Cricket is being swamped by the IPL and its offspring


From Scarborough to Hove, the sun shone on county cricket on Sunday. But here and elsewhere, storm clouds are gathering. The sport faces upheaval — oblivion, according to some — and there is little anyone can do about it.

For the thousands who turned up to cheer on their team at eight Royal London Cup 50-over fixtures, existential crisis might have been far from their thoughts. There were friends to catch up with, ice creams to queue for, beers to drink. Perhaps their chosen county might even win.

Yet each week, it seems, brings a fresh twist to a narrative that has been taking shape ever since Brendon McCullum — now England’s pioneering Test coach — smashed an unbeaten 158 for Kolkata Knight Riders on the opening night of the Indian Premier League at Bangalore in 2008.

Many believe cricket is being swamped by the IPL (being played above) and its offspring

And the headline is this: the one-day game is dying, and huge swathes of international cricket may not be far behind.

If that sounds alarmist, then consider only the most recent evidence. Last month South Africa happily handed a 3-0 ODI walkover to Australia, because the proposed series clashed with the South Africans’ shiny new T20 competition, which they hope will lift their game out of penury.

A week later, Ben Stokes quit ODIs, having concluded he would play Test cricket for the glory and T20 for the cash. The 50-over stuff, he reckoned, provided neither.

Then, a few days ago, Moeen Ali — another England captain — added his voice to the chorus of those who believe the one-day format is heading the way of round-arm bowling and uncovered wickets. Two years, he gave it.

Ben Stokes quit ODIs, having concluded he would play Test cricket for the glory and T20 for the cash.  The 50-over stuff, he reckoned, provided neither

Ben Stokes quit ODIs, having concluded he would play Test cricket for the glory and T20 for the cash. The 50-over stuff, he reckoned, provided neither

That may prove too catastrophic an assessment. After all, 50-over World Cups are inked in for 2023, 2027 and 2031. But Moeen knows which way the wind is blowing.

And it is blowing with more force than cricket, traditionally a game of gentle zephyrs, can comprehend. And at the heart of it all is the influx of private money. The sport is being swamped, one franchise tournament at a time. Soon, cricket as we once knew it will go under altogether.

In an interview last week, Geoff Allardice, interim chief executive at the International Cricket Council, told ESPNcricinfo that only ‘one or two’ new T20 tournaments had been added to the schedule since the last cycle of pre-arranged international fixtures ended in 2018.

It was a generous assessment. For one thing, the all-powerful Indian Premier League is expanding exponentially: two new teams in this year’s event added 14 matches and a fortnight to a competition that lasted nine weeks. From next year, two and a half months will be ring-fenced for the world’s richest franchise tournament, which recently netted more than £5billion in broadcasting revenue for 2023-27 — twice its previous value. Only America’s NFL now rakes in more on a per-match basis.

Moeen Ali (right) added his voice to the chorus of those who believe the one-day format is heading the way of round-arm bowling and uncovered wickets

Moeen Ali (right) added his voice to the chorus of those who believe the one-day format is heading the way of round-arm bowling and uncovered wickets

But the private marketeers and tycoons who own the IPL franchises are not content simply to expand on home turf. They are buying up stakes in overseas competitions, from the Caribbean to South Africa to the United Arab Emirates — all happy to receive Indian equity, either to balance their own ledgers or, in the UAE’s case, to exploit the franchise owners’ ultimate aim.

That aim is simple: to employ cricketers all-year round, sending them from one of their proxy IPL leagues to another, and offering riches beyond the dreams of most national boards. Put simply, the IPL wants to become to cricket what the Premier League is to global football: a melting pot of the world’s best talent, paid handsomely to remain in our consciousnesses for 10 months a year. Club will trump country.

For 50-over cricket, T20’s less sexy, less lucrative older cousin, the writing has long been on the wall. But what about Test matches?

For years, administrators have insisted Test cricket should be sacrosanct, unimpeachably blue-riband in a sport full of chancers and grifters. Now the mask has slipped.

When the former India coach Ravi Shastri said recently that it should be limited to six teams — there are currently 12 — he was lambasted on social media. Yet Shastri was reflecting the reality: ICC chairman Geoff Barclay had already declared that, other than India, England and Australia, Test teams would in future play only a handful of matches a year.

When the former India coach Ravi Shastri said recently that it should be limited to six teams — there are currently 12 — he was lambasted on social media

When the former India coach Ravi Shastri said recently that it should be limited to six teams — there are currently 12 — he was lambasted on social media

It’s not that the ICC are allowing this to happen: it’s that they don’t have the power to stop it. Outside World Cups, national boards arrange bilateral series between themselves. And with most having long given up on trying to make Test cricket work as a business model, they have instead drunk the T20 Kool-Aid.

The Ashes may continue unaffected; India will take on both England and Australia. But if most Test cricket is played by only three teams, even the format’s strongest advocates will quickly lose interest.

Still, let us not exclusively blame T20 or administrative inertia for the demise of the international game. Because when Allardice talked about ‘only one or two’ new T20 tournaments, he presumably wasn’t counting the Hundred, which has parked its tanks on England’s August lawn, or the 6ixty, a Caribbean wheeze, or Abu Dhabi’s ongoing T10.

Everywhere, boards are insuring themselves against the demise of broadcasting rights for international cricket — and hastening that demise in the process.

Venky Mysore, chief executive of Kolkata Knight Riders, opined earlier this year that the IPL had ‘revived the fortunes of cricket in general’. He would have been closer to the truth had he spoken of the fortunes of cricketers — the best of whom are able to make lavish livings in the years ahead.

Two points this out is to risk being labeled a dinosaur. Try telling that, though, to the cricket lovers who turned up to watch the Royal London Cup — despite the fact that the ECB diminished the competition last year by running it alongside the Hundred.

Cricket is changing because the market has spoken, and the market must be obeyed. It may be futile to argue against it. Just don’t say you haven’t been warned.

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