Time to standardise tours?
Sport24 columnist Antoinette Muller (File)
It has been mentioned before by a number of esteemed writers and it’s something which would make sense to everyone who possesses even an ounce of logic.
However, never has the need for the ICC to force a standardised tour schedule been more apparent. With South Africa and India at loggerheads over the summer’s fixtures, it’s clear that something needs to be done about the itinerary of Test playing nations. And it’s not just because the two boards disagree over fixtures. Australia’s players breaking down and the ever contentious issue of the IPL also crops up.
Why are we still persisting with a lopsided itinerary?
Seven one-day internationals was silly scheduling and the BCCI had every right to complain about it. Despite the fact that India are due to play an out of context seven-match ODI series against Australia before their tour to South Africa, that kind of workload is unfairly strenuous on players, especially those who play across all the formats.
There is one solution to bed all these contentious issues. The ICC could standardise tours across the board. Make all tours consist of three Tests, three one-day internationals and two or three T20s – for example.
This will not only benefit boards, but also teams who will all get an equal number of opportunities to test their mettle against each other. It’s also ideal for fans whose interest is far more likely to remain on a series if it is compacted. It also removes bias towards smaller nations. Nobody wants to play a lowly ranked team, but you only get better by playing the smarter opponent. If the game is to become truly global, everyone needs to be competing equally.
Without any sort of standard, Tests are always at risk of being curtailed or moved and there will always be a bias towards bigger team who rake in the TV revenue. There is no money in playing smaller teams, that much is clear. However this could be addressed by collectivising TV rights - meaning everyone gets a cut, but teams get a bigger percentage cut based on where they are ranked. That could work both for Tests and the shorter format.
A standard length tour will last for a maximum of six weeks. If all teams follow that set of standards, they can play two home and two away series in a year and get all their international cricket done in just 24 weeks. That still leaves 28 weeks for players to rest, it gives them and their management staff more time with their families - something which is being a big issue for many coaches across the world. The domestic leagues might even start to thrive as they are more likely to have some of the best players to cherry pick from and there won’t be the contentious issue of picking your “club” over your country.
It also avoids disagreements between boards and leaves fans knowing exactly what they can expect in the next few years. It even allows time, should some teams so wish, to play an inordinate amount of one-day internationals in order to stuff their coffers.
Of course, everyone who enjoys the longest format of the game wants to see more Test cricket and they want to see the best sides play each other often. However, that skews the balance. England and Australia will, in the next few years, play around 35 Tests each - with at 10 of those being between themselves. South Africa, currently the number one Test team in the world, will continue to suckle on the hind teat of scheduling and have just 22 Tests scheduled.
Standardised tours might not please those banging the sanctimony drum, of the belief that the top team should get five Tests. However, it does provide the possibility that two top teams could play each other both home and away in the same calendar year. Planning who will be top of the tables so far in advance is near to impossible, but it’s more likely that, should two of the top sides play each other, there is no need to wait years for that return tour. By the time England visit South Africa again, the two teams will look so very different. A great pity after the contest in England last year. A standardised schedule could have avoided that.
The most important consideration of standardised tours is that the ICC needs to take charge and set firm guidelines. Those who do not abide need to be fined and punished. If that means taking away the revenue cut from TV rights from those who fiddle with the tours away, then so be it.
The BCCI are not alone in pulling their weight. As if pinching players from Ireland isn’t enough, the English Cricket Board have struck a deal with Ireland cricket which states that the country cannot play any home fixtures which clashes with England’s game. This makes it very hard for a small country to grow the sport and generate revenue and severely limits their opportunities.
For cricket to be the best it can be, there needs to be chasm. For that, the sport’s governing body needs to take action. Antoinette Muller is a freelance writer who writes mainly about soccer and cricket for The Daily Maverick or anybody else who will have her...
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