Domestic T20 leagues, Olympic inclusion & playing conditions in the spotlight.
From 1 January 2019 all (men’s) international cricket teams – all 104 of them – will have full Twenty20 International (T20I) status. This will mean a first-ever level playing field across all countries in a single format, as well as the creation of cricket’s first truly global rankings system. This will be introduced for men’s and women’s teams.
It was also announced that the 2021 Champions Trophy will now become a World Twenty20, and there also appears to be a renewed vigour around cricket’s inclusion at the Olympics (2028 in LA being the earliest opportunity).
Overall this is great news for the sport’s development. Previously, to play a T20I (or an ODI) both teams had to have the requisite status, and the match had to be played under strict(er) controls that include umpire appointments and prior ground approval, amongst others.
I will be interested to read how the ICC plan on reviewing the playing conditions around T20Is to make it as easy as possible for nations to play these matches. It would not be realistic to expect all countries, in order to play T20Is, to only conduct matches at the currently (limited) number of approved grounds available. There is also the questions around the additional costs for ICC appointed match officials as well, as a great number of ICC members do not have immediate access to turf wickets. The ICC cricket department, led by Australian former-first class cricketer Geoff Allardice, had been discussing the feasibility of T20Is being able to be played on synthetics pitches / grounds previously. Considering the just-finished ICC World T20 Africa A Qualifier was played on a synthetic wicket – and for the sake of the growth of the sport, I hope this line of thought has prevailed.
One of the sticking points with the IOC with Olympic inclusion was that they did not want a format of the sport which would not provide a “pinnacle” in an Olympic event. The introduction of a global rankings system, and another global tournament (in place of one in another format), goes a long way to show the IOC that the ICC is serious about T20 cricket – which by all accounts, is the only format being considered for Olympic inclusion.
Beside the current restrictive conditions around grounds and officials, I also hope the ICC consider changing their policy when it comes to the status of domestic T20 tournaments. Despite the calibre of players on show – and that it was played at an approved ODI/T20I venue – the Hong Kong T20 Blitz was classed as “Other T20s” for stats purposes, so no performance will be kept alongside players’ performances in other franchise / domestic leagues.
There is simple solution to this: abolish the current regulation that only Full Member nations can have full “T20” domestic tournaments. This can then be replaced – rather than saying that “any” T20 match anywhere will go towards stats (this would could utter havoc) – but say that every tournament that goes through the ICC approval process (this is a prerequisite step for any tournament wanting to invite overseas players) will be awarded full “T20” status meaning that the stats of HK’s T20 Blitz, and Nepal’s EPL & DPL, for example would all have the same status as BBL, BPL & IPL matches.
Now, the question of club (i.e. domestic T20 leagues) v country (T20Is) is a complex one, and the ICC is wary of giving these leagues ammunition to sideline international cricket. However, I think that my suggested approval of T20 matches can be managed – alongside amending the approval process for these events, which I will write on another time – and can be another step forward in embracing emerging nations’ plans to hold these domestic events in an event to drive commercial revenue and local interest in cricket. However, it needs to been managed carefully so as not to be luring players away from playing for their countries, and maybe more importantly, not providing breeding grounds for nefarious involvement with respect to spot / match fixing.
Overall though, and echoing ICC CEO David Richardson’s (pictured above – photo courtesy ICC) comments in the release, this is great step forward for the sport; the ICC-at-large (especially the Development team, led by Will Glenwright) should be commended.
“Status” has always been a keenly discussed topic and seen by many as an archaic mechanism that is getting in the way of cricket becoming truly “global”. Ours is the only sport I am aware of that puts conditions on it being played, where countries competing – in sometimes the identical conditions as others are not classed the same. This was no more evident at the recent (50 over) Cricket World Cup Qualifiers where two of the ten teams (Nepal & Netherlands) did not have One Day International status, and therefore, every game they played – even against full members – was List A. All other matches in the tournament were ODIs.