User:Toddjdavey/Cricket, the gentleman's sport?
Cricket over the past decade has lost its way. The sport that was once about prestige and the pride of representing your nation has given way to big money, bright lights, underhanded dealings and competitive combativeness that threatens to derail the sport altogether.
Yes, business has infiltrated the sport and has afforded the players the same lucrative pay packets seen in other sports around the world; but at what price? Are the players still people or are they becoming a commodity? The eternal pessimist will tell you: twenty20 cricket is a bastardised version of the game, match fixing is rife, the gulf between the best test nations and the worst is forever widening and the politics between the countries governing bodies is more important than the teams on the field.
However, it’s the inception of twenty20 that has injected a much needed boost of popularity into the sport and for a sport that, outside of the ashes tests, has traditionally low attendances when compared to the football codes in Australia, the groundswell and buzz was just what the sport needed.
Twenty20 - The revolution has begun
Twenty20 cricket, at first a flippant act in futility between New Zealand and Australia in Auckland in 2005 has exploded into the most popular format today in world cricket. () Since its inception on that fateful day at Eden Park twenty20 cricket has evolved into a fast paced, easily digestible format that already has a world cup. A Cricket Australia official said that the initial reservations players had with the new format have dissipated “Serious players, who originally thought it was hit and giggle and had their doubts, are now finding that it is a sport that tests their skills. It's a sport that has its own tactics and strategies, and I think their views continue to mature on that front." ()
As much as the world cup changed the face of twenty20 cricket, it’s the inception of the Indian Primer League (IPL) that has revolutionised the game entirely. A game that traditionally was about the pride and honour of representing your country has now become about the dollar figure you can command.
Even retired players such as Adam Gilchrist and Glenn McGrath have been coaxed out of retirement to play in the IPL, the former commanding a contract of 900,000 dollars for Punjab. ()
Twenty20 has also been warmly received at the domestic level in Australia with the Big Bash drawing the largest crowd numbers of any format at the state level. Furthermore, with the expansion of the competition and new teams being brought in, twenty20 is becoming more and more popular as each year passes by.
Furthermore, in 2011 Cricket Australia has introduced the Big Bash League (BBL), with the aim to “generate the rivalry and passion typical of football competitions such as the A-League, AFL and NRL.” ()
In addition, the competition allows players to play for any BBL team regardless of state borders, with each state having a team in their capital, with Melbourne and Sydney both having two. In keeping with the IPL, the BBL had a 3 week signing window where teams could sign any player as well as two overseas players. ()
At the grassroots level too, twenty20 is being implemented as a speedier format that can be completed in a 3-hour window - much more convenient than the traditional four or five-day period needed to finish a club match.
The coach/player merry-go-round
Only ten years ago Steve Waugh’s Australian test side set a new world record for the longest consecutive match victories in the longest format of the game with 16. () Waugh’s was a team who not only guarded their home soil with a ruthlessness seldom seen in world sport, but an army of relentless competitors who invaded and conquered any foe who stood in their way from any corner of the globe.
Fast forward to 2010, Australia lost the ashes to England on Australian soil; the first time since 1987. Compounded by this was the fact that Australia’s once irresistible stranglehold on the ICC world test rankings had dissipated, seeing the Aussies slip to fifth, while England assumed the top spot in 2011, a mere year after demoralising Australia on their home turf. The comparison between the two teams is apt considering the path to success England took once they were embarrassed by Australia during the 2006-07 campaign which saw the Brits lose 5-0. ()
England poured money into resources, getting the best coaches, best talent nurturers and the best facilities to ensure they get to the top and stay there. Australia, whilst experiencing a sustained period of success, did not realise just how much of a crippling effect the losses of Warne, McGrath, Gilchrist et al. would have on the future of Australian cricket.
However, after the ‘humiliating’ loss to England on home soil in 2010 , Cricket Australia launched an inquiry into the state of Australian cricket, which has now lead to a complete overhaul into how the system is run, who the selectors are and has yielded a search for Australia’s next coach after it was found Tim Nielsen unfit to continue on.
The report into the state of Australian cricket entitled The Argus Review set out to identify the problems within the Australian cricketing landscape and guide the people in charge on the path to making Australia the best cricketing nation in the world once again. ()
Cricket writer for sporting website Back Page Lead Jonathan Howcroft said that the Argus report will not only help Australia back to the top of the pile at the international level, but will also assist in making the sport stronger across the board “The Argus Report will drive change. There will be a stronger connection between states and the national setup to improve the performance of Team Australia. There will be a stronger connection between states and club cricket to better streamline the development of elite talent. The Australian cricketing pyramid, once the international exemplar, is being given an overdue spit and polish.” ()
The irony is that the Australian cricketing pyramid Howcroft discusses is the same one England adopted after their long period of fruitless endeavour. Such is the power shift in world cricket.
Much like the adopted model by England, state level teams also chop and change line-ups of coaches to achieve the ultimate level of success. However, unlike at the national level, players are able to change the state they play for from year to year if they desire. Players for many years have moved interstate to further their chances of getting selected for the Australian team. For example Travis Birt, who played during the season in Tasmania’s 2010/11 Sheffield Shield winning team, will play for the Western Australian Warriors in the 2011/12 season, seeking greater opportunity. ()
It has also been the long held view that if you want to play for Australia, you need to play cricket for New South Wales; so it always goes to show, politics from the international level have a way of funnelling down into the domestic competition too.
Match Fixing - The bane of cricket's existence
Match fixing is a problem that has an effect on many sports, but no sport has bore the brunt of public humiliation and condemnation more than cricket. Match fixing is when a player or official from a team involved in a match accepts money to make a conscious effort to one way or another effect the outcome of a game.
When it comes to integrity of the game there is no greater threat than the one of match fixing. In one of the most damaging ordeals to ever afflict the game in 2000 it was revealed that the then South African captain Hansie Cronje had, over the course of his career, accepted well over $100,000 AUD to throw matches. After Indian police uncovered the scandal he was stripped of the captaincy and banned from cricket for life. ()
Australians too are not exempt from the controversy with Mark Waugh and Shane Warne both receiving fines from the Australian cricket board for giving out match information to a Sri Lankan bookmaker during a 1994 tour of the sub-continent nation. Whilst it is not in the same category as the Cronje affair, giving out match information to any members of the public, much less bookmakers, is a severe offense that is being enforced as more money is being poured into the game. ()
Not just limited to the international level, county cricket in England has also had its problems with match fixing. Former England captain Michael Vaughn believes match fixing is rife at the domestic level “County matches do not have the high exposure of England matches and so people think they can get away with things they would never risk in international cricket. Fans will be shocked to hear this kind of thing going on.” ()
The problem is a lot more prevalent than people think according to an unnamed player. The player who has been playing at England’s highest level for over 10 years says match fixing is as much an issue now as it has ever been “They basically told me I could name my price for providing them with knowledge of the result of the game and made me believe other counties are already involved ... Others could be out there naming their own price. It is a scary thought.” ()
In a bid to stamp out match fixing at the grassroots level, the Pakistani Cricket Board (PCB) have taken measures to ensure it does not occur. The PCB has employed former Pakistan wicket-keeper Wasim Bari on a contract-basis to carry out surveillance and educate players to abstain from match-fixing. Bari travels everywhere to explain the pitfalls of match-fixing. He interacts with players, educates them and even finds solution to various problems according to PCB chief Ijaz Butt. ()
The penalties for match fixing are severe. Offences relating to match fixing and gambling on cricket range from bans of 12 months to life, with unlimited fines. If an offence occurred in a Test match, then the ban for a number of Tests applies; if an offence occurred in an ODI, then the ban for a number of ODIs applies. ()
The video presentation accompanying this essay can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4kM_NyC_3L0
In many ways England’s ashes victory on Australian soil has left an indelible mark on the state of cricket in this country, for better or worse. Perhaps the push of the English victory became the much needed shove that the mollycoddling Australian cricket powers-that-be needed, and even more so the catalyst for change to propel this country back to the upper echelons of the sport’s elite.
Much like that Ashes victory, twenty20 cricket has singlehandedly generated interest in a fleeting game, devised a whole new way of looking at the game, brought in an entirely newer and younger crowd and changed the face not only the Australian domestic competition, but the entire face of cricket worldwide. Time will tell if this sporting phenomenon will stand the test of time or just remain a flash in the pan, but one thing is for sure: twenty20 cricket is cricket for generation Y and the embodiment of 21st century sport.
For all the good work done by twenty20 cricket to widen the appeal of the gentleman’s game, match fixing and all it represents threatens to derail the sport entirely. If the Hansie Cronje debacle has taught players and officials anything it is that pre-determining the outcomes of games will be met with severe consequences, and no involvement will ever be tolerated. With large contracts and intense scrutiny comes the appeal to make even more money by accepting bribes, but if the fabric of the game that is steeped in rich tradition is to remain intact then everyone involved in the game from the ICB right through to the grassroots level need to remain diligent. The future of the game is at stake.
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