Saturday, January 18, 2014

And now for something completely different...

Cricket.  The English version of baseball.  A sport that I play, follow, and try to figure out how to make better (I do this with baseball too, but I'll focus on cricket here).

Cricket has a few issues:

1.  Fans are losing interest in Test matches, preferring to watch the one-day versions, or, worse for the international aspect, the Twenty/20 leagues popping up across the world, most prominently in India, where the best players can earn much, much more than they do playing the more difficult 5 day games.
2.  There is no clear way for a nation to reach Test playing status, and no way for a nation to lose their status once they receive it.  Ireland has done everything that has been asked of them, but the ICC refuses to commit to a plan to promote Ireland.  Worse, the England Cricket Board has a vested interest in preventing Ireland from gaining Test status, since they continue to pilfer Ireland's best players (Ed Joyce, Eoin Morgan, Boyd Rankin, I'm looking at you).
3.  Series are not created equally.  For high drawing matches, rivalries or top quality sides, the series tend to be longer.  When two sides facing each other aren't close in ability, it is significantly shorter.
4.  There is a significant drop-off in talent after the 8th best team in the world, New Zealand.  #9 (Zimbabwe) and #10 (Bangladesh) are not able to extend any of the teams above them.
5.  It is impossible in this day and age to play a home-and-home series with every Nation at this level in a two-year period, especially with the increasingly congested schedule.

So, change is coming to cricket.  Here's what I think it should look like:

1.  A series of divisions.  First division would have the #1-4 ranked Nations, second division #5-8, third division #9-12, etc.
2.  Each nation may play another series each year against a nation outside their division.  If England and Australia are not in the same division, the Ashes will continue.  Sri Lanka-India, or Pakistan-India could happen every other year.  Maybe Ireland could schedule one of the bigger nations for a short series when they travel to England.
3.  By keeping it at four, it prevents interference with the IPL and other domestic leagues.  As much as traditionalists hate it (and myself as well), I fear the Twenty/20 Leagues are here to stay, especially with how much money they generate.  Any more cuts into the ability to play another nation of choice.
4.  The gap between the #8 team (New Zealand) and #9 team (Zimbabwe) is significant.  I would even consider before relegating New Zealand, they would have a home series against Zimbabwe that Zimbabwe would need to win before promotion.
5.  This offers a clear opportunity to Associate Nations to reach Test playing status.  Ireland would be involved in round-robin series against Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.  Should they defeat those other nations, they would have a series against New Zealand (or the West Indies).  THAT would be exciting.
6.  Nations beneath Division Three never get to play 5 day matches - their ability doesn't allow for matches to last that long.  So nations #13-16 would play 3 day matches.
7.  I would include in each series a number of ODIs and Twenty/20, each with reduced point values in relation to the Tests.

Here's what that would look like:

Division One:

South Africa/India/Australia/England.  Is there any match a cricket fan wouldn't want to see among these?

Division Two:  Pakistan/Sri Lanka/West Indies/New Zealand.  Think of the battles to be promoted and relegated.

Division Three:  Zimbabwe/Bangladesh/Ireland/Netherlands.  Should they be playing Test matches, or 4 day matches?  I can go either way here, but I'm not sure how many draws would take play in 5-day matches.

Division Four:  Kenya/Afghanistan/Scotland/UAE.  3 day matches.  Currently only Kenya has any experience with matches longer than a day...and that was a while ago.

Beneath Division Four, the competitions would be one-day matches, and would be similar to those that are organized now.

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