Two Fantasies

Tomorrow is the first day of the last test between England and the West Indies. No one is really expecting a barn burner by any means, because England has of course already won the series, but also since England has decided to rest their best bowler, and well, because the West Indies simply are not a very good side.

If the World Test League was instituted, however, this would not be the case. The West Indies could be playing for more than just pride, they could be playing for their very survival in the WTL 1st Division. Would you rather play New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka next year? Or would you rather play England, South Africa, Australia, and India?*

The latter? Fine. Then win.

For the teams in the first division are the teams that will fill your grounds. Those are the teams that bring hordes of supporters along with them to fill up your pubs, restaurants, and hotels.

And to continue this fantasy, England are currently tied on points with South Africa, and need a win to keep pace with their rivals at the top of the table.

And with both teams needing a win, we would be treated to five days of blood, sweat, and tears. But instead, in reality, it’s a dead rubber, and we are going to three, maybe three and a half, days of sleepy, bland cricket, interspersed with maybe a moment or two of brilliance.

I think this WTL idea has legs, in other words. It needs some fine tuning, and would require a complete overhaul of how cricket is played throughout the world and at all levels and in all formats, but I think it has legs. (Note: I don’t actually think this.)

*I know Pakistan is missing. They are going to win the 2nd division and be promoted to the 1st division. At the expense of the West Indies? I guess we’ll find out!

**While I was writing the above, Russ from Idle Summers made a fantastic comment on my original World Cricket League proposal. You should go read it. And then you should go read his thoughts on reorganization.

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Tomorrow also brings us the first ODI between Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Unfortunately, only our Canadian friends will be able to watch, as it is not available to US viewers on Willow.

I really have had no serious complaints with Willow over the last few months. The streams have only had one or two seriously wonky moments, and they haven’t tried to blackmail any more cricket fans into using their service. They have instead just quietly been there, day in, day out, carrying the cricket.

And that has to change. It really is time for them to crack open the wallet and purchase the rights to cricket matches on the subcontinent. The vast majority of cricket fans in the USA are Indian ex-pats, and they are not able to (legally) watch their teams’ home matches on Willow. That is a crime…and a business opportunity.

I have no idea how many subscribers they currently have, but I bet they could double it, easily, if they added all Indian home matches to their current stable of events.

Now, I realize, they are rights issues involved here. I bet the BCCI prices the rights to carry their matches online at astronomical levels. But this is where the ICC should step in. If they are serious about stamping out pirated cricket streams, then they need to make online legal streams of matches available to ALL fans throughout the world at a reasonable cost. (I think $25 a month is reasonable.)

As I mentioned in yesterday’s hackneyed post, cricket wants to be watched, and be remembered. The ICC, and the national boards, are depriving cricket of this simple and essential nutrient. A real shame, if you ask me.

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What Cricket Wants

‘What the water wants is hurricanes,
and sailboats to ride on its back.
What the water wants is sun kiss,
and land to run into and back.’
 
-S. Stevens, from “Sister”
 

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Yesterday, Jarrod over at Cricket With Balls answered the age old question: Is Cricket Gay? And he concluded that cricket is “like that old androgynous person who lives at the end of your street who likes cats and John Coltrane.”

Today, inspired by Jarrod, and Sufjan Stevens, I will answer the even older question: what does cricket want?

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Cricket wants writers that can tell its stories
Calypso music
Captains’ innings
 
Cricket wants sun soaked afternoons
Pitches that dance
A day five queue
 

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It’s really that simple. Forget over rates, and formats, and the ICC, that’s just over thinking it all.

What cricket wants is to be played, to be loved, and to be remembered.

Oh, and a strong West Indies side.

The World Test League, a Proposal

With the news of Kevin Pietersen’s retirement from international one-dayers, pundits, bloggers, journalists, and cricketers all joined in on the chorus that I have been singing since I started watching the sport:

Sing it with me now: There is too much bloody cricket.

And just to reinforce this fact, the news trickled out today that New Zealand would, more than likely, be missing four of its superstars in their test series against England next summer. Furthermore, we learned today that Jimmy Anderson would be rested for the third test against the West Indies – presumably so he is fit for the one-dayers that follow.

The outcry from the pundits is no more than I expected – just as the outcry before and after the one off twenty20 between South Africa and India was expected.

But despite all of this, nothing has changed. And to quote Douglas Adams: “And so the problem remained.”

And it is only going to get worse.

What cricket needs is a complete overhaul of how it schedules matches, how it balances formats, and who has all of the power: the franchise, the national boards, the sponsors, the ICC.

Tweaks here and there will not keep KP playing one-dayers for England, or keep Malinga playing tests for Sri Lanka – tweaks are nothing more than rotten shingles on a leaky roof. And we all known what the definition of insanity is. (In which case, the ICC is clearly out of its fucking mind – but’s a post for another day).

Cricket needs an entirely new roof. Nay. Cricket needs an entirely new house. Burn the old one down, walk away, start anew.

Let’s start with international cricket. Right now, the ten test nations play each other in a semi-regular, semi-random, cycle of tests, ODIs, and T20s. There are the Ashes, and Triangular ODI tournaments, and tours, and on and on, ad infitium. Ad nauseum.

My suggestion, and I have no idea how this will actually work, is to divide the ten teams into two divisions, based on the ICC test rankings. Over the course of each 12 month period, each team will play the four teams in its division in three tests, for a total of 12 tests per year. The winner of the top division is the World Test Champion. The last place finisher in the top division is regulated to the second division, whilst the winner of the second division is promoted to the first division.

What about the one-dayers? Well, between each test, there will be room for a single one-day match – either a T20 or an ODI, it will be up to the boards involved to decide. And that’s it. Oh, there will still be the World Cup every four years, and the T20 World Cup every two years, and the IPL and the Big Bash League, and all the other domestic competitions, but gone will be the countless, and meaningless, and interminable, international one day matches – which would of course free up scheduling room for aforementioned domestic competitions.

Now, of course, there are problems with all of this. It would be a scheduling nightmare, you would have to do away with traditional competitions like the Ashes, and the cricketing boards would have to find other ways to line their coffers other than countless one-dayers – and those are just three of the problems with what would be a monumental overhaul in the way cricket works.

But I think it could be done. And if not the above, then something else needs to happen. And I truly believe that something else will happen sooner rather than later, as more players defect from their international duties, and more test series are diluted of their talent due to domestic competitions like the IPL.

Well, I believe it will, but if it doesn’t, this might truly be what finally kills cricket in the end.

Your thoughts, dear reader?

Begun, the Format Wars, Have

A great deal has happened in our favorite sport over the last couple of days: Kevin Pietersen retired from international limited overs cricket, the ICC’s cricket committee made some rather sweeping changes to the ODI format, Sri Lanka positively THRASHED Pakistan in a T20I, there were rumors of the Champions League T20 moving to South Africa, Edgbaston was announced as the host of the 2013 Champions Trophy Final, and the details regarding England’s 2013 international summer were announced: the two most imporant parts of that last bit where that the New Zealand series is going to conflict with the IPL (or vice versa) and the Ashes are going to open at Trent Bridge.

Those were all of the major news stories regarding cricket (with one exception, which I will get to a minute), and all of the them save for the last item revolved around the one day format.

Now, that is just coincidence, of course, but I think it makes for an interesting backdrop for a discussion on KP’s decision to quit international limited overs cricket in order to focus on test cricket and, presumably, the Indian Premiere League. He is choosing the two most diametrically opposed formats in the sport; and he is doing so supposedly out of physical necessity: there is just too much cricket to play, his 32 year old body is starting to break down, and he needed to make a choice: retire from international limited-overs cricket, become a T20 mercenary in order to make big, quick cash, play some tests here and there, and then retire before it all goes south – or get hurt playing a meaningless T20I against New Zealand and die penniless.

He chose the former, and I personally don’t blame him in the slightest; just as I didn’t blame Malinga when he quit the test format; as it all comes back down to the fact that there is too much bloody cricket. Limited overs cricket has taken over the entire sport to the point where the ECB can’t find room for a fourth test against South Africa this summer, but they can find room for 13 (!!) one day internationals.  The national boards are squeezing the life out of their players, and the sport in general. The onus is no longer squarely on the IPL, nor was it ever, really – it belongs on the shoulders of every cricket board across the globe.

Now, however, the players are starting to revolt, and I think it’s great. And not just any players, but two of the most exciting players in the game. I am not an England supporter, but I was heartbroken to learn KP will not feature in this fall’s Twenty20 World Cup.

Now, we fans just need to join in on the revolution, and maybe the boards will start to listen.

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The one news story I left out concerned discussions regarding the resumption of cricketing ties between India and Pakistan, which I think it is just fantastic news.

In order to thrive and grow, cricket needs a lot of things: to list all of them is a post for another day, but a strong West Indies side is one such thing, and India playing Pakistan on a regular basis is another.

And so let’s hope the two nations can figure out a way to peacefully co-exist, on the cricket pitch at the very least.

Until next time.