Making Cricket A ‘Bigger, Better, Global Game’
By Richard Browne
We are coming to the end of the first year of the ICC’s new big thing, the ‘bigger, better global game’. To quote directly the object is to ‘achieve a truly global game, with more players, more fans and more competitive teams.”
It is an ambitious but flawed plan to extend cricket away from its hinterlands of the former British Empire and into new ‘growth’ markets such as China and especially America (which gained independence from Britain before cricket was a properly established sport).
Evolution is a notoriously tricky business in cricket: IPL, the Packer revolution, the scrapping of the gentleman and amateur distinctions, the front foot no ball, all now seem an obvious and organic development of the game be it for social or playing reasons, but at the time caused a major raucous.
Cricket in America really died during their bloody civil war in the 1860’s. Previous to the war it was one of the principal games in the new republic that still had strong ties to Britain, despite their own revolution to gain independence. The rough and ready terrain of the civil war camps were not conducive to cricket and it was here that baseball started its unstoppable quashing of cricket in the US.
Cricket lived on in Philadelphia to the start of World War One: JB King a Philadelphian was one of the great bowlers of the late 19th century. Since then though the game has died in the US and is widely considered to be a quaint extension of ‘Britishness’ along with afternoon tea and Beefeaters.
The large ex pat subcontinent population has given the game some life, but the small turnout and next to no interest in the Sri Lanka vs New Zealand match played last year in Florida is a good yardstick for where the game is. Watching cricket on television in the States is nigh upon impossible and expats have to settle for broadcasts on the internet.
Americans have their sports and soccer is growing from a women’s game into a major unisex business. The American Eagles have caused a stir at the Rugby World Cup and with the huge amount of American Football college players who aren’t quite good enough to turn pro, rugby could have a very bright future. England fly half Jonny Wilkinson has predicted that America will become a rugby ‘superpower’.
Rugby is quick, physical and provides lots of opportunities for cheering; all attributes that American’s look for in their sports. Cricket is not. Baseball is struggling in America, the new generation want a quicker fix. Basketball, ice hockey and soccer give them that. Cricket even in the 20/20 format is still three hours long, the rules are complicated and the game requires a massive infrastructure of equipment and specially made pitches.
Is there any need to bring America into the cricketing inner circle? It is of course a financial decision, TV advertising could for example be huge, but there is more than enough money swirling about in cricket at the moment, it is after all a game. Changing a nations psyche just seems to a big a job, the thought of 30,000 American’s turning up to watch some cricket is just too fanciful.
The plan is to develop the game at grass root levels and build from there. A recent nationwide survey asking fresher students what their favourite sport was, did not have cricket as option. It seems sensible to leave America’s contribution to the cricketing world as being a participant in the oldest ever international fixture of any sport- a match against Canada in 1844, which paradoxically 12,000 people turned up to watch.
More feasible and laudable is the ICC’s decision to have sixteen rather than twelve teams in the 20/20 World Cup post 2012. Cricket needs to looks for expansion in countries where there are not hordes of other sports competing for the public’s attention or where there is already a foothold.
Afghanistan has its large refugee Pakistani population and is not famed for its sporting prowess. Holland has football and very little else. Ireland an island the size of Sri Lanka plays an astonishing amount of games from their own Gaelic sports to football and rugby. Part of the reason cricket languished in Ireland was that it was seen as a British game, during centuries of bitter turmoil. The world has moved on and since the 2007 World Cup victory against Pakistan the game has grown quickly and with the help of the ICC affluently.
Player numbers have risen from 17,000 to 25,000 and 50,000 are hoped for by 2015. Ireland can now compete against established nations in ODI cricket and that is with their best player Morgan playing for England. Financial and administrative support from the ICC has made this happen and there is a strong argument that it is money far better spent than pursuing pipe dreams on the other side of the Atlantic.
The most natural route for cricket to spread is through 20/20 Olympic involvement, but this is still no nearer to happening. Rugby sevens is now an Olympic sport and the principal of a quicker and more fluid format of a game being used to spread it to a new audience is one that would work with cricket.
The ECB as early as 2004 launched a bid for cricket to be in the 2012 London games, but this did not happen. IOC president Jacques Rogge is a fan of the game and the idea. It seems strange that the only Olympic sport to be staged at a cricket ground during London 2012 is archery, at Lords.
If the ICC are truly serious about their ‘bigger, better, global game’ then the Olympics is the natural step. Olympic Games tend to create a temporary sporting obsession and cricket could feed of the back of this. It would be a two way beneficial thing: India one of the world’s largest countries has a dismal record in the games for a country of its size. Get cricket involved and suddenly you have 1.2 billion frenzied Indians emotionally involved in the world’s principal sporting event.