Saturday, November 01, 2008

New World Order

I'm not sure if I'm breaking copyright laws here, but this letter in today's Grauniad is worth reprinting in full. I'm not suggesting that I agree totally with it, but it certainly maps out a feasible and interesting future!


Stephen Moss (It's all over now, G2, October 29) ably summarises the current situation of Sir Allen Stanford's Twenty20 for 20 project. However, like most cricket commentators, he fails to consider a crucial question. Stanford is too good a businessman to be spending $100m over five years on outraging traditionalists and influencing the small-scale business of cricket boards. So he has to have a longer-term, possibly quite risky plan for larger profit. And actually, once looked at in the right way, it's quite obvious.

Moss quotes Ed Smith, captain of Middlesex and author of Playing Hardball, an excellent book about baseball from a cricketer's perspective. Reading that book in the current context makes several things quite obvious.

Twenty20 cricket has a lot in common with baseball, for the audience. The games are of similar length, similar complexity, and their forms of action are similarly visceral. This brief, violent form of cricket stands a far better chance of appealing in the US. The Twenty20 game has a chance to cross over into the baseball audience. Success is not certain but the rewards would be huge.

The team sports that have serious mass appeal, and thus large TV revenues, in the US are baseball and American football. Those are not major sports anywhere else. The only sports popular both within the US and the wider world are individual games: golf, tennis and so on. If a sport becomes popular in both the US and India - where Twenty20 is already hugely popular - the rivalries, fan bases and revenues will be measured in the tens of billions of dollars.

Obviously, the US will form its own teams. They'll learn, fast and well, if there are fortunes to be made. Some of their players and audience may discover the appeal of the longer game. Test cricket will survive in some form because it is financially viable in the UK, and will retain an audience in India and Australia, at a minimum.

It may well be the case that the game will fragment into two codes, like rugby. I doubt that a powerful US cricket board, in alliance with an even richer Indian board, would be very patient with the MCC's priorities in the care and maintenance of the laws of cricket. But rugby has shown that such a split does not automatically doom a sport, if both codes have enough supporters.
John Dallman

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