Given that everyone (and their dog and their lamp post) is talking about “saving cricket” with their own plans, we at i3j3cricket decided to write an article on the future of all forms of cricket. But before we set forth with the development of a plan, we had to ask the tough question on whether or not cricket needs to be saved.
Yes. It does.
It needs to be saved from the clutches of T20, which, by the way, is a legitimate form of cricket.
So, much to the potential chagrin of several cricket purists, cricket needs to be saved from its own recent successes!
In fact, in our view, the T20 format can be seen as a legitimate vehicle for the introduction of players and spectators alike. This is especially true for new countries and regions where the T20 format can be akin to a table wine to Test cricket’s Grange!
Some of the questions that need to be asked are
- Can cricket continue to support all three forms or products (sic!)?
- How can Test Cricket — the form that is considered the purest form of cricket — continue in a world that is increasingly dominated by the “curse of the instant”?
- Is there a place for the ODI form of Cricket in the landscape?
There are many that feel that the ODI format has seen its last days and must be done away with. After the recent success of the T20 format and the impact of burgeoning tournaments on the cricket calendar, there are several amongst us that feel that there is space only for two forms/products. We are not entirely sure what additional skills (or entertainment value) the ODI format brings to the game that is not covered by the other two formats (Tests and T20). The T20 format is packaged for maximising entertainment value for the masses while Test cricket allows players to exhibit their finer skills in front of a more discerning audience!
However, we are proceeding with the rest of this article on the assumption that there is a place for ODIs provided:
- The ICC introduce some radical changes to the ODI format,
- The ICC carries out a review of the place that ODIs have within a 5-year period.
Moreover, cricket’s audience must grow. Its reach must exceed former colonial outposts. Cricket must embrace audiences in US and Europe. And for this to happen, perhaps T20 is the route for cricket to take as it broadens its horizons, wings and reach to hitherto sceptical audiences.
So, in our view, all three forms can co-exist provided cricket’s reach extends beyond its current boundaries and provided there are some radical changes to the ODI format and provided there is a thorough market-tested review of the ODI format by 2015.
Overall, our feeling is that cricket does need a radical change.
- Test Matches must be exciting and result oriented. The key points to ensuring this happens are:
- Pitches that ensure the relevance of both bat and ball in a game (mandated by an ICC-organised QA of pitches before each game). In saying this, we are not suggesting that pitches must have grass or that pitches should not take turn. Our view at i3j3Cricket has consistently been that just as bounce, seam and swing are important facets of the game that “test” a batsman’s skill, dust-bowls that offer prodigious spin and uneven bounce are an equally important “test” of a batsman’s skill.
- Rule changes that put a premium on easy runs (for example, through the simultaneous use of old and new balls).
- Stronger incentives for the captains to produce results (for example, points should reflect the margin of victory – number of wickets and/or runs – and location – Home vs Away.
- ODIs must stop becoming boring in the middle overs.
- Audiences must be encouraged/enticed/induced to attend Test matches.
- More programming control and regulation by the ICC is necessary.
From the above, it is clear that our hypothesis is that Test cricket, often considered the pinnacle of achievement in cricket, is suffering too. Test cricket needs change too. While it is not yet in a “moribund” state and while we do not wish to sound like doomsday merchants, a lack of changes to Test cricket rules will see it fade in the wake of the T20 phenomenon. Apart from Australia and England, where we still see healthy audiences at the venue, Test cricket crowds seem to have deserted cricket grounds. India can still attract crowds to Test cricket by taking all of its Test cricket to places like Mysore, Dharmasala, Bhuvaneshwar, Pune, Rohtak, Mangalore, Rajkot, Cochin, Guwahati, Coimbatore, Jodhpur, Agartala, Bhopal, Visakhapatnam, Cuttack, etc. But that still robs visiting teams of playing in iconic venues and cities like Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore, Mohali, Nagpur, Kanpur, Hyderabad, etc.
The ODI game has become predictable and boring. Teams tend to adopt a mechanistic approach to the game in the middle-overs. The PowerPlay idea has not worked because the bowling PowerPlay is taken immediately after the mandatory PowerPlay, while the batting PowerPlay is shoved to the end-game! The stupor-state of the middle-overs is killing the ODI game which has become staid and formulaic. Once a game reaches those proportions, the only sure outcomes that can afflict players, administrators and spectators is boredom followed by a slow death.
There is no “programming window” for exciting and instant-fun concepts like the IPL and Champions League.
What is desperately required are a series of innovations, improvements and changes to all three forms of the game.
Hence this article.
We have the following suggestions for (choose your pick) improving/changing/enhancing/augmenting each of the three forms of cricket.
- Minimum overs per day: 100
- Day-night Test cricket is adopted.
- Breaks in Play: There are no lunch/tea/drinks breaks in Test cricket anymore. The teams play for 50 overs before a “dinner break”. A further 50 overs are played after this dinner break. So there are two sessions per day. Like footy games in Australia, “runners” bring in drinks during change of overs or during stoppage of play. Play will see one session before dark and one session at night! In most environments, play for the day should start at 2.30pm and should end at 10.30pm with a break between 6pm-7pm to accommodate news channel requirements! In India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan perhaps the timings are pulled up by an hour with play starting at 1.30pm with a break between 5pm-6pm and with play ending at 9.30pm.
- 4-day Tests: With 100 overs bowled over 7 hours each day/night, we should not need 5-day Tests. This will have two effects: (a) there are more days for cricket, (b) teams will tend to play more attractive cricket in order to force results – and in some cases, manufacture results. We are already seeing the effect of the ODI and T20 format on Test cricket, in which a daily run rate of 4 rpo is more the norm, while even 10 years back, a run rate of 3 rpo was seen as a good days’ play! So given that teams will play 100 overs per day, 4-day Tests should be a definite possibility.
- Bowling teams that do not bowl the required overs in each hour of play are penalised by adding “over rate extras” to the batting team’s total. This “over rate extra” is calculated as: ORR = [2* run rate for that 1-hour block * number of overs short].
- Ball change: Every ball must be changed (mandatory) after 60 overs. At that time though, the bowling captain can continue to use the old ball — but only from one end — for a further 20 overs after which it cannot be used again. In other words, although a ball can be used for 80 overs (maximum), it must be used in tandem with a new ball once it is 60 overs old.
- Two tiers/groups with Group-A containing Australia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, India, England (the current top-5 ranked Test nations) and Group-B containing West Indies, Pakistan, New Zealand, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. Teams move up and down every two years.
- Each team plays each other compulsarily over a 2-year period as part of a revamped Future Tours Program (FTP). In fact, the ICC should become the custodian of the cricket calendar. Apart from a nominated period in the year, say 2 blocks of 6 weeks each, all programming should be dictated by the ICC. Individual member countries are free to organise events only in those 12 free-from-ICC-FTP-weeks.
- New teams are admitted into a Group-C: Ireland, USA, Holland, Kenya, Canada, Hong Kong, UAE…
- At the end of each two year block, a Test Championship Tournament is held between
- TCGroup-A: A1-A2-A3 (3 teams)
- TCGroup-B: A4-A5-B1-B2 (4 teams)
- TCGroup-C: B3-B4-B5-C1-C2 (5 teams)
This will serve to make each Test match interesting. A team placed at A4 will want desperately to beat another team in a Test series so that it escapes the clutches of TCGroup-A. Similarly, a team placed at B3 will desperately want to beat another team so that it makes B2 and hence, has a crack at making it to TCGroup-B, which will then give it a crack at making it to Group-A through the Test Championship round robin.
- The Test Championship will determine: (a) The overall Test Champion for that 2-year block, (b) Which teams will move between Groups for the next 2-year block. The top-2 teams from TC-Group-B will move up to Group-A and the top 3 teams from TCGroup-C will move to Group-B.
- The current ratings system is changed to accommodate home-away advantage and measures such as victory margins, innings defeats, etc.
- In addition to the pure win-loss points, placings and ties are broken by other means to force result-oriented games.
- No limits on bouncers-per-over.
- Rules for wides match the current ODI and T20 format.
- The entry ticket price for Tests must be less than one half of the price of a T20 game at that venue. This is so that more audiences are involved in Test cricket viewing. This is, no doubt, an artificial measure and a subsidy. But this is a measure and an instrument that is perhaps required in the “instant” world we live in.
- Referral system in place for adjudicating.
- Indoor Stadia: Sure, one cannot predict rain, bad light and bad weather in general, but it surely something can be done about maximising value to spectators. In the last year alone, more than 10% of Test cricket playing time has been lost to rain, bad weather or bad light. Some of this “time lost” does affect the result of games as well as value to spectators. Games tend to, as a result, end in tame and boring draws. We can solve this problem by playing cricket indoors. Granted, overcast conditions, sunlight and breeze do have a positive effect on the game sometimes, and not all games need to be played indoors. Then again, we do not have too many cricket stadia around the world where the roof can be closed. But we need to start thinking about playing some games indoors. This would also effectively increase the cricket playing days in a year. Of course, new stadia do not just appear overnight. So, there needs to be a long term plan to build these stadia.
- 4 quarters of 25 overs each.
- 2 Innings per team.
- Innings are played as in Tests. In other words “follow on” and “innings defeats” are possible!
- 1st mandatory PowerPlay of 5 overs is the first 5 overs in the inning.
- The Batting/Bowling PowerPlay cannot follow the Mandatory PowerPlay at the start of an Inning (in other words, over 5-10 cannot be PowerPlay overs).
- The Batting/Bowling PowerPlay must be a 5-over block and can immediately follow one another.
- Thus, PowerPlay can only commence in any of the overs from 11 to 21.
- If the no PowerPlay has been adopted before over 16, then the PowerPlay overs kick-in automatically.
- The Bowling team has the option of nominating whether it wants a PowerPlay at the start of any over from 11 to 16. If the offer is not taken, the Batting team can use up that option.
- Each bowler can bowl a maximum of 6 overs per Inning and 11 overs in a match.
- Creating a programming-window for IPL and Champions League.
- The existing format of T20 is actually working quite well. But in the future, just to spice things up, the following things could be considered:
- Each team has a separate Batting XI and Fielding XI. Of course, the same people can be in both teams.
- Each bowler can only bowl a maximum of 3 overs.
- A team can decide to pack its Fielding XI with specialist fielders (including the Wicket keeper) in addition to the bowlers.
The above are suggestions that would, no doubt, have to be debated at length. But the bottom-line is that in our view all three forms of the game must see changes — and soon — as we move forward into a brave new world for cricket. A world with more excitement, a broader reach and more audiences.
— i3j3 Contributors