Almanac Cricket – One Crowded Summer: T20 is king

It was with some degree of disbelief that I read Citrus Bob’s challenge this morning.
Bob’s piece seemed to suggest that the summer of Test cricket was to commence on Oaks Day; the Thursday after the first Tuesday in November. Next week(!)

This flew in the face of three life understandings I’ve held for years, as a way of navigating the world and its seasons:
(1) that the Spring racing carnival dominates sports coverage during October-November
(2) that a good few grade and Shield games are held prior to any international cricket
(3) that Test cricket is a summer sport, best played in summer (except in sub-tropical Brisbane, where summer conditions are brutal)
My memories are of speculation building around Test team selection over several weeks preceding the first Test. Shield results more important for individuals than for teams. Conjecture about form, batting order, opposition strengths and weaknesses, all before a NSW player would be selected and take the last spot (or three).

 

The schedule would run something like this: Brisbane Test in late November (ahead of the approaching wet season, and after enough early season Shield games), maybe Perth for some celebrated three-hour time difference cricket, Melbourne for whatever weather arrives, Sydney for a game of vastly different character on a chalky, crumbling pitch. And finally Adelaide for some convection oven -style January heat over the Australia Day weekend. A long story. A novel of a Test summer.

In between, or concurrently, Shield games would be played, allowing others to press for selection or maintain form, overcome injuries. It would keep the pressure on incumbents. Selection conjecture always frothing away. Some inconsequential one dayers would be slotted in. Mid-January probably the best time for those. Between the Sydney and Adelaide Tests.

It was an understood story. A story that grew. A story far from perfect, but not bad, either.

==

Twenty20 cricket has changed all that. Or rather, the money flowing into the hands of traditional cricket hierarchies due to T20 cricket has changed priorities. From my (sheltered, non-PayTV, non-MCC Member) view, Test cricket is no longer the priority of Cricket Australia. Many people representing various cricket bodies continue to say that Test cricket is the number one priority. Yet, as always, actions speak louder than words.

The best of summer weather conditions in southern Australia occur in January. The best of the viewer friendly conditions (school holidays, the majority of people’s annual leave) occur in January. So for when are the 2016/17 Test matches scheduled?
3 November v South Africa, Perth – underdone players without Shield games.
12 November v South Africa, Hobart – still underdone, in Hobart, where conditions in November are cold, soft.
26 November v South Africa, Adelaide – incompatible with rural schedule of annual farming demands. An otherwise fine Test fallen unfortunate victim to pink ball mania.

and
15 December v Pakistan, Brisbane – steamy in the sub-tropics, afternoon storms likely. Rush of pre-Christmas week diffusing interest.
26 December v Pakistan, Melbourne – lucky dip for weather, but the most logical slot.
3 January v Pakistan, Sydney – back-to-back nature with Melbourne puts a lot of stress on player recovery, but again, the most logical slot.

Not one, but two Test series will have been completed by 7 January.

 

And that’s where Big Bash League takes over.
Beginning after the Brisbane Test on 20 December, and running almost every day/night until the final on 28 January, the T20 machine has again taken pole position for the summer. It’s very easy to see where the priority is.

==

Many others have written on the reasons and ramifications of this change. Test, FIFTY50 and TWENTY20 cricket each require similar but slightly different skills. They are different games. A strange situation exists now for players and administrators alike, in which the strength of one game is coming at the cost of another.

Plenty of articles exist on the ramifications of the rise of T20 cricket, Dan Brettig’s recent “Test of T20: the choice that changes cricket” at ESPN cricinfo but one.

==

Check out the following schedule for the coming summer.
It is a calendar representation of cricket from 3 November 2016 until 29 March 2017.
Cricket here being international or BBL games for either men or women.

In that period of 147 days, only 58 are without any cricket.
Australia’s men are scheduled to play 60 cricket days.
Australia’s women are scheduled to play 8 cricket days (no Test matches this summer- none).
The rest (often overlapping) are scheduled Twenty20 club games.

The whole summer is here as a linked PDF: International and BBL, men’s and women’s cricket schedule 2016/17

==

In such a crowded, scatter-gun market of various shades of a similar sport, I wonder how anyone fits a story to the events.
I wonder how many will be interested in fitting a story to the events.
I wonder about the life of an individual player, a middling player from Hobart, and what he/she aspires to play this summer.

I wonder about the composition of Australia’s T20 team playing New Zealand in Adelaide on Wednesday 22 February.
Especially as Australia’s Test team begins Day 1 in Pune, India, the next day (Thursday 23 February 2017).

==

It is an interesting problem for the marketeers, for the preservationists and for everyone in between.
I wonder what we’ll see in ten years from now. Or in ten weeks.

 

Rest up this week. It’s about to begin.

 

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About David Wilson

Hit for a towering 6 by Mike Gatting at the Banyule Cricket Club, December 2002, theatrically attempting to reproduce the SK Warne delivery. The ball is yet to land. @e_regnans

Comments

  1. Dave Brown says:

    An interesting one, ER. Room has to be made for T20 as a money spinner and it is singularly responsible for a massive spike in junior participation. I went back and had a look at the 1997/98 summer of cricket as the point at which it all changed. Cricket Australia made Australia Day the second ODI final and moved the Adelaide test to 30 January. Once no revolution occurred and Adelaide people kept going to the test, they moved the Adelaide test to its now regular spot in the November / December timeframe thereafter.

    When you look at that season, remembering that Domestic One Day matches and some Shield matches were on free to air back then, you had the Domestic OD comp running from 5 October to 1 March, the Shield running from 15 October to 23 March, the tests (6 across two series) from 7 November to 3 February and the ODIs from 4 December to 27 January (with four in NZ in February) – much more intermingled. End result being from the start of November to 22 February there was never more than three days in any week without some scheduled televised cricket. Cricket administrators would now see three days as a wasted opportunity and BBL has brilliantly filled the gap left by a declining interest in domestic cricket and ODIs (and unwillingness of two other countries to keep a squad in Australia for 3 months).

  2. Phil Hill says:

    Gideon Haigh has used the expression ‘lucrative instablity’ to describe both international and domestic cricket. I like 20/20 as it brings a new (young)audience to the game and it is fun to go to.

  3. It’s fascinating that the domestic T20 competition trumps the international tests and one day series. In a summer of tricky international scheduling, the BBL is poised to make another enormous leap forward. I’m a convert to T20. Sure I’ll listen to the tests on the radio and watch a bit on the TV, but it’s the BBL that’ll get me to the MCG (or even Etihad).

  4. jan courtin says:

    Instant results, instant gratification, instant music blaring after each ball (and in the breaks in the footy). No thanks! As long as the five and four-day games are still played, I’ll be there.

  5. Good archaeology, D Brown.
    Incredibly, after a January glut, there’s no cricket scheduled for Australia day 2017.
    And considering the domestic schedule is a further fraught exercise.
    I didn’t include Shield nor 50-50 games in the table (PDF linked above).
    An already full calendar now has to accommodate 5 weeks or so of T20.
    Because T20 is a new game.
    It’s called cricket, but maybe it shouldn’t be.

    P Hill – lucrative instability is perfect. I can’t see s way back for long from cricket, really, as marginalised as it is. Its players and coaches and administrators have effectively been poached by a new, higher paying game.

    Gill – fascinating, indeed. A revolution has occurred. And while niche interest is still strong for the longer form game, niches also exist for model-aeroplane building and basket weaving. It may be the lack of players that spells the end for long form cricket. Or lack of developed player skills. Priorities are intriguing at the administration level and at the player level, both. There is no clear direction here.
    Cricket is dead, long live cricket.
    All quite dispiritingly odd.

  6. Thanks Jan – me too. Might have to source some model aeroplane kits.

  7. I have no problem with the Big Bash League as a concept: it attracts families and introduces even rusted-on cricket-watchers such as myself to new domestic players; old international warhorses like KP get a chance for some final pay-days while entertaining the masses. One just has to look at the WACA and Bellerive BBL crowds relative to their Test crowds to acknowledge its success. Unfortunately, the best time for this comp is the school holidays – late December right through to the end of January. And therein lies the problem.
    I have been of the opinion for some time that Australia’s Test woes are firmly linked to the Rubik’s cube-like summer schedule. To wit:
    # a 50-over domestic tournament which is virtually invisible and serves no purpose (e.eg. the Australian ODI team does not get selected on the strength of these matches – if it did, Cam White would be first picked);
    # one round of Shield matches as a lead-in to three crucial Tests – a round played under pink ball conditions!
    # no Shield matches for over a month, right in the middle of the season, denying non-BBL players such as Travis Dean the opportunity for any continuity mid-season;
    # and what of the T20 matches v Sri Lanka in Feb? Who will be in this Australian team? Or is this Australia A? I note that the second of these matches will be played on the eve the First Test in India, which means that Smith, Warner, Hazelwood, Starc, Lyon etc will not be in those T20 teams. A farce.

  8. G’day Smokie – excellent points, well made.
    I reckon your saying “unfortunately the best time for this (BBL) comp is the school holidays – late December right through to the end of January” is exactly the point here.
    There is no inherent logic in this idea. It’s simply a question of priority.

    We could equally say “the best time for the Test matches is the school holidays – late December right through to the end of January.”
    Or “the best time for 50 over cricket is the school holidays – late December right through to the end of January.”
    The best time for ANY cricket is the school holidays – late December right through to the end of January.

    That Cricket Australia has chosen the Big Bash League for this slot is the elephant.
    It is a decision incompatible with the interests of Test cricket.
    The intractable problem is that Cricket Australia oversees 3 different but similar games, with competing interests.
    In this light, who can or will act on behalf of Test cricket? I can’t see anyone doing that.

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