The changing face of cricket

Saturday, October 13, 2012

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There has long been a strong ambivalence in the Caribbean about its cricketers leaving for lucrative professional leagues abroad.

As far back as the 1920s and '30s, when top players such as Messrs Learie Constantine (later to become Lord Learie) and George Headley made a living in the English professional club leagues, there were those bemoaning their absence from regional domestic cricket.

And yet it is widely acknowledged that the experience of professional cricket in overseas conditions has contributed greatly to the success of the West Indies team down the decades.

Analysts say the triumph of the 1950 West Indies team in England, which largely announced the arrival of the Caribbean team as a major force, had much to do with the knowledge of English conditions by the touring team's leading batsmen.

Likewise, there is little doubt that the wonderful feats of West Indies teams in the 1960s, and even more emphatically in the 1970s and '80s, owed much to the players' experiences in the hard grind of overseas professional cricket.

Such things can't be measured and are open to debate, but we have to ask ourselves whether the latest bunch of highly successful West Indies players could have won the Twenty20 World Cup without experience gained in the various professional Twenty20 leagues popping up around the world.

Let's consider that sensational match-winning knock by Mr Marlon Samuels against Sri Lanka in the final. Would he have been able to execute as efficiently as he did without the confidence gained from the IPL and the BPL?

These are issues facing the planners and policymakers as they contemplate existing rules which seek to commit leading players to domestic tournaments. Of course, all of that could soon be decided in the Courts, given the matter of alleged restraint of trade brought by the players' union, WIPA, against the WICB.

But regardless of how that plays itself out, there is no question that the numerous cash-rich professional Twenty20 leagues sprouting here, there and everywhere, are putting an unbearable squeeze on the traditional game.

Mr Samuels has said with great feeling that he loves Test cricket and wants to leave his mark in the classic, conventional five-day form of the game. But how many Test matches will he be able to play if the current rate of growth in the Twenty20 leagues continues?

Leading players, especially from under-resourced cricket-playing regions such as the West Indies, can't be expected to ignore the money. And like it or not, the administrations will have to bend to fit.

Already, we hear that the WICB and Sri Lanka Cricket Board have agreed to abandon thoughts of Tests in the scheduled Sri Lankan tour of the Caribbean early next year because top players will be away with the IPL.

The IPL apart, there is the Bangladesh league (BPL), Australian Big Bash, the English league, and now we hear of plans well advanced for a league in the United States in the summer of next year. Don't laugh. Because of the huge Asian population in the United States and Canada those markets today are among the biggest for televised cricket. And as we all should know by now, television is where the money is.

A Twenty20 cricket match lasting just over three hours — the length of a baseball game — is ideal for North American television.

A few months ago, cricket's governing body, the ICC, which was asked to set a "window" for the IPL in order to better facilitate the scheduling of traditional international cricket, refused on the basis that it would be unsustainable. What would we do with the other leagues? They asked.

So what's to become of Test cricket in regions such as the Caribbean? On the available evidence, the future is bleak.




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