A draft proposal regarding the structure of international cricket will be presented to the ICC Executive Board during its quarterly meeting in Dubai on January 28 and 29. One of the elements is a two-tier Test system in which India, England and Australia would be protected from relegation. (So a three-tier system, then.)
The supposed justification is that this is a commercial decision; that cricket would become financially unsustainable without all of these three at the top table.
Really? Is this a fact? It’s presented as if it’s a fact, but is that actually the case? Who decided it was a fact? Would all the fans in each of those countries completely lose interest in the sport should their team be relegated?
Here’s an alternative scenario
India are relegated and forced to play Bangladesh, Ireland, Afghanistan et al. The popularity of the sport in those countries skyrockets. India return to the top tier at the first time of asking, leaving the health of the sport in each of the second tier nations in a far better state than when they were relegated.
Maybe that’s a trifle idealistic, but it’s also true that sports fans’ main interest is competition. They don’t always care so much at what level their team is playing. Manchester City Football Club have won the FA Cup and the Premier League in recent years, but many of the fans still rate the 1999 Division Two play-off final against Gillingham as being one of the club’s most memorable days because of the extraordinary drama of that match, with City clawing back a two-goal deficit during injury time.
When the short-term is the only timeframe that matters
If there is one thing that cricket administrators need to understand, it is that what they consider to be the right decisions for the commercial viability of the game are merely the right decisions for the commercial viability of the game in the short-term.
Doing what seems rational from a short-term commercial perspective actually means doing exactly the wrong things from a long-term commercial perspective.
Abandoning Test cricket entirely makes sense from a short-term commercial perspective – it’s the hardest format to sell to fans. However, in the long-term Test fans are generally the most loyal and easiest to retain as the very complexities which make Test cricket so inaccessible to new fans are precisely what engage people in the long-term.
Similarly, it makes sense for England to play Australia this summer from a short-term commercial perspective because that’s the series that currently gains most interest in those countries and therefore makes most money. However, in the long-term people will grown weary of seeing the same thing over and over again. Big events draw people in, but diversity is what keeps them interested. How will we know the Ashes is special if we have nothing against which to compare it?
We once wrote a five-part short story for Cricinfo in which short-term commercial optimisation fucked everything up. If you’ve the time and inclination, have a read. It starts with a bloke presenting something at an ICC board meeting. The end of it is basically what’s happening now.