The MCC World Cricket Committee met at Lord’s on July 3 and 4, ahead of the first Test between England and South Africa that commenced in front of a full house at the ‘home of cricket’ on Thursday. Test matches in England are usually well attended. But overall, the game’s longest format’s health doesn’t look robust globally, popularity wise. The Committee, headed by its outgoing chairman Mike Brearley, even contemplated a separate window for the format and, among other things, backed cricket’s entry in the Olympics. The ICC chief executive David Richardson was present as an invitee. Following are some of the issued discussed — and suggestions put forth — by the Committee.
‘Encroachment’ of T20 leagues
India played 13 home Tests last season, which was a celebration of the game’s purest format. The official broadcaster’s figures revealed that on an average 81.9 million viewers had zoomed into the India-England Test series per game. But compare this with the IPL that followed the Test season. The first month of the T20 tournament recorded a viewership of close to 364 million. The MCC World Cricket Committee spoke about “the gradual encroachment” of franchise-based domestic T20 leagues into Test cricket’s schedule. “Whereas a few years ago ICC was willing to accept a window for the Indian Premier League, now the question is: ‘do we need windows for Test cricket?’” the Committee asked.
Reducing the earning gaps
In his 19-page presentation to the Committee of Administrators (CoA), former India coach Anil Kumble detailed about the urgent need of driving youngsters towards the longest format by making Test cricket more remunerative. He described the gulf between the T20 riches and Test cricket as “unhealthy” and “detrimental” to the sport. Karn Sharma, for example, became the costliest Indian at the IPL auction after being bought for Rs 3.2 crore. Cheteshwar Pujara, on the other hand, is on a Rs 2 crore BCCI retainer fee.
“A principal conclusion from the debate was that there must be efforts made to reduce the earnings gap between playing Test cricket and gaining T20 contracts, and between the earnings of Test cricketers in different countries,” the MCC Committee said, observing that “the game has not done enough to protect, preserve and encourage Test cricket around the world”. It lauded the ICC initiative to introduce a World Test League, “with a Championship Final every two years”, which can help the game “protect” itself and “sustain”. The MCC Committee will form a sub-group, led by its incoming chief Mike Gatting, to focus on “what cricket lovers, players and broadcasters most want from Test cricket”.
Cricket in Olympics
In 2013, the ICC Board had ruled out cricket’s inclusion in the Olympics. The BCCI had rejected the proposal and that was that, for the Indian cricket board used to dictate terms back then. Cricket’s entry into the Olympics could happen only through the T20 format, which is the game’s biggest money-spinner. The ICC feared that cricket becoming an Olympic sport could mean a substantial revenue loss, with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) taking out the chunk. The MCC World Cricket Committee, however, has been advocating cricket’s entry into the 2024 Olympics, ignoring a “short-term loss in income for the ICC”. The latest meeting, too, asked for a “unified front”. “The committee believes that now is the right time for cricket to move in line with other major global sports and be played in the Olympics…The committee hopes ICC will present a unified front in applying to the 2024 host city to include cricket in their games.” The deadline, May 2017, to apply to the IOC is over. But the ICC can directly communicate with the host city for the 2024 Olympics for cricket’s inclusion.
Rethink on distribution model
The ICC at its Annual conference last month ratified the new financial model to bring on a more equitable revenue distribution system. The MCC Committee, however, has urged “the richer countries to give up some funding in the long-term interest of cricket as a whole”.