Sunday, October 25, 2015

Saving Cricket

I know this post has little to do with baseball, but indulge me this one time...

I am a huge baseball fan, but I wasn't any good after I broke my arm the summer after 7th grade.  Hell, I may not have been any good before either, but that's neither here nor there.

The fact is, when I lived in the Middle East, one of my closest friends played first-class cricket, and his enthusiasm for the sport led to me looking up clubs to play for when I returned to live in the States, and:

1.  I found a great club
2.  I wound up being better at cricket than baseball.
3.  I also fell in love with all aspects of the game.

And while there are a lot of reasons why it confuses the hell out of Americans, it certainly doesn't help that there are currently 3 different forms played at all levels.

1.  The original:  Test Cricket - in which a team must get their opponent out twice within a 5 day span, while outscoring them as well to earn a win.
2.  One-day cricket, in which each team sees 300 balls (pitches, for our American friends), and the team who scores the most off those 300 wins the game.
3.  T-20, in which each team faces 120 balls to accomplish the same thing.

In the longer versions of the game, a batsman not getting out is of key importance - after all, there are only 10 outs on a team.  If a team is going to win, they really need to avoid giving up 20 outs in TWO AND A HALF DAYS.  Needless to say, taking risks are kept to a minimum.

Alternately, in a T-20 game, playing with a bat that has a flat side makes it a LOT harder for a bowler (pitcher) to get a batsman out.  Since there are only 120 balls, more often than not this resembles a Home Run Derby than strategic batting and bowling.  It is gaining popularity since it only takes 3 hours to play, and can be done mid-week at night, to insure more fans in the stands and watching the television.

And therein lies the problem.  I don't have regular access to cricket, so I tend to catch the highlights, and Test highlights make me think there was a ban on attendance.  There is NO ONE in the stands.

The game at the Test level is dying, and there are 3 nations that are trying to kill it beyond their own borders:  England, India and Australia.

These countries make the money off cricket, and they've squeezed the game in such a way that instead of growing its international popularity, they are condemning it to a future of fringe support. I for one can not support this.  And, more importantly, I have a solution.

Bear with me.   I know cricket supporters will wonder what the hell an American with a baseball background has to do with the future of cricket...but I think my suggestions will lend themselves to expanding the interest in the game, and more importantly, bring interest back towards Test cricket, where many of the international players have honed their skills, and without it cricket won't be cricket'll be baseball.  Tashin Tendulkar himself suggesting breaking up the One-day matches into smaller pieces, like baseball.

There is room for both sports, and they should be popular for their own reasons, not for one imitating the other.

Here we go:

1.  Promotion and relegation.  The top five nations should be in the "A" league, or whatever you wish to call it.  The next five would be in the "B" division.  Teams 11-15 in Division C, and 16-20 in Division D
2.  Over a 2.5 year period, each team will play a series against every team in their division twice (home and away).
3.  The series will be made of Test matches, and One-Day/T-20 games.  Point values would be assigned to each "style", with Test wins worth the most, and T-20 the least.
4.  The calendar will allow for each side to play 2 more series in that span - teams can pick teams from outside their division to create a series.
5.  A calendar of this sort allows for domestic leagues, T-20 leagues, and World Cups to be played as well.

6.  At the end of 2.5 year rotation, the lowest ranked team in Division A will face off against the top team in Division B.  One Test match - the lower ranked team HAS to win; a draw keeps the higher seeded team in the top division.  The lowest ranked in Division B faces off against the top team in Division C, same rules apply.
7.  The locations for these matches will be predetermined, in a neutral site, much like the Super Bowl.  Tickets can be bought well in advance, hotel rooms booked, and a BIG DEAL made out of it leading up to the series.

Here's what I envision happening:

Division A:  Australia, England, India, South Africa, Pakistan
Division B:  New Zealand, Sri Lanka, West Indies, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe
Division C:  Ireland, Afghanistan, Scotland, Netherlands, U.A.E
Division D:  Canada, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Hong Kong (I'm not really sure at this point)

Division C would play 4 day games against one another, but the promotion match would be Test style.

Division D would play 3 day games against one another, but the promotion match of a longer version (I'd accept Test or 4 day, doesn't matter as far as I'm concerned)

All teams below Division D would play One-Day cricket, top team hoping to play into Division D.

1.  This would give all the non-Test teams a chance to earn their way to Test status.
2.  Increased interest in all forms of cricket, but especially Test.
3.  The series between teams attempted to get promoted would be of international interest.
4.  It would force the lower seeded Test nations (I'm looking at you, West Indies/Zimbabwe) to get their acts together, or be relegated.  Ireland's coming for you!

Each series between nations in divisions would have their length decided by the home team, but there would need to be a minimum of 2 Tests matches.

If anyone has comments about my recommendations, feel free to let me know, but remember:  don't nitpick.  If you're unhappy about one aspect, have a solution:  Test cricket is losing its appeal, and other sports (rugby, I'm looking at you) are doing a much better job of promoting their sport to the world.  Cricket needs to shit or get off the pot.