In the IPL’s infancy, there were regular calls for a window in the cricket schedule so everyone could participate in the T20 gold rush. Ricky Ponting, for instance, feared in his 2008 Diary that teams like New Zealand and the West Indies might be lost to international cricket if its lesser-paid players were forced to choose between national honors and better working conditions. Those two examples were well-picked. Brendon McCullum, Ponting’s teammate at the Kolkata Knight Riders and star of the IPL’s inaugural match, had to miss the whole month of May to prepare for and play a Test series in England, while Chris Gayle had to say, “Adios, muchachos,” without playing a single game, as injury and then a Test series at home against Ponting’s Australians prevented his participation.
T20 And T10 Should Have Different Identities
The only other matches that directly interfered with that IPL was a pair of games between Pakistan and Bangladesh, an ODI, and an IT20, and the latter of those contests ended on April 20. Considering the IPL started on April 18 that year, it was an intrusion equivalent to a minor skin irritation, particularly when placed in the context of the fate of Pakistan’s players after the opening season. It was one of their number, Sohail Tanvir, who hit the winning runs for the Rajasthan Royals in that year’s final; it remains the most recent act by a Pakistan player in an IPL match. Their absence gave an acute demonstration of why it was unlikely that the IPL would remain alone in the cricket world, even if the copycats would never earn the status of primus inter pares. It would be against the interests of too many cricket boards, their employees and the broadcasters who pay a lot of money to make a lot of money out of them.
Ponting’s fear, therefore, has had to be amended. Not just because there are now even less international games played during the IPL (just the two Tests this year), or because even the England and Wales Cricket Board pay homage to it, but because the choice has to be made several times a year, not once. The Pakistan Super League serves the aforementioned Pakistanis while in my country, Australia, Cricket Australia increasingly treats it as more of a master than a servant. Not overly united to begin with, the cricket world has become more fragmented. In an effort to combat the fear of losing the best players from international cricket, several proposals have been put forward. One of the more recurring suggestions has been to put a cap on the number of leagues someone can play in. On these pages, Vijay Rahaman argued that the proper number would be one, with all the leagues being played simultaneously.
While seductive, this is a problematic thesis. It is not that he ignores potential issues; he does admit some of them but is blasé about just what a challenge they represent. Weather issues, for example, are acknowledged as difficult but superable. As evidence, he cites the expansion of cricket’s schedule in the last decade and gives two examples: England’s Test series against India and the Caribbean Premier League. In regards to the former, it is true that the last scheduled day on September 11 is later than usual, and that such a development should not be considered in isolation.
The conclusion of next year’s Ashes is September 16, and the ECB’s fixation on short-form cricket, especially that which does not yet exist, is likely to mean that it is likely to become the rule and not the exception. It is not, however, unprecedented for England’s summer of Test cricket to finish in that month. The famous 2005 Ashes finished on September 12. Should Rahaman’s suggestion be adopted, there is every chance that T20 would have to be played during a month that English administrators would simply refuse to countenance for reasons of commerce even if the weather was not a problem.
In regards to the CPL, it is flexible because it has to be, and even that has its limits. While it has benefited from its relative longevity, it would have every reason to be hesitant at playing it out of the regular timeslot. Perhaps not as cautious as CA, who are as unlikely to play the BBL outside the summer months in Australia as it is for Virat Kohli to forget his protector when he next goes out to bat, but reluctant nonetheless. This does not, however, preclude the possibility of more regional tournaments, and regionalism may well be more sustainable in the future. Tim Wigmore has written in great detail on this matter as it pertains to the T20 leagues. In addition, IT20 status has been expanded, as has the fixture list.
On the general principle of an international approach to the game’s future, however, I find myself in agreement with Rahaman. It’s just that I find more opportunity for it in a T20 offspring, T10. So far, its growth has remained restricted to boards that have not been able to serve their country or region adequately through T20. The United Arab Emirates hosted the inaugural tournament, while Pakistan’s main motive for hosting such a league later this year appears to be the opportunity to play all the matches in Pakistan. Apart from the International Cricket Council listing it as an “opportunity and a threat”, there has not been much of a ripple when it comes to T10.
An assumption that deserves to be questioned is that it is best served by a league structure, and the reason for that is that there is only one day in the cricket world that is currently free from cricket: Christmas Day. I came to that realization when I joked to a mate that being paid to play in a T10 game is like being rewarded with milk and cookies for walking from your bedroom to your living room. While cricketers have a valid point when they claim that it does not hurt for one day a year to be out of bounds for the schedule – I’ve always had sympathy for Australian cricketers who have made that argument – it does not follow that the idea should be immediately binned. It would not, for instance, be ahistorical. Australia itself has played international cricket on that day.
It is not, however, for that reason that I propose this suggestion. If cricket is a game that is increasingly in thrall to its broadcasters, the question should be asked: if you were in charge of a global channel that owned the rights to all the cricket matches of the world, and wanted cricket to air 24-7, would you not want something unique for Christmas Day? In length, T10 is much closer to indoor cricket, which means that there could be an indoor and outdoor version of the format, thus allowing a potential path around the weather problems for those countries in which the match would be played completely out of season. Jason Roy recently told Arjun Bhardwaj that T10 is exciting, but that is not enough. T20 and T10 are close cousins, but not one and the same To prosper, T10 needs its own identity outside T20.
And that is what it does not currently have.