England are riding the crest of a wave – the Ashes are theirs and the number one ranking is just around the corner. In just under two years time the top four Test teams will arrive on English shores for the inaugural Test Championship and the hosts will have the opportunity to apply both cream and cherries to their already burgeoning cake.
Soon after that, however, they may not even have to worry about qualifying for the top four. There might only be four Test nations of any consequence. The game will be far more streamlined and easier to manage. Four ‘big’ countries in the Premier League, six others playing occasional supporting roles and about 100 other members of the ICC contesting in leagues from two to seven.
India is the game’s billionaire while England and Australia have heaps of cash. So does South Africa, apparently. That’s why record breaking years of income in the late 2000s merited double bonuses.
So those four countries can happily go it alone. The Ashes could become seven-Test series every second-year bumper series against India and South Africa in between. Of course, nobody really believes that only four teams could comprise a league of any sort, let alone one that lasts three years, so a few Test matches could always be played against the ‘others’. Cricket is, after all, a 12-month sport these days.
That really is the way cricket is heading. Unless the wealth is spread around a bit more evenly, the ‘others’ are going to be bankrupt within a couple of years.
Cricket Sri Lanka has debts of close to $90 million. The Pakistan Cricket Board barely exists and the team makes a hand-to-mouth living playing sporadically at neutral venues. They could not be less in control of their own destiny if they were blindfolded.
Cricket New Zealand receives the lowest income in television rights fees because of the unsocial time difference with the rest of the world and faces a constant battle to break even. Things were so tight a couple of months ago when they sent an ‘A’ team to Zimbabwe that they told their hosts that they would need to pay the Kiwi players’ salaries – as well as hotel, accommodation, living allowance, laundry etc.
That tour cost Zimbabwe Cricket around $400,000. And it was followed by further ‘A’ tours from Australia and South Africa. By ‘doing as they told’ by the ICC and playing plenty of first-class cricket against strong opposition before their return to Test cricket, ZC was out of pocket to the tune of around $1.5 million. But at least they won the one-off Test against Bangladesh and recouped $200,000 in television rights.
West Indies Cricket Board income is similarly sporadic and unreliable.
The international game at the highest level is unsustainable – and has been for over a decade. Time is running out.
How do Fulham and West Bromwich Albion compete with Manchester United and Chelsea in the English Premier League? (Okay, maybe ‘compete’ is the wrong word.) But the mere fact that they are able to walk onto the same field and stay in the same competition for a season is because the Premier League shares out the billions from Sky to each of the 20 clubs. And even when they are relegated, the Premier League hands out another 10 million as a ‘parachute payment’ to soften the blow as they land in the Championship (league one).
The ICC recently announced a review of their entire business structure to ensure that they were doing everything possible in the best interests of the international game. That review really ought to start with the international game itself. The ICC might become the smoothest and most efficient administration in the world, but it won’t do any good if the game it is administering is fundamentally flawed.
Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Feel free to get in touch.