Franchised

There are currently three domestic leagues receiving online coverage in the United States: The Big Bash League, the Ranji Trophy, and the Caribbean T/20.

Two of the three are T20 leagues, and the third is first class, four day cricket league.

As the Cricket Geek pointed out on All Out Cricket, 2012 taught us that domestic leagues such as the BBL and the IPL are growing and very well could be here to stay. And that point is driven home by the fact that three domestic leagues are available to watch online here in the USA – two of which are pop-up leagues taking advantage of the T20 format’s popularity.

Most will say that too much cricket is a problem. And I agree. I have said it before on countless occasions and I will keep saying it because I firmly believe that too much cricket dilutes the game and creates meaningless matches – and meaningless matches are ripe for match-fixing or at the very least accusations of match-fixing.

That said, I think the franchises are here to stay.

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A few days ago I said that Test cricket’s time has come.

I still believe that.

But I also believe that that future lies in strong, domestic leagues.

I don’t think a T20 league in every country featuring a handful of mercenaries is the long term future, but I think it is the short term future. However, the cream I think will rise to the top and in 15-20 years we will be left with a handful of very strong and very competitive leagues. And these leagues will not only be a part of the long term success of the sport overall, they will be integral.

A short term sacrifice for a long term solution.

And I think they will become so successful that meaningless and lopsided two Test series between a number one ranked team and a number seven ranked team will go away forever, and be replaced with First Class leagues.

I am picturing a bastard love child of the County Championship and the Indian Premiere League: that’s the future of first class cricket.

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In a discussion about the future of Tests on Twitter, @Chrisps01 of Declaration Game mentioned that of all the sports he follows, International Football is the most out of step with the times. And I wholeheartedly agree. The days of lines in the sand being the end all, be all of politics are over. Fervent nationalism, though still a massive player in most geo-political circles, is going away, slowly but surely.

I have written about this before.

Club football is vastly more popular and more entertaining than international football.

And because of this, slowly but surely, football’s World Cup will go away, and be replaced by global versions of the Champions League (the World Club Cup is a blue print, but I am picturing something that is more than just a cash grab). And I feel that this same trend will happen in international cricket, too.

The Ashes will always exist, as will other long term and hotly contest rivalries such as India v Pakistan, but long, tedious tours in empty stadiums will go away, and be replaced by franchise cricket leagues in ALL formats.

This will not happen overnight, and it might not even happen in our lifetimes, but it is the future of the game.

The world might be ready for Test cricket, but in it’s current incarnation, Test cricket is not ready for the world. The T20 format has some ideas on how to go about getting it ready, however, and hopefully Test cricket is paying attention.

The dream of the 1890s

Yesterday, I eulogized Test cricket.

Today I do the opposite.

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In Minneapolis yesterday morning, it was around eight degrees Fahrenheit (minus thirteen Celsius) with a light wind out of the southwest. I woke up at 6:30am, walked the dog, fed the dog, dressed in layer after layer of wool, left my car in the driveway, and rode my fixed gear bicycle the six and a half miles to the office – just as I do every other day.

It was a perfect morning for a ride. The cold temperatures kept away the slush, and the sun made it feel warm, even though it wasn’t.

The ride took me about 35 minutes, but I don’t go very fast.

If I drive, it takes me about 10 minutes.

15 if I stop for coffee.

When I worked at my old job, I would ride about three times a week, despite the fact that it was a 40 mile round trip, and would eat up about three hours of my day – while driving would eat up only about 45 minutes. It was, however, utterly and completely worth it.

And the thing is: I am not alone. Not in the slightest. In my city, and it cities across the globe, people are choosing their bikes over their cars, despite the fact that is a vastly slower form of transportation.

Even Lebron James is getting in on the act.

And the bicycle is just one small facet of a growing trend: People are interested in slowing everything down a bit.

This video, while an attempt at humor, sums it up perfectly:

Everywhere I look, not just in Portland, people are forgoing modern conventions and seeking out, well, the 1890s. A time and place where the 20th century with all of its disease and war and soot never happened.

And this makes think: maybe Test cricket’s day has finally come.

The game has been fighting against time and progress since its birth. But now with muttonchops and slow food and yoga and backyard chicken coops and homebrewing…maybe the world is finally ready to accept this anachronistic, five day long, slow moving, slow turning, slow building, bat and ball sport.

Wright Thompson talked about this in his long form piece for ESPN. And I agreed in my rebuttal post.

But my post was almost a year ago, and the trend has only increased over the last 12 months.

Every one I know makes beer at home and seeks out local shops and products. They are rejecting the modern conventions of NOW NOW NOW and FAST FAST FAST. And while this has yet to translate to entertainment or sport, it would follow that sooner or later, if the trend continues, people are going to seek a sport that exists, as Mr. Thompson put it, “outside the tyranny of money and time.”

Of course, the people who are involved in the trend are a small minority – mostly Generation Xers who aren’t sure if they belong in the massive generation that came before them (the boomers) or the even more massive generation that came after them (the millenials) – and the corporate machine that drives popular culture is probably going to win this war in the long run, but that does not change the fact that people want to grow their own food, brew their own beer, make their own bread, and ride their bicycles to the store. And these same people, I feel, would truly embrace the gift that is Test cricket.

Again, to quote Wright Thompson (ignoramus that he is, he gets it): “When (Mike) Marqusee describes the pleasure of attending a Test match, he lingers on the way he’s able to think. In the white spaces. I think about the silence at Lord’s, and I understand. Test cricket is different from the rest of the world because it was designed to be.”

Of all the sports in the world today, none of them fit into this mold, this trend, more so than Test cricket. They are all so frenetic, so corporate, so LOUD, so fast. And by “they” I mean the other formats in cricket, as well.

Test cricket however, and first class county cricket, deliver what the world is aching for: no pop music, no floodlights, no pumped in crowd noise; just 22 men in white, on a field of green, absent from time itself. A sport to contemplate and enjoy without constant bombardment on your senses.

It is an anachronism surely; but so are bicycles.

Plus you get to bring your own beer into the ground.

And the players wear sweaters.

All due respect to Portland, the dream of the 1890s is alive and well on cricket grounds the world over.

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The year the cricket died

“A long long time ago
I can still remember how (the cricket) used to make me smile”

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Yesterday, South Africa shellacked New Zealand by an innings and 27 runs inside three days.

Sometime tonight, or maybe tomorrow, Australia is going to complete their three match whitewash of Sri Lanka.

What it comes down to is there are a couple decent Test sides right now (England, maybe Australia, maybe Pakistan), one really magnificent Test side (South Africa) and a whole lot of really mediocre to terrible test sides (India, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, The West Indies, Bangladesh).

What is going on?

Over on Twitter, Addie Kumar suggested that “weak test sides” is doublespeak for countries that don’t perform in alien conditions; while I have argued in the past that there is a direct correlation between Test success and number of Tests played (duh-doy). Meanwhile Devanshu of Deep Backward Point thinks more Tests is not the answer, but rather teams should only play teams of their same skill level, in order to improve. Throwing New Zealand to the South African lions, so to speak, does no one any good. Have them play Sri Lanka or Bangladesh or even Ireland instead. (See his comment on my post linked to above.)

No matter what the answer is, it is killing the format.

Twenty/20 is not killing Test cricket; Test cricket is committing slow ritual suicide.

The Test cricket future could be what we have now in the La Liga, the English Premiere League, and until recently, the Scottish Premiere League: a two horse race, year in and year out.

That, to me, is troubling.

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Just how bad are some Test sides?

A simple look at their 2012 form tells the story:

Team Tests Win Lose Draw Win % W/L
Australia 11 7 1 3 0.636 7
Pakistan 6 3 1 2 0.500 3
West Indies 10 4 4 2 0.400 1
England 15 5 7 3 0.333 0.71
India 9 3 5 1 0.333 0.6
Sri Lanka 10 3 5 2 0.300 0.6
New Zealand 10 2 6 2 0.200 0.33
Bangladesh 2 0 2 0 0.000 0
Zimbabwe 1 0 1 0 0.000 0
South Africa 10 5 0 5 0.500 n/a

(Note: “Win Percentage” is an American convention. It is simply the number of wins divided by the number of total games and usually expressed as a three digit decimal, not a percentage. If you look up any table in America, you will see it. It is what I am comfortable with, and so that is what I use. If it offends your math sensibilities, then I apologize. W/L is a Cricinfo stat. Number of wins divided by number of losses.)

– Only one team finished undefeated (South Africa).

– Only four teams won more games than they lost (Australia, Pakistan, The West Indies, and South Africa)

– Only three teams finished “above .500” (Australia, Pakistan, and South Africa)

– Despite England’s recent resurgence in India, I do not see them mentioned in any of the three bullet points above.

Now, the above is a very small sample size, I will admit that, and using the American convention of “winning percentage” is problematic as it does not account for draws (in American sports, there is no such as a draw), but the numbers do not lie: 2012 was a terrible year for most Test nations, and it could be the death knell for the format overall, unless teams begin to improve their form – which is far more expensive for most national boards, especially when the format is no longer financially viable outside of England.

In 40 years I think we will look back at 2012 and agree that’s there where Test cricket started truly dying.

Let’s hope I am wrong.

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