By Nitesh Mathur, Broken Cricket Dreams, 1/29/2022
With Inspiration from my friend, Vandit
In 1900, German mathematician David Hilbert proposed a list of 23 unsolved mathematics problems that would keep mathematicians busy for the next century.
And indeed, they did. Over the next hundred years, several of these challenging problems were either completely answered or partially solved. However, some of these problems remain unsolved even after a few centuries and failed attempts by great mathematicians.
So, at the turn of the 21st century, the Clay Institute of Mathematics put a $1 million reward (the hardest way to get a million dollars, I would say) for anyone who would solve any of the 7 proposed problems, known as the legendary Millennium Prize Problems [Millenium Maths Problem Explained in 90 Seconds].
So far, only one of them has been successfully solved (and the mathematician Grigori Perelman rejected the monetary award).
Why Cricket Needs to Solve Problems?
At this point, you must be thinking, “Why I am reading four paragraphs of math when I signed up for cricket?”
Don’t worry. Here comes the cricket.
2021 had a fair share of its problems for cricket—The Azeem Rafiq scandals, Tim Paine’s sexting exit, Thailand women losing a spot in the World Cup due to a flawed system, Glenn Maxwell, Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Tom Banton taking time off due to mental health, Quinton de Kock’s kneeling issue in the T20 World & then retiring from Test cricket at the age of 29, the dissolution of the ODI Super League, New Zealand & England pulling out of Pakistan, the Afghanistan crisis, The Hundred Vs County Cricket debate, and just a general overdose of the IPL & cricket.
For a full read on these issues, check the following articles out:
- Cricket Self-Implodes: Thailand, The ICC, COVID, Racism, Sex, And Overkill of Cricket – Cricket Controversies 2021
- End of Cricket as We Know it? Pakistan, Postponement, Mental Health Crisis, and Overkill of Cricket
- County Cricket-Hundred Debate from an Outsider’s Perspective: Can They Co-Exist?
- The Comedy of Overs: Shakespearean Parody Starring English Cricket, The Hundred, And County Cricket
The Structure of the Proposed Problems
Today I propose a list of 15 problems that will keep the cricket community (ICC, administrators, and cricketers themselves) busy for the next decade.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Neither do I have any monetary reward for you. I offer possible solutions—some of them you might like. Others? Not so much. So, then what is the point of all this?
The point is to churn up debate and conversations in the cricket community so eventually some of these solutions reach the upper echelons of the cricket boards and ICC. Comment below on your thoughts and ideas. Who knows, your idea might one day change cricket altogether.
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I. Global Expansion of Cricket
1. Need for a Global Cricket Calendar and T20 Leagues
The Problem:How can the cricket calendar provide space to the three international formats—Test, ODI, and T20I—as well as the growing T20 leagues?
These days, cricket is here, there, and everywhere. Today, we have the BPL, PSL, IPL, Global T20 Canda, T20 Vitality Blast, The Hundred, CPL, Shpageeza Cricket League, T10 League, SLPL, MSL, Super Smash, and the Big Bash running from January to December.
Cricket will hit its ceiling in the next 5-10 years. With new T20 leagues growing around the world, IPL becoming a 10-team venture (twice a year IPL also proposed), T10 leagues, The Hundred, a ‘Ninety-90 Bash’, & other retired professional leagues adding to the calendar, what is the limit?
And don’t get me wrong. Leagues are not necessarily a bad thing—more opportunities for Associate cricketers, professional life for players who cannot make their international XIs, and more match practice & auditions to make comeback cases, but it does threaten the existence of international cricket as a whole.
- In The Need For Champions League & a T20 League Calendar article, we proposed that
- Two-Three month reservation for the pinnacle of international cricket (T20/ODI WC, WTC Final), without T20 leagues during this period.
- Reinstatement of the Champions League as the center of the T20 yearly calendar.
- Enforcement of maximum of 3 leagues per year for a nationally contracted player.
- Eventually, cricket may need to adopt the soccer (European football) model.
- International games reserved only for ODI World Cup qualification, WTC matches, and some friendlies/warm-ups. As many have suggested, bilateral T20Is should be scrapped totally.
- Players contracted by year-long leagues. They take leave to play a couple of international games every now and then until the World Cup, which dominates the summer every couple of years.
- Experimental formats like T10 cricket and ‘Ninety-90’ Bash should end.Who knows, we might be playing a Super Over league at this rate.
The Indian Premier League and the BCCI holds a bit of influence over the cricket finances. If they reject any of the calendar limits, that may the end of any negotiations even though all the other cricketing nations might agree.
2. Decisiveness and Pathways on Olympics
The Problem:The ICC on cricket’s inclusion in the Olympics—Yes, No, maybe so?
For too long, cricket has dabbled with the idea of being in the Olympics and are closer than ever in making a decision. The 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games will include a women’s 8-team T20 tournament. USA Cricket hopes for the inclusion of cricket in the 2028 LA Olympics and the 2032 Brisbane Olympics being ICC’s long-term goal.
However, what format will it be? T10? T20? If it is T10, does that mean cricket will have a fourth international format? How will qualification work? At this point, there are way too many questions and zero details on a path forward.
If cricket is serious about being in the Olympics, the administrators need to get their acts together. One or two meetings a year just doesn’t cut it.
It is worth a try regardless of the format. Ideally T20 cricket, starting from the 2028 LA Olympics (building upon USA’s Major League Cricket) would be great for the game.
The format of soccer’s 4 group of 4 is a good template (16 teams in the Olympics instead of 32 in the FIFA World Cup to keep the WC as the pinnacle product). If the T20I WC expands to 16-24 teams (both men/women) in the next decade, the Olympics can start with 8-12 teams with the best 2-3 teams qualifying from each region.
- Not every country has cricketing infrastructure. To create a consistent following, cricket at Olympics can only succeed if it is at every iteration. Unless cricket stadiums are built in every nation on earth, the ICC will have some complications in the early years at the Olympics.
- Another tricky slope to navigate is the West Indies. Since each nation like Jamaica and Barbados will play the Olympics as its own nation, those teams will be significantly weaker in strength than the West Indies cricket team.
3. Expansion of the Women’s Game and Need for WIPL
The Problem:Women’s cricket is now mainstream, but is the structure in place to take the game forward?
Between 2017- March 2020, women’s cricket enjoyed a sort of golden era. The quality of cricket and broadcast in the 2017 ODI World Cup brought new fans to the game, and a record 86,174 attendance at the MCG for the 2020 WT20 Final proved that women’s cricket was on the rise.
However, the pandemic has exposed several gaps in the women’s game. For almost 12 months, women’s international cricket was largely halted around the world while the men’s IPL happened twice. Several smaller boards like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have not seen much gameplay. Although India have played a few internationals, there does not seem to be a plan for women’s domestic cricket. And a request for the women’s IPL is falling on deaf ears.
Add to that, the crisis faced by Thailand, one of the rising teams in women’s cricket. When omicron abruptly cancelled the qualifying tournament, it was tough to not see them qualify for the ODI World Cup despite being #1 in the group since their ODIs were not given ODI status.
Surely the structure and expansion in women’s cricket needs more thought, structure, and investment.
- Multi-format series have been a brilliant idea but should become the standard across all teams.
- The Hundred was a huge success for the women’s game in terms of awareness and equal split of men’s/women’s game. Each top league needs to adopt the same structure.
- More teams to qualify for the T20 World Cup.
Also Read: History of Women’s Cricket World Cup
In order for the multi-format series to become the standard, more Test cricket and 3-day practice matches have to become the norm, which will take time.
4. Planned T20 Exposure for Cricket’s Growth
The Problem: Roadmap and resource management needed for the rapid growth of T20I cricket in emerging markets.
While women’s cricket and the Olympics are avenues to cricket’s global expansion, the ICC is utilizing T20 cricket for the spread of the game. In 2018, T20I status was granted to every cricket team (As of January 2022, 91 men’s teams and 53 women’s teams are in the T20I rankings). Further, a regional qualifier structure was provided for future T20 World Cups, which will be held every two years.
All this is good, but how are the resources going to be divided among these nations? Will they get professional international stadiums, broadcasting rights, DRS, and facilities? Will they be able to host tournaments? (like the earlier ICC Knockout tournaments). Step in the right direction, but a lot of work to do in the decade ahead.
- Just like a major Asia Cup tournament, each continent should set up their own major tournament (separate from the regional qualifiers). This will ensure that there is a systematic ranking/room to grow for the newer teams in each continent, and they are not here just to make up the numbers.
If teams ranked at the very bottom continue to lose, they might leave the game altogether. Some sort of incentive needs to be provided to these lower ranked newer cricketing nations.
II. Standard of Cricket
5. Standardization of Pitches in Test Match Cricket
The Problem:How Can We Balance Pitches to Minimize Boring Draws and 2-Day Tests?
In the 2000s, stellar middle orders and flat pitches combined for some high scoring matches and boring draws. Over the last 5-10 years, a great crop of fast bowlers (and spinners in the subcontinent) combined with pitches suited to the home side has made 2-day and 3-day Tests a recurring event.
- Keep the pitches suited to home teams with 4-Day Tests (more on this later)
- Preparing pitches suited to overseas conditions in domestic cricket (example: More spin tracks – weather permitting – in England’s county circuit) or encouraging/funding spin from an age group level (How India progressively became a better fast bowling nation, England can do that in the long run).
- ICC standardize the pitches across the globe.
The beauty of Test cricket is in its variety. If the batters cannot overcome the challenge, so be it. That is life.
6. The Toss
The Problem:Is the toss leading to too many predictable results?
It was clear in the IPL and the 2021 T20 World Cup in the UAE that teams winning the toss and batting second had a higher probability of winning.
The beauty of the toss is in the uncertainty, and when things start to get predictable, innovation becomes the need of the hour.
Tosses impact T20Is and Test cricket more than ODIs. So, one thought is to start experimenting with various ideas (listed below and more) in T20 leagues or domestic 4-day cricket, while leaving ODI cricket the same as it is now.
- Each team alternates decision to bat/bowl in a series. (If an odd number, last match is decided by a coin toss…)
- The bat flip idea like the Big Bash League.
- Away Teams in Tests get to choose
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Cricket is already complicated, why make it more complicated?
7. Bat Vs Ball Debate
The Problem:The Eternal Debate—How Can We better balance bat vs ball advantage?
This is the Riemann Hypothesis of cricket. A seemingly intuitive problem that is always up for discussion, has never been solved, and is the unproven underlying assumption that is the basis of strategy for the rest of cricket.
In limited overs cricket, the bat dominates (bigger bats, flat pitches, stronger players, etc.). In Test cricket over the last decade, the ball has dominated.
I have a truly marvelous solution to this, but the margins are too narrow to contain for my answer [Fermat’s Last Theorem].
Just kidding! Here they are:
- Abolish wide behind leg side in limited overs. Small margins really do hurt the bowlers.
- In Test cricket, one more review to the batting side instead of the bowling side.
- In limited overs, one bowler can bowl a couple of overs more than the maximum limit of 10 overs (ODI) or 4 overs (T20I)
As players get physically stronger and technology increases, the balance will always remain one side or another. However, as spinners have shown in the middle overs in a T20 or fast bowlers during the death with the slower balls, adaptation of skill is required, not so much the mechanics of the bat and ball.
III. Survival of Test & ODI Cricket
8. Disparity Between Level of Performance in Test Cricket
The Problem:How can the gap between top and mid-tiered teams be reduced?
The gap between top and mid-tiered Test nations is gradually eroding confidence in Test cricket. Even though some spectacular matches in the last five years have reinvigorated Test cricket, gaps in skill level between the top sides and mid-tiered/bottom ranked teams makes for a boring viewing on the other end of the spectrum.
Social media’s pendulum swings from “Test cricket is the best format” claims to “Is Test cricket dying?” every few months.
Case and point: Men’s Ashes 2021-2022. Except for Jonny Bairstow’s 4th Test, there was absolutely no resistance. There have been several subsequent calls for the 5-Test Ashes to be reduced to a 3 or 4 match affair. If England, who play 10-15 Tests a year, are not properly utilizing resources and are behind the golden standard, how can we expect the likes of Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, West Indies, Zimbabwe, Ireland, and Afghanistan to compete?
- Regularized international schedule should dominate bilateral agreements. Australia’s refusal to host Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, and now Afghanistan (for other reasons) does not help smaller teams get the experience. The more the Top 4 countries play the mid-tiered teams, the better they will get in the long run.
- Prioritizing domestic funding over white ball funding (County cricket vs white ball dominance)
- Abolishment of two-Test series (The smaller countries only get to play 2 Tests while the Big 3 and South Africa gets 4-5 matches per series).
- Relegation-Promotion system (details outlined below) in three brackets: Bracket A (#1-6), Bracket B (#7-12), and Bracket C (non-Test playing nations)
Money, money, money. Even the World Test Champions like New Zealand cannot afford to host more than two Tests due to finances. Ideally, we would like an equal distribution of Test match cricket, but if there are no finances, there is no cricket.
9. Associate nations, the ODI Super League, and the Expansion of Test Cricket
The Problem:Lack of clarity is hurting the survival of Associate nations, the backbone of global cricket.
The ODI Super League provided Ireland and Netherlands much needed game time against the top eight teams. Ireland actually has done a pretty decent job and Netherlands’ cricketers received much needed stability, but the inexplicable cancellation of the ODI Super League has stumped many. The World Test Championship has flaws, but the ODI Super League was a step in the right direction.
Yes, T20I is the right vehicle for growth in globalization of cricket, but should teams like Ireland be alienated, who have invested in ODI cricket and want to play Test cricket?
The ICC suggested that they may trial teams like Scotland and Netherlands into Test cricket as a temporary Test status. That might be a good move if it actually happens, but here are some other solutions:
- Touring Associate and new Test nations before embarking on a 4-5 Test tour (playing ODIs/T20Is vs Scotland/Netherlands & 1-off Test vs Ireland before a series in England, vs Afghanistan before India, vs PNG before NZ & Aus, Namibia/Zimbabwe vs SA). This is happening more and more with Ireland’s progress, but it is only the beginning.
- Revival of the Tri-Series? Similar idea as above, but to reduce logistic and travel issues, two full members plus an Associate nation for an ODI tri-series in a common location.
- Mandatory 1-2 Associate players per squad per T20 league. Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi, Tim David, and Sandeep Lamichanne are great templates. These players will be a boon for the franchises, not a burden.
10. 4-Day Tests for Men, 5-Day Tests for Women?
The Problem:Making Test cricket accessible for spectators without jeopardizing the game.
The Decision Review System (DRS) and pink-ball day-night Tests have now been adopted as major innovations in the game which had resistance in the early days. In the age of technology and innovation, cricket has to find ways to re-invent itself and stay relevant every 5-10 years.
One such suggestion is 4-day Tests (plus a 5th day for rain affected games) for men’s cricket, while expanding to 5-day Tests in women’s cricket, especially since they do not play as many Tests.
- Just like D/N Tests were tested one Test per series every now and then, similarly one of the Tests can be scheduled as a 4-day game (and vice-versa for women)
Draws. One of the major drivers for 5-matches in women’s Tests are the number of draws. This forces teams to declare early (even when they are trailing) and enforce follow-on more often. If men’s game introduces 4-day Tests, then strategies will similarly begin to change and/or draws will increase.
11. Fixes to the World Test Championship
The Problem:Test matches are now better contextualized, but a lot is still left to be desired in achieving a better system.
We have already provided several solutions for World Test Champions in our earlier articles (shown below), so here is a summary:
- Number of Tests Played is uneven: In the first WTC cycle, England played 21 Tests, while West Indies, South Africa, and New Zealand played 11 each. Marquee series like Ashes, Border-Gavaskar, Basil D’Oliveira Trophy, etc. are 4-5 Tests each while SL & NZ only play 2 Tests regularly.
- Currently no distinction is made for Home/Away advantage: Bangladesh winning in NZ, West Indies winning in Bangladesh, India winning in Australia, or Australia drawing in England should be worth more than home wins.
- All-or-Nothing System: Test matches occur over 5 days or a max-of-15 sessions. One session can have a huge impact on the series. Yet, the points are awarded on an all-or-nothing basis.
My solution is detailed in Alternative World Test Championship Points Table.
No system is every going to be perfect, but at least more of an attempt can be made. One of the other pitfalls is the pandemic. This has severely restricted travels between countries and longer, more straining quarantine rules. Hence, even more uneven number of Tests are begin played.
IV. Other Concerns
12. Mental Health Support & Overkill of Cricket
The Problem: Mental Health Awareness A Necessity in Today’s sport
Non-stop cricket alongside heavy quarantine is changing the commitments of a professional cricketer. Itis no longer feasible to play three international formats, travel around the world, away from family, and still have a sane mental health.
Marcus Trescothick, Glenn Maxwell, and Ben Stokes are some of the many high-profile players who have taken time off the game to focus on their health. They have paved a way for many others in the future to follow. The real question is, does the cricket fraternity have the support each player needs and deserves?
- Support Groups/Staff, Paid Leave
- Separate teams for separate formats (Maximum of two formats per player)
Mental health is still looked as taboo in many cultures. Even though awareness is increasing, some players may still keep things to themselves, which is detrimental.
In addition to mental health, physical health is also a concern as more research is done on concussions in general. Concussion substitutes were a great innovation to the game, but it took the death of Phillip Hughes for the radical change. Let us make sure to be proactive before any such incidents. Injury prevention and player health should be duly monitored.
13. Spot Fixing and Associate Nations
The Problem: Match-Fixing for the Next Decade
Brendan Taylor’s story illustrates that even in the year 2022, match fixing & spot-fixing is still an issue cricket needs to be careful against. After the spot fixing that emerged from Pakistan’s tour of England in 2010 and the growth of T20 leagues, there is a lot more education and maturity in ICC’s anti-corruption unit.
However, teams like Zimbabwe and Associate nations, whose players do not earn a survivable income or cash flow from leagues, are easy targets for corruptors (as seen in the UAE). So the nature of match fixing might have changed since the 1990s, but it is still a problem that threatens the core fabric of the sport in one way or another.
The structure of the ICC anti-corruption unit and education before every major tournament shows that cricket has already matured in most of this regard. The real responsibility now lies on the players for self-reporting such approaches.
Healthy compensation for Associate players can also prevent such instances.
In the age of technology, new forms of corruption might appear (cyberattacks, ransomwares, NFTs?) ICC needs to be proactive and take actions earlier.
14. The Afghanistan Crisis
The Problem:ICC and cricket boards’ philosophical stand on the Afghanistan women’s team and the status of the men’s team.
Post the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in September, cricket’s stakeholders have been sending mixed messages. Australia rescinded their invitation to Afghanistan for a Test match due to a lack of a women’s team/Taliban’s stance on women. However, requirement for a women’s team was waived off when Afghanistan became a Full member four years ago.
The ICC allowed Afghanistan in the 2021 T20 World Cup at UAE and many Afghani players are contracted around the world despite the drama. On the other hand, Zimbabwe was not allowed to qualify for the 2019 ODI World Cup due to crisis in the Zimbabwean government.
Why are players/ sports’ teams penalized for government interference? Why is different approach taken against different countries? Who sets the precedent?
- Afghanistan is a cricket-loving country, and we should not stop its growth despite political tensions. They have now qualified for their 2nd U-19 semi-finals in the last three attempts. Let the men’s team continue to blossom while promoting cricket in age levels for women’s cricket if situation allows.
Each country might have a different political relationship with Afghanistan, which may mean a conflict of interest. As a byproduct, the relationship between other cricket boards can get strained.
15. Player Behavior
Problem:Similar Player Behavorial Issues, Different Consequences
As players gain more power over administrators due to financial security and unions, there have been some side-effects. Players have been acting up a lot lately.
Shakib Al Hasan’s antics (not much backlash), Ollie Robinson’s tweets (socially alienated), Alex Hales & Joe Clarke (not selected in the national side), Sri Lanka’s players in England (suspended for six months), Steven Smith, David Warner, & Cameron Bancroft’s sandpaper gate ball tampering scandal (banned by Cricket Australia for 1 year), Netherlands’ ball tampering (4 matches ICC), Quinton de Kock defying teammates (kneeling and not playing) and Virat Kohli shouting at the stumps (no consequence).
- Digging up old tweets should be removed as a cultural practice.
- For major offences, a uniform code of conduct that applies to every player regardless of the cricket board they are playing under.
- An impartial body assigned to monitor and judge player behavior for uniform convictions
Each circumstance is different. Uniform offences might not be ideal. On the other hand, ICC vs national boards hierarchy will become muddled if ICC centralizes power.
This is not the end. More avenues and ideas to explore for sure. Please bring in your comments. Would love to hear YOUR opinion. Thanks everyone for reading ❤ Anyway, time to go the duel or swim across the shores of France…
*Thank You Credit: In conversation with my friend, Vandit. Thanks for listening to my ideas and engaging in meaningful discussion.
Make Test Cricket Great Again Articles:
© Copyright @Nitesh Mathur and Broken Cricket Dreams, 2021. Originally published on 01/29/2022. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Broken Cricket Dreams with appropriate and specific direction to the original content (i.e. linked to the exact post/article).