Finally, in the early hours of Tuesday in Ahmedabad, the 2023 Indian Premier League ended after a marathon 74 matches.
Chennai Super Kings triumphed dramatically over Gujarat Titans, last year’s winners, off the last ball, to claim their fifth IPL success.
Attention will now turn away from the Twenty20 format, which threatens to devour professional cricket, to the longer forms, both of which have existentialist concerns.
England began a sequence of six Test matches on June 1. The first of these, against Ireland at Lord’s, represents only the seventh Test played by Ireland since becoming an International Cricket Council full member in 2018. It is a prelude to a five-match Ashes series against Australia. While the match against Ireland will not be sold out, those against Australia will be, for sure.
In between England’s match against Ireland and the start of the Ashes, India and Australia will contest the World Test Championship at The Oval, in London. The two teams finished in the top two places out of nine full members who participated in the 2021 to 2023 cycle.
Each team was scheduled to play six series, three at home and three away. This meant that each team did not play each other equally, playing six of the other eight members. A series consists of between two and five matches, all scheduled to be played over five days.
The unevenness of the tournament led to teams playing a different number of matches. England played the most, 22, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh the least, with 12 each.
Final places were determined by ranking teams according to the percentage of points obtained out of the total number of points contested. Twelve points were awarded for a win, six for a tie, and four for a draw, with points deducted for slow over rates, England being the prime losers in that area. Australia achieved a 66.7 percentage of points available, India, 58.8, ahead of South Africa’s 55.6.
In mid-August 2022, South Africa led the table with a points percentage of 75. After that, they fell away, losing twice to England before succumbing to Australia in December and January.
In particular, South Africa’s batting was disappointing. The team was forced into transition, as some of its best players chose to focus on T20 franchise cricket. Indeed, at least one of them was playing in Australia’s Big Bash at the same time the Test team was struggling in Australia. Given that new T20 franchise tournaments were about to open in South Africa and the UAE, much soul-searching about the future of Test cricket occurred.
It generated various views and suggestions. One was that the 12 full members be divided into two equal groups with promotion and relegation between groups. This was based on the view that, if Tests became too one-sided, spectators would lose interest. Others argued that only by playing the stronger teams would the weaker ones improve.
In any event, the 12 full members have signed up to the Future Tours Program and WTC for the next eight years. The prize money available in the current cycle totals $3.8 million. The winning team will receive $1.6 million and the runner-up, $800,000. Teams placed between third and ninth positions will get between $450,000 and $100,000.
An often-expressed fear is that the remuneration available in franchise cricket will persuade top players to jettison Test cricket. Yet, most of these players continue to emphasize that Test cricket is the pinnacle of the game, the ultimate test of their physical, technical, and mental attributes.
There is little doubt that Test cricket is alive and well in Australia, England, and India. Concerns exist about other countries, largely because they do not generate sufficient income from Tests, as attendances are low. This means that national boards are either unable or unwilling to pay players sufficient salaries to prevent them turning their heads toward the more rewarding franchises.
Cricket South Africa’s financial problems led to its espousal of a T20 franchise tournament, while constrained opportunities for Pakistani players to boost incomes in the IPL and Indian-owned franchises are well documented.
Many people would like to peer into a crystal ball to foresee the landscape of cricket in 15 to 20 years’ time. In 2002, the prospect of T20 cricket being a dominant mode would have been laughed off. How wrong that view was, the format initially derided as “pyjama cricket.” Now, the straws in the wind appear to be forming a pattern.
T20 cricket, especially in franchise format, is here to stay for the foreseeable future, with one or, possibly, two additional franchises to come – the US Major League will start in July. Certain domestic structures, especially in England, pose challenges to further franchise expansion.
Test cricket is likely to prosper, primarily in three to four countries, with others playing their part according to finances and scheduling opportunities within the FTP.
One-day cricket is under threat but is set to continue at international level in World Cup format, with its extensive qualifying stages, at least until 2031.
There does appear to be a growing consensus among those who hold the future of the game in their gift that strategies to achieve co-existence between the various formats is the optimum way forward.
In moving toward that consensus, it is possible for everyone, or nearly everyone, to benefit. The game is nothing without high-quality players. That is why national boards must keep their elite players sufficiently remunerated. Failure to do so could lead to the crumbling of current structures.
Underneath the elite level, there are already signs of changing allegiances. A prime example is that of England’s Jason Roy, who asked for his incremental contract with his national board to be cancelled so that he could play more profitably in the US.
That does not mean he will never play again for England. However, the agreement signified a recognition by both parties of an action which represents another stage in the shifting relationships between players and boards.