Market Forces

If there's one thing West Indian cricketers do consistently these days, it's losing. In Port of Spain, the Test side were thrashed by South Africa, while in Leicester their A side went down to an India A attack led by an eighteen year-old who'd never previously played in a first-class game but who took 13 wickets in the match.

Kieron Pollard probably wouldn't have helped either side very much, but then he never had the opportunity to, having decided to forego the A tour in favour of a T20 contract with Somerset. With fast runs, wickets, a six which damn nearly cleared the Lord's pavilion and a brilliant run-out as part of an improbable Somerset win at the Rose Bowl on Friday night, the county doubtless view his salary as money very well spent.

The West Indian authorities aren't impressed with this, seeing it as an indication of the fact that, for a young West Indian cricketer, the opportunity to wear the crimson cap isn't the peak of his ambition. Regardless of the fact that Pollard had apparently signed his Somerset contract well before the West Indian tour party was announced, his decision encapsulates the changing priorities of many within the game. For all its tradition, complexity and lost glory, West Indian Test cricket can't provide the rewards that an IPL franchise or an English county can, added to which it's bloody hard work to get to the top.

In the matter of Test cricket, as with anything else, market forces pay no respect to tradition. Players like Pollard are in the position which all of us would like to be in. Less work for much more money. Who could honestly say that they wouldn't do the same?

What is more concerning for the future of the longer game is the question of how the future is viewed by players who are yet to make it to the top. Will they regard Test cricket as the summit of their ambitions, or will they prefer the money available elsewhere for comparatively little effort? I don't know, but I have a suspicion that many will choose the latter option.

Kieron Pollard's decision may be the thin end of a very large wedge. Never mind the West Indies Cricket Board, all those who love and respect the first-class game have more than enough reason to worry about the future.


Russ said...

Brian, very good post. I was reading and reflecting on it last night, while I watched the Europe-based stars turn out for Ivory Coast, and wondering bout the parallel decision: if those players had to make a choice, between an international career and a club one, what choice would they make?

This is, I think, an easier question. There is no comparison between the millions available from their clubs, versus the comparative pittance they'd get playing for an impoverished nation. But they don't have to make a choice, because FIFA was smart (or lucky) enough to put in place a strict demarcation between the domestic season and the international one.

It is a good example of how rampant self-interest continually thwarts good governance at the ICC, that the proposal put forward for a domestic window was for the IPL only (and therefore rightly rejected by the other nations). Personally, I'd like to see 10-12 weeks set aside just for T20 domestic cricket in both the northern and southern hemispheric summers. If the rest is limited to internationals/first class seasons, that would be more than enough time to play international tours, and (just) enough to complete a first-class summer.

Brian Carpenter said...

Thanks, Russ. A very good point about the ICC's lack of focus and foresight, but the world calendar is now so crowded and messy that it's going to take a phenomenal act of will to sort it out.

I think the ECB has done its best to kill the golden goose here by staging 151 (!) games this summer and I'll be very surprised if the crowds aren't well down, especially as it coincides with the World Cup.

In most parts of the world, though, the crowds and TV audiences would have to dwindle a hell of a lot to come anywhere near those for Tests, and therein lies the problem.

I hate to say it and hope I'm wrong, but I'm now quite pessimistic about the future of Test cricket.

Russ said...

Thanks Brian. I wonder if adminstrators were ever actually cricket spectators sometimes. There is nothing inherently wrong with 151 games - the EPL plays 380 for example - but they need to be scheduled in a way that a spectator can easily follow their team, and just the result of the others. The T20 leagues are always scheduled like tournaments - daily games, random fixtures - whereas leagues are much better organised in rounds - a weekly, or bi-weekly game, with days off between (for review and preview tv shows). If authorities want people to go to 16 games a season, they need to make consistent schedules for people - "I go every weekend" - not random ones - "there is a game on the Xth I want to go to".

Test cricket has a similar problem: it is all about narrative, if you couldn't make a non-boring commemorative video about a competition it isn't worth playing. And most test series are too short, too one-sided, and too lacking in context for anyone to care. But I don't think tests will die out. They have a very strong core of popularity, and in some ways - the fact that leading associates are playing international first class cricket now; or the rise of domestic professional tournaments - the game has never been stronger.

Brian Carpenter said...

You're certainly right about the desirability of regular match schedules, Russ. One of the reasons the major winter sports - football and rugby union (my favourite game) - work here is that you know that from late August to early May your team will have a game somewhere every weekend, and, apart from in the very top tier of football, it will invariably be on a Saturday afternoon. That's why British winter Saturdays are one of the greatest things ever invented.

As for Tests, my opinions fluctuate according to my mood, but I'm really just guessing at what the future holds, and that's not an exact science.

It'll be interesting to see where we are in ten years' time.

Subscribe in a reader