cricket / long form

Ashes to Ashes

My last post was during the last Ashes series. Strangely enough, that was a mere few months ago. In some ways this fact is a microcosm of why I haven’t been writing as much recently.

Diamonds retain their value through an artificial scarcity keeping both symbolic worth and cost high. The opposite principal is being applied to cricket at the moment. A back to back Ashes series isn’t terrible, every iteration has tense, gripping moments. But it is also symptomatic of a rival urge, to wring every last dollar out of a sport at the expense of anything of value.

Only a small percentage of matches matter in any meaningful sense, compared to even ten years ago. It isn’t fair to blame T20 as a format, there is nothing inherently wrong with it except for the fact that the shortened game means more matches can be packed into the year.

New Zealand’s recent calendar has included a glut of matches that have barely registered. Two fairly dull tests, punctuated by some good and some mediocre performances, and another disaster in the ODI series. At least it can’t be said that Bangladesh aren’t on our level anymore, arguably they have surpassed it.

The series against Sri Lanka is pure filler. A case of being in the neighbourhood and stopping by for dinner. We aren’t taking it seriously, except as a chance to test new combinations and show IPL scouts if New Zealand players can foot it in sub continental conditions. Alas, it would appear we struggle.

Then there is the question of whether Sri Lanka is a reasonable country to be touring at all at the moment. Many, such as Amnesty International, have suggested that Sri Lanka is unsuitable to host and receive the Chair of CHOGM due to a questionable record on human rights in the end and aftermath of a Civil War.

A New Zealand MP, Jan Logie of the Green Party, recently had her passport confiscated confiscated and was essentially deported from Sri Lanka. Moreover, she was barred from interviewing some of those on the Tamil side with whom she intended to speak with. I’ve written before on the dubious merits of sporting boycotts, but it is clear that in this case the need for more frequent paydays has pushed cricket administrators into a position of not even entertaining the possibility of a boycott.

So here we are at another Ashes series, and the pace of cricket schedules increases ever faster. In my last post I made a wishlist for what I want to happen in this Ashes series. For this post I have only one wish. That we get some breaks in the cricket schedule, and there isn’t another Ashes for some time.

Don’t play short but endless bilateral series if they are so meaningless. Space games out more. Heaven forbid, give the players a rest so it is more likely a first XI will play more often. There is a place for the IPL, and why shouldn’t international cricket cease during that orgy of cricketainment. An ever expanding alternative cricket calendar building around the IPL and associated acts is starting to push cricket as a commodity beyond saturation, perhaps fracturing the game into two distinct forms.

Cricket urgently needs to be stripped back, before it becomes nothing more than a travelling roadshow. Other sports, without so many competing competitions and demands, manage to offer the players and audiences more than three to six months of the year off. The NFL is a classic example, with only a 17 week season there is scarcely time to get sick of the tournament. The AFL is similar, running over a six month period. Of course, both sports have various feeder competitions at lower levels, but for the elite there is but one big showcase event every year.

Cricket, of course, is a more difficult game to institute as a league structure that operates once a season. In terms of timezones and seasons, it is a truly global sport. But aspects of other sports that are successful in keeping their audience entertained over the length of the season are possible to introduce into cricket. One of these is an offseason. Some players will go 15 months without a pause, unless in the case of injury. Does there really need to be continuous cricket that a player can compete in for 15 months in a row?

3 thoughts on “Ashes to Ashes

  1. Do you think there would be merit in imposing both a min and max limit on the number of internationals a team could play each year. E.g 8-12 tests, 15-20 ODIs and 6-10 T20s. This would eliminate some of the random ODI/T20 series thay pop up in a year and ensure that all nations get similar exposire to top level cricket. This could even be extended to say countries can only play against each other once in the same year to avoid repetition (correct me if I’m wrong but England will only play tests against NZ and Aus this year)

    • There is merit in imposing limits to matches, yes. It would be one way to change the practice of simply stuffing schedules. However it is likely that setting limits would only serve to squeeze out countries that aren’t in the top tier, such as Bangladesh, Ireland and (ahem) New Zealand. Setting rules around repetition would help to a degree, but could also conversely mean that the same small pool of fixtures happen year after year.

      I think the change has to come on a more fundamental level. The Future Tours Programme in its current form is a joke, and perhaps the structure of how cricket is managed needs to be reorganised around new methods of arranging fixtures. Ten, twenty years ago, when the cost of touring was prohibitively higher, a system based around bilateral series made more sense. Now it has allowed an endless stream of meaningless matches, often between the same teams again and again. Really, who needs to see 7 ODIs between India and Australia?

      I’m not sure what the perfect solution to this is, perhaps there isn’t one. Confining T20 cricket to franchises and clubs has been one suggestion which could help, though it could also accelerate the separation into two distinct games, a la rugby and league. Capping the number of limited overs matches to the number of tests played in a series would be an interesting option, though would be decried by money hungry cricket boards as draconian. But depressingly, it is possible there is no solution, and cricket will have to burn itself out before it can be reinvented.

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