The whole talk about franchise cricket is an interesting one. On one hand we have the Australian team – an unbeatable team – facing off against the rest of the world. The rest of the world is one and the same on the field – not much competition, little entertainment, and minimal flair. Australia is the opposite, but how long can Australia kick ass before not just the international audience wavers but Australians too.
Looking at domestic A.F.L. and N.R.L., and then abroad at the domestic football in England, N.F.L., the N.B.A., and baseball leagues in the United States, you find an unwaivering base of support where there are regular sellouts and massive dollars. Domestic cricket in Australia doesn’t come anywhere near this – however international cricket, in Australia, sometimes comes on par.
Look at the Ashes Tour just gone – sold out matches every time. The first three days were all gone months before the matches even were a week away. Why? Because there was hype and the prospect of competition and real matches. Let’s face it: There was a chance that the Australian team were playing someone of their calibre. Turns out they weren’t and support died off again. Just look at the turnout for the Sri Lanka matches.
So why can’t we imagine a two-tiered international ‘league’? First we divvy up the year into two seasons – an on- and an off-season. During the on-season we have cricket as normal – national teams touring other countries and playing that national team. Tests and O.D.I.’s. Don’t change it. But during the off-season we have a ‘free for all’. There are teams that can contract players from any country to make up squads of 12 – 15 cricketers that play a tournament through that off-season.
The off-season teams are privately funded. There could be rules and regulations to make things interesting – no more than x amount of players from any country (prevents nationalisation of teams and can make them appealing to all countries); can only have so many internationally contracted players (fosters domestic competitions around the world). There is no home ground for any team so that there is always going to be a match of this ‘league’ in your country soon. The format could be similar to a two-feed tournament; something like sixteen teams split into two matching up through stages to there are only two teams left. It might sound like the World Cup tournament – and that’s because the tournament isn’t that bad. It can be a fiasco, but it can be a good thing if reworked.
The off-season finishes and the players head back to their homes and you have a new situation on your hands. Now you have all your players back together after six months of separation representing your country, not just your league team. There are international matches, a chance for players to stand out and get picked come the next off-season and change the face of the tournament all over again.
Imagine a club that has Ricky Ponting, Andrew Flintoff, Chris Gale, Muttiah Muralitharan all in a team facing off against Graham Smith, Michael Hussey,Shahid Afridi, Adam Gilchrist. Not only is it a chance for Australians to play Australians, but to see anyone play anyone. That’s an exciting prospect in my opinion.
The things that stand in the way of this sort of system are many. One: National cricket organisations would be relinquishing a heck of a lot of their control over the sport in their countries. I say it’s about time, to be honest with you. Two: There will be questions about players being able to play for an entire year. In that case let both be optional, or enforce some sort of rest period through the year, or restrictions on serving consecutive seasons. There might be things standing in the way of this type of tournament, but they can be overcome if everyone came to the party.I doubt that the off-season would overtake the on-season in terms of popularity or following. Look at football around the world. Their World Cup and international matches are more popular than all domestic leagues. In fact, the domestic leagues make the international match ups even more important and exciting.
This is just an idea about cricket I’ve had for a little while, and has really formed itself with all the talk about franchise. And I, as a regular cricketing fan looking for good matches and the exciting atmosphere that is so elusive these days, would get right behind this sort of thing. And while competition between countries is lacking, maybe it needs to be between mixed-teams instead?