Dhaka, Bangladesh
Post-national is here, but the formats can co-exist

Post-national is here, but the formats can co-exist

Cricket is preparing to move on from being a colonial and post-colonial sport to a post-national one. The $2.5 billion bid for IPL media rights could be a game-changer. It will not take long to convince administrators and fans that the greatest income-generating format is the greatest format of the game. Club v. Country is not a new sporting choice, not even for cricketers. And soon cricket boards everywhere will have to handle the pressures of the tail wagging the dog. If the administrators follow the money, there is no reason why the players wouldn't too. When T20 was invented, it was seen as a way of attracting a young audience to the game, as a stepping stone to Test cricket or what players continue to call "real cricket". Increasingly, however, the traffic has been in the opposite direction. Richie Benaud made the point that in T20 cricket, children took their parents to the matches while in Test cricket, parents took their children to the matches. Perhaps he hoped for a dynamic equilibrium in spectatorship overall. Reaping it rich The Board of Control for Cricket in India understood which way the wind was blowing. And then monetised the wind. If club-level T20 was fast becoming the highest form of the game, then it made sense to earn the most from it. It might have been the IPL, or, if Indian players were given the freedom to choose where they played, it could have been any of the other leagues, in Australia, Bangladesh, West Indies, or soon in England and South Africa. It was inevitable. Speaking of Australia's Big Bash League, Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland said last year, that "all over the country it has cannibalised the demand for international cricket." The BBL and a Test series against the Windies were played simultaneously. The shorter format had the bigger audiences, greater media interest and a better range of international players in action. Six Windies players played in the BBL rather than the internationals. Freedom to choose That might be the future too. Players need a "no objection certificate" from their respective cricket boards to play in the IPL. The Federation of International Cricket Associations has been urging that "a new framework is needed", that is, a player should have the freedom to choose where and how he monetises his talent. When a player is set to earn more money in a few weeks than he might over a whole season, "real cricket" could be overtaken by "real economics." When IPL first made its dramatic debut a decade ago, it was said that it could co-exist with Test cricket. With every passing year, the nay-sayers have increased in number. The format attracted money and the money boosted the importance of the format. Last year, when FICA conducted a survey among its players, 49% said they would reject national contracts if they were paid more in T20 leagues. A higher percentage - 59 - from New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Windies and Bangladesh concurred. The huge amount for media rights for the IPL may not directly increase average player earnings, but it is conceivable that top draws like Virat Kohli might breach the $3 million mark at the next auction. Kohli genuinely believes Test cricket is the highest form of the game, and equally, that it should not be allowed to fade away or change itself too drastically. Recent Indian captains have had a greater impact not just on the game at home, but on the global game as well, thanks to the clout the BCCI carries (and never mind the recent setbacks - more Indians watch cricket than any other people). Test cricket's resilience Test cricket's obituary has been written many times, including during the period we now call its "Golden Age", at the turn of the last century. Yet, it has shown a remarkable resilience, a great instinct for survival, and a refusal to accept that its anachronism might lead to its vanishing. It can be made just as profitable or only slightly less so for players to want Test matches. That will reduce premature retirements from Tests by top players looking for the IPL buck. The ICC is working on ensuring worthwhile competition in bi-lateral series. The IPL is seen as cricket with the boring bits cut out, but there is a significant audience for the "boring" bits too. Test cricket cannot survive on just the Ashes or the India-Pakistan series, the former often one-sided, and the latter dependent on the political temperature. One a colonial relic, and the other a post-colonial re-birth. The post-National is here. T20 is not going anywhere, not for a while, and not while so many entities have invested so much money in it. The mistake is in seeing this as a zero-sum game, with Test cricket's loss being T20's gain and vice versa. In the decade that IPL has changed the way cricket is perceived, it has also proved that the two forms of the game can co-exist. The rest is up to the stakeholders - the players, the boards and the fans.

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