have received some fairly strong assurances to have gone along with this.

Of itself, this would not be the end of the world, indeed I would question whether such a championship is absolutely necessary. The point is though, that it was put forward as an example of the importance the ICC placed on Test cricket and how seriously it was about protecting it. Instead it looks like another case of the ICC failing or being unable to provide strong leadership.

Chief Executive Haroon Lagat may argue that the Board has to balance several objectives. Fair enough, as is his point about the financial implications for the game without broadcasting support. The problem is broadcasters are not just influencing the agenda, they are setting it and that is the ICC's job. It is not a broadcasters job to care about the future of the game (although they would be unwise to ignore it entirely), their job is to make money. And the fact is, that if it was left to the free market to decide, international cricket would probably be dead in thirty years. Test cricket, with the exception of the Ashes series in Australia, would probably cease to exist outside England in the next ten. And with no one else playing how long can it survive there? The 50 - over game wouldn't survive much longer either. T20 would be okay for a while, particularly on the subcontinent, but it is hard to believe that even Indians won't eventually get bored with its formulaic monotony.

Avoiding such a scenario requires a greater, wider and deeper vision than the ICC currently seems capable of providing. The revenue and exposure from international competitions such as the World T20 and the World Cup are clearly essential to the game's future. But what broadcasters, such as ESPN the Board's broadcasting partner, would like to do is to pick and choose the tournaments they cover, to take off the cream and leave the rest, which in the case of ESPN's main market includes Test cricket, to go sour. When it comes to the next negotiations in 2015, the ICC must back up its words with actions and ensure that Test cricket is an integral part of the deal.

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