“It (cricket) should go the football way, where, in T20 cricket, you just play the World Cup. Bilateral tournaments — no one remembers.”
Former India player-turned-broadcaster-turned-coach-turned-broadcaster (again) Ravi Shastri has emphasised this idea more than once in the last year or so.
The 60-year-old mentioned in a recent interview with ESPNCricinfo that he didn’t “remember a single (T20I) game in the last six-seven years as coach of India, barring the World Cup”.
“A team wins the World Cup, they will remember it,” he further added.
“Where I am coming from is: you play franchise cricket around the globe; each country is allowed to have their franchise cricket, which is their domestic cricket, and then, every two years, you come and play a World Cup.”
Shastri’s words have been ringing in every cricket viewer’s ears for the last few years. And it makes sense. With the number of domestic and franchise T20 leagues only increasing over the years, the annual cricket calendar has become more congested than ever. Take the itinerary of the Indian team.
Post a two-month-long IPL season, the players featured in a five-match home series against South Africa within a week after the league’s conclusion swiftly followed by two T20Is in Ireland, followed by three T20Is and as many ODIs against England. The schedule doesn’t get any lighter with three ODIs and five T20Is in West Indies, three ODIs in Zimbabwe, the Asia Cup and then the T20 World Cup itself. Even after the World Cup, there is no pause with India scheduled to travel to New Zealand for a white-ball series.
The Indian players do not play in domestic leagues outside of IPL but others from around the world do participate in a lot of them. Which does pose a hard task for ICC and individual boards to schedule bilateral series. If push comes to shove, the leagues will prevail over bilaterals. Economics will be the decider and IPL and the other franchise leagues generate the major chunk of the profits that pump the game. Right from player earnings to media rights to the share of local boards and cricket associations, the leagues don’t just surpass the bilateral series but the World Cups as well.
Cricket at heart may have always been an international contest-driven sport but that might have to change for the sake of the international game. Shastri’s suggestion of cricket taking a leaf out of football’s book sounds natural. Leagues such as IPL are already looking to extend their window in the annual calendar. And they already occupy a major share across the year. Here’s a list of the major men’s T20 leagues (and The Hundred) across the next 10 months, following which the cycle repeats itself.
In the women’s game, the number of leagues across the world aren’t as many but that seems to be changing with the BCCI and Pakistan Cricket Board looking to work towards Women’s IPL and PSL. The Fair Break Invitational is one particular league that caught everyone’s eye with players from more than three dozen countries participating, almost four times more than the teams at the World Cup, including a majority of the Associate nations. There have been calls for increasing the league’s timeline and the organisers have taken positively to the suggestions. It may as well be cricket’s way of becoming a more diverse and inclusive sport with players from Associate nations establishing themselves by playing alongside some of the major names in the game.