Give cricket’s best brains a say in the game’s future

November 23, 2014

What if commentators, former players, broadcasters, match referees and journalists pool their ideas and present them to the ICC?

Give cricket’s best brains a say in the game’s future

Driving back from lunch the other day, I had a thought. Cricket’s administrators are making all the decisions. Is that a good thing?

Lunch was a mile or so back from Sydney’s Northern Beaches, overlooking the marina at Bayview on Pittwater Road. The setting was incomparable – a must-visit, especially for those who see Sydney as exclusively represented by the harbour. The invitation came from Ian Chappell to me and Jim Fitzmaurice, who led Channel Nine’s sport coverage back in the day.

Jim told us that his grandchildren sat glued to the television set for Big Bash cricket – that’s domestic T20 in Australia – but barely doffed their baseball caps to the Test match game. His current mission was to get them onside with the one-day game and the signs were promising after the two recent matches against South Africa. You could lead the horse to the water, I guess he was saying, but it has to do the drinking for itself. All around the world T20 receives enviable publicity and promotion. The grandkids hardly knew the other stuff existed.

The marketeers argue that you give the public what they want, but this is a misguided principle from which to work. Parents don’t give their children everything they want. Or shouldn’t, otherwise their teeth will fall out. Most parents pick and choose for their kids, directing their life in a way that encourages them to see a big picture and respond accordingly. Cricket’s marketing machine should concentrate its energy on the forms of the game that need exposure and explanation. Not on the lowest common denominator.

Jim talked about the moment he felt that sport went irrevocably professional. He had left Channel Nine in 1991 and gone to head CSI, the media rights agency. With South Africa back in the fold, Louis Luyt was running rugby and Jim flew into Johannesburg in the late autumn of 1995 to discuss the sport’s big push into the professional era. Jim asked how much it would take and all but choked on his biltong when Luyt passed him a piece of paper with US$350 million over five years written on it. In Jim’s mind this was ten times the value of the product at the time. But the more Jim thought about it, the more he realised $350 million would not get close. Six weeks later they shook hands with the broadcasters on a deal worth a groundbreaking $750 million. The next day South Africa won the World Cup and the trophy was presented to Francois Pienaar by President Mandela, who wore the South African rugby jersey in one of the most symbolic gestures of reconciliation ever seen in the political landscape. In more ways than one, a new page had been turned.

The really big rights deals did not hit cricket until a while later. In fact, the 1996 World Cup on the subcontinent was bought by Mark Mascarenhas’ World Tel Group for just US$10 million. After that memorable heist, the gloves were off and big players entered the game. Money became the god and the boards that did the big deals boasted of their power and wealth. One-day cricket has always had something global and finite to sell. Test cricket has been left floundering, dependent upon its instinct and history to progress as organically as it is able. The marketing men need a World Test Championship to flog. Test cricket needs a face.

As readers of these pages know well, Chappell not only has strong views about the game but a willingness to look into its future. We talked about the administrators’ startling inability, or lack of will, to do the same. Changes are made here and there, he said, to suit the mood or moment, but rarely are they improvements.

The more I listened to the thoughts of two minds whose lives had been given to sport, the more I thought "what a waste". For Chappell and Fitzmaurice, read other intelligent and relevant people whose ideas are heard but not listened to and, certainly, not acted upon.

Mark Taylor is a member the ICC Cricket Committee. This comprises some former players invited in their own right – i.e. those not officially representing their country – along with an international coach, a CEO of one of governing bodies, a man from the media, and representatives of both the umpires and the match referees. Taylor points out that the committee’s ideas are rubber-stamped more than they used to be, which is encouraging. He adds that if anything is remotely political, a greater power will take command.

Given the myriad opinions out there about the long-term health of game, its structure and formats, its relevance in a fast-moving society, and the specifics – such as a World Test Championship, two divisions, the short-form World Cups, over rates, pitches, boundaries, FTPs etc – is the time not ripe to cobble together the best brains in cricket’s global family?

Year upon year, a legion of current and ex-players, umpires, match referees, broadcasters and journalists circumnavigate the world within the great caravanserai that is modern international cricket. These are the people who truly know the game, and they are the people most in touch with the public mood.

Each country could have satellite think tanks, comprising key personalities whose voices otherwise go un-minuted. Imagine the cricket people of the Caribbean telling us what they really need to make the game a regional concern again. Think, for example, of a selection from Tony Cozier, Clive Lloyd, Michael Holding and Andy Roberts, Brian Lara, Jimmy Adams and Fazeer Mohammed, to name a few, in the same room as Dwayne Bravo and Darren Sammy, driving a vision for West Indies within the framework of their responsibility to the world game.

Imagine Chappell, alongside any of Mark Taylor, Shane Warne and Michael Clarke; Simon Taufel, David Boon and Gideon Haigh; Bob Cowper, Darren Lehmann, the Rodneys Hogg and Marsh, and Mark Waugh, preparing a recommendation that takes cricket into the next 20 years.

The chairman of each of these think tanks would then take their convictions to an international forum that works towards a consensus. From this could come a new ICC committee, more a House of Representatives, that plans the future of the game. Thus the path would have been chosen by the people who live within cricket, not those appointed to administer it.

The pursuit would be cricket’s well-being, not money. The direction would be long-term not short-lived. The conclusions would be far-reaching not vested. It is probably an exaggeration to say that the game is at a crossroads, but it is changing so fast that nobody seems able to take a breath and work out where it needs to be in an emerging world that will not throw it much sympathy. --Cricinfo

Give cricket’s best brains a say in the game’s future