2017 has been called a lot of things in the cricketing world. The year of Smith, the Year of Kohli, and the year of underdogs appear to be the most common narratives. I’ve got a different one for you – 2017 was the year of tinkering.
I’m usually in favour of change in the cricketing world. I was a fan of T20 cricket when it was launched, and I dismissed the more rabid critics of the IPL as out-of-touch elitists. But the changes suggested in 2017 aren’t visionary, or creative. They are counter-productive, and hence I’ve chosen to use a more cynical descriptor here – tinkering.
Let’s go through the list of changes then. We saw the first T-10 league, a format which Eoin Morgan described as ‘ideal for the Olympics’. If that sounds familiar, it’s because a similar push for T20 cricket was proposed in 2008. That was ten years ago, and the idea is just as far-fetched now as it was back then.
Incidentally, cricket’s obsession with the Olympics has always mystified me. The Olympics are a sporting spectacle like no other, but they have never been the definitive destination for elite team sport. I’m not sure what cricket in the Olympics will really achieve – we already have a competition that crowns the best every four years!
The Commonwealth Games Federation then took the tinkering to a new level, by suggesting mixed-gender cricket in the 2022 CWG. Apparently they “look forward to suggesting innovative proposals for how best to include the sport of cricket for the benefit of all communities across the Commonwealth of Nations.”
Test cricket didn’t fare too well either. 2017 saw the introduction of a two-year Test championship, and the re-introduction of four-day Tests. In an age of rapidly declining attention spans, the former is almost comical, and the latter is confusing – more tinkering that doesn’t solve cricket’s most pressing issues.
So what are these pressing issues? I’m sure everyone has their own opinion on this, but my take is simple – in an age where we have more entertainment options than ever before, on more devices than ever before, cricket is struggling to remain relevant to the average viewer.
It isn’t hard to figure out why. The bulk of the sport’s history and nostalgia is in a 5 day format, the biggest prize (The World Cup) is in the 50 over format, and the sport’s money is invested in a different format altogether. Nostalgia, high stakes and economics are among the most powerful forces in any professional sport, and if they’re pulling cricket in different directions, it will be terrible for the sport’s future.
So here’s my wish for 2018 – less tinkering, more hunkering down and focusing on the basics. Don’t let the high bids for television rights fool you – our sport is more fragile than we think. On a good day we have ten international teams, and expecting each of them to maintain proficiency in three formats is a tough ask as it is. If we continue to tinker with the basic framework of our sport, we will only be left with a handful of marquee contests, a string of one-sided bilaterals and the IPL – a poor future for a great sport.