Almanac cricket: Club v country and a future of All-Star Tests

franchise n. 1. the rights of a citizen, esp.
the right to vote. 2. a privilege arising from the grant
of a sovereign or government, or from prescription, which
presupposes a grant. 3. permission granted by a manu-
facturer to a distributor or retailer to sell his products.

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“Club versus country” is a common refrain in top-level sport. The phrase elicits competing narratives of the employer-employee relationship and that of the pinnacle of representing one’s country. These scenarios have occurred for years in association football (e.g. should Cristiano Ronaldo be made available for Portugal’s European Cup qualifier on the Wednesday, or should he be saved for Real Madrid’s crunch league fixture on the Friday night? Does it matter?)

Of course, subjective choices need to be made. And of course, not everyone will agree with each decision. Is the national game of consequence? Is it a friendly? Where is the match being played? What does his club contract say? Fans and sponsors are interested in these questions. Bookmakers, no doubt, too.

Malcolm Knox nailed current cricket shenanigans on Saturday, with his piece in The Age “Country versus Club is killing cricket.” He rightly points out that the new paradigm for cricketers is not T20 versus Test; it’s club versus country. Or fat cat employer versus national selection.

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Many people argue that international competition is the best. That it should be preserved as the pinnacle of competition. And in terms of emotional investment, it probably is. Nationalism is a powerful force. Perhaps in previous times skills-on-display were also highest at the international level. But the rise of travel and money and communications has seen the skills on display in international sport eclipsed by those of all-star sport (Champions League, Indian Premier League, etc.).  Some club competitions themselves have become quasi world’s best leagues (National Basketball Association). In the absence of anyone else doing this for Australian football, the Australian Football League probably fits this category.

Even if the only advantage that international sport has over all-star sport is the emotional investment, I’d argue that’s still a huge advantage. That’s where the story and the context and the history come in. It is meaning.

Over time, though, clubs build a history. Build stories. Build memories. Real Madrid certainly has a history. The Hobart Hurricanes(?!) history, though brief, is longer now that it was last week. Is it enough to build support? Will anyone actively support the Hobart Hurricanes (or those representing the Hobart Hurricanes), the way people support Real Madrid? Maybe they will.

And if they do, it will be due to the prospect of seeing the best against the best; regardless of nationalism.

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Test cricket is widely held as the “best” form of cricket.

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Considering the future of Test cricket, perhaps the question of country v club (franchise) is not quite right. After all, T20 is a different sub-genre within the sport of cricket. But if the idea of being paid a wheelbarrow-full to represent an arbitrarily constructed franchise is so attractive, why not provide the same opportunity in the sport of Test cricket?

The next logical step for Test cricket is for franchise games. Forget India, England, Australia. Think instead of the Pondicherry Tigers, the Glastonbury Storm, the Alice Springs. But for this to work, to lure the best of the world, global seasons dictate shifting tournaments. Picture it: four (or eight) All Star squads playing round robin games in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia from December, culminating in a Southern Final. A real Grand Final Super Test.

The squads then all head to the Caribbean for a March tournament.
And to England for July-August.
And to India for October.
And back to South Africa, New Zealand, Australia for the southern season.

It’s non-stop global money machine.
Test cricket between franchises.

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About David Wilson

David Wilson is a writer, editor, flood forecaster and former school teacher. He writes under the name “E.regnans” at The Footy Almanac and has stories in several books. One of his stories was judged as a finalist in the Tasmanian Writers’ Prize 2021. He is married and has two daughters and the four of them all live together with their dog, Pip. He finds playing the guitar a little tricky, but seems to have found a kindred instrument with the ukulele. Favourite tree: Eucalyptus regnans.

Comments

  1. Peter Warrington says

    In some senses it’s full circle back to the corporate teams in the sub- after the poms were booted out

  2. G’day Big Dave,
    Excellent article and fully agree with the argument that it is not T20 v Test Cricket but rather money v Test Cricket. The underlying premise being the ability for clubs operating within a global entertainment business to fund players’ salaries at far higher rates than their national cricket boards.
    Could draw some comparisons to Rugby Union which operates as a club system across Sth Africa, NZ & Aus. National representative duties are scheduled around this format therefore players do not have to chose between club or country. Are there any restrictions on which club a rugby player can represent, eg can an Aussie play for the Capte Town Stormers?

  3. Interesting idea ER – I’m not sure the economics would work out. We might franchise and disenfranchise all at once.

    ARU has just changed its policy Philo. Previously players that wanted to be eligible for Wallaby selection had to play for an Australian club. Now if the player has played over 60 tests and has been ARU contracted for at least seven years, they can play for a foreign club and still be eligible for Wallaby selection.

  4. I really struggle with franchise teams. I don’t like things or ideas that demand respect. I like things and ideas that earn respect. And, broadly speaking, the only sporting way to do that is to be attached to a community and to win the hearts and minds of the people, otherwise you are just an ABN and a bank account.

    Sport is the mirror for society.

  5. Thoughtful stuff. I am coming to the view that 5 day Tests are just a historical artefact, so transforming it into an All Star Franchise would not give it meaning or an audience.
    I came across an article in a food magazine by the renowned critic AA Gill in which he confessed his inherited love for the game, but said he had given up on watching or paying any attention because it was basically mostly a waste of time. And that there were much more interesting and meaningful things to do with his time.
    He wrote something that struck a chord with me “that cricket is basically a game that fathers once played and remain interested in so they can take their sons one day. And sons reluctantly oblige because they know what it means to their father.” Some sort of initiation ritual or right of passage that has been handed down through the generations in British Commonwealth countries.
    But that has lost any independent relevance and value in the modern world. Who wants to spend 7 hours a day for up to 5 days on something that is most likely decided by a dodgey pitch or the toss of a coin? And in which the contestants may or may not be much interested in winning (SDP Smith in Adelaide; or the West Indies in general).
    If Test Cricket did not exist, would anyone ever invent it nowadays?
    History (and hence nations) are the reason why players strive for Test representation (they want to emulate the Chappell or Lillee or Bradman they grew up seeing or hearing about). It’s our Luke Skywalker/Darth Vader myth.
    Franchising it would finally rob it of even that meaning. This is a dead parrot

  6. Dead Parrot? That’s your value judgement mate. To millions, test cricket is the world’s greatest sport. No other game has it’s artistry and charms. No myth in that.

  7. G’day all,
    PW – agreed. The national thing is just another artificial construct.
    Philo – fair comparison.
    D Brown – you might be right. The true test of a “product” I guess, is to let the market decide. How’s that for free market economics?
    Dips – Me too. But then, I reckon Geelong FC is just another franchise now. As is Collingwood. Real Madrid, LA Lakers, the lot of them. Any sense of club is surely gone from the senior playing group.
    PB – I fear you’re right. Take away the nationalism and comparisons with Trumper and what have you got? As a “product” (urgh), it’s something that not that many wish to buy/pay to see. The maths are simple.
    Oatsy – All any of us have is an opinion. Artistry and charm evidently are not paying the bills. It’s the majority that rule this planet.

    Has me wondering if a Test franchise was ever launched, how would it go?

  8. We need to acknowledge contemporary sport for what it is; a commodity. A commodity has tow values, its use value and its exchange value, with the latter clearly being the primary.

    Test cricket , as we know it, arose in 1877. I don’t have a great knowledge of cricket teams, touring and playing prior to that, though i feel they were privately run entities, not too different to current franchises . I can recall back in the 1970’s when the English sporting capitalist DW Robbins had teams playing first classes matches. His teams toured South Africa until the latter part of the 1970’s. Touring teams visiting the UK often played his side in the concluding stages of tours. Of course we all know about WSC. Franchises are not new, what is new is when they become the primary form of cricket.

    Who knows where to from here with cricket. THe BCCI’s control of world cricket, supported by the toadies of the MCC and ACB, sets the direction of what was meant as the ICC. If cricket is to be sold to the highest bidder(s), so be it. In an age of instant gratification, with the world being little more than a ‘market’ cricket like every other commodity will be judged on the costs involved to those running the business. Remember, “the future is unwritten.”

    Glen!

  9. The future is indeed unwritten, Glen.
    And the present is a bit murky.

    It makes sense in the commodity/product/value paradigm for players to seek to maximise their income.
    And for clubs/franchises to seek to WIN PREMIERSHIPS (and thereby maximise exposure of their sponsor’s logo).
    And so players move from franchise to franchise. Franchises de-list, undergo list management, set up list-management centres of excellence, etc

    It happens in every workplace.
    If I can get better pay/conditions over there, I move. If my employer can get better outcomes without me, they move me on.

    In AFL, the workplace/franchise idea has swallowed the old club system whole, so while supporters still have emotional investment to the old days, they now follow what is an operational franchise – one part of a system in which players, administrators, coaches, etc etc all effortlessly switch allegiances/employer.
    Start-up franchises are part of this world, of course.

    I reckon players wouldn’t mind the franchise world, as their income and conditions must improve as a result of competition.
    Consumers/supporters will arguably get a better product as a result of competition.

    The problem with Test cricket as a franchise idea is that the games themselves may not be sufficiently exciting and may take too long.
    Probably 10 x T20 games could be played in the time scheduled for a single Test match. There are any more spread betting dollars to be lost over those T20 games than over a single Test. The future is unwritten but it probably follows the money.

  10. Yes, tests as we have known them will not fit into a franchise model. Maybe it might take the format of two, or three sides playing two T-20 matches daily, over two or two or three days withe side getting the best result being crowned the winner.

    Maybe four sides could round robin over sis days both facing 90 overs pr day, withe best two playing out two more days to determine a winner.

    There are as many options as there is finance, be it rupees, dollars, etc. . Test cricket, i;m not sure what format it will take from here, or if it has a future beyond say 2025. No system, no format last for ever, but none totally disappear whilst they still have something to offer.

    We live in interesting times, where all that is holy is profaned. Test cricket, nay franchise cricket, let’s see where the money takes it.

    Glen!

  11. Luke Reynolds says

    There are murmurs about a franchise based Sheffield Shield competition. Can’t see a Melbourne Stars v Hobart Hurricanes game over 4 days attracting a much bigger crowd than a current Shield game. Would a franchise Test cricket game be any different? Maybe.

    My support for Collingwood and the Victoria Bushrangers, both ‘franchised’ in their own ways, remains strong and undiminished. I nominally follow the Melbourne Stars, yet remain unaffected by either a win or a loss. Yet my two boys, totally unprovoked by me, passionately support the Stars. They watch longer cricket too. Will be interesting to see where their interest lies as they grow.

    Hope I’m cheering Australia in Test matches against other nations for as long as I live.

  12. Perhaps longer forms of first class cricket will do the cycle and return to a true amateurism. Perhaps players will have to ask their employers for time off to play for their state or country. Off course that would be at the Allan Border field and not the Gabba, and there’d be no TV coverage. But would that be the worst thing? Punters might not get and probably wouldn’t expect the same standard as now, but again, it might return that particular facet of cricket to one that could be loved by the purist. Just a thought. We could embrace the (r)evolution of the game.

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