Monday, February 25, 2008

Scheduling cricket around the IPL

I had planned a couple of more blog entries before my holiday to Italy, but I've got distracted. So before I disappear for a week, here are some thoughts on the IPL and cricket scheduling. This is a bit of a change from my usual fare, but since everyone's talking about the IPL and its consequences, I thought it was worth sharing.

I am a big supporter of the IPL, and I hope it's a big success. But there is one big danger that I see, and that's if it expands too much. This year, the IPL teams will play in a double round-robin — fourteen matches each — before semi-finals and final. There's huge scope to make the tournament bigger. Teams in Major League Baseball (where games last about as long as T20's) play 162 games a season. Now I'm not saying that anyone wants a cricket tournament in which each team plays 162 times, but the point is clear: the IPL could get much bigger.

I've done some scribbling, and I think that Test cricket can survive in much its present form as long as the IPL season is not longer than four months. IPL Teams could play, say, five games a fortnight, and so the home-and-away season could be around 35 matches per team, which would be followed by a finals series.

To make it concrete, let's assume that the IPL could fill up February to May.

England's home Tests will have to be between June and September, much as they are now. Most other Tests would be between October and January, though Tests in June or July are possible in, e.g., Australia. (The West Indies never plays Tests before January — does anyone know why? Their domestic season starts in November.)

I see a five-Test tour looking like this:

tour match: days 1-4
tour match: days 7-10
Test 1: days 14-18
Test 2: days 21-25
tour match: days 31-34
Test 3: days 38-42
tour match: days 46-50
Test 4: days 56-60
Test 5: days 63-67

Three-Test tours would be truncated after the third Test. It should be clear what my thoughts on first-class tour matches are! There are no one-day matches, though you could probably squeeze one or two in either at the beginning or at the end. Or you could shorten the tour matches, or get rid of one, to make space.

I would like to see Australia play five-Test series against England, South Africa, and India. Australia's home schedule would look something like:

Eng in summer, WI in winter
NZ, SL in summer, Bd in winter
Ind in summer, Pak in winter
SA in summer
Eng in summer

The Ashes stay on a four-year cycle, and everyone else is on five-year cycles. This could easily be relaxed to six-year cycles. The non-England teams could be shuffled around from winter to summer, depending on other schedules or commercial considerations.

Other countries may also want five-Test series (they'd be good with India-Pakistan, etc.), but they'll have to be able to host Tests outside of the October to January window, have touring teams accept the loss of some tour match days, or the loss of rest days between matches. The other alternative (probably the more reasonable one) is to have six-year cycles.

England's home schedule would look like this (five-year cycle):
Bd (2 Tests to be squeezed in), Aus
Ind, Pak

If they had a six-year cycle, it could be:
Ind, Pak
NZ, Bd

Or something like that. There are fiddly details that I haven't worked out, but basically if you spend enough time fiddling, everyone should get to play each other, there'll be more five-Test series than there are now, the IPL can go for four months, and Test cricket will survive. The Boards would make less money from international cricket under this proposal, because there aren't any ODI's, but hopefully there will be active and popular domestic T20 competitions to boost the coffers. Your cricket fan in Australia in February watches the NSW v Victoria T20 game before flicking over to watch a Kolkata play Mumbai game afterwards. Something like that. (I'm optimistic about domestic T20 being viable, because I was part of the crowd of over 27000 who watched Queensland play New South Wales at the Gabba in 2006/7. Now, no other Australian domestic crowd recently has come close to that, outside finals, but if it was at the forefront of the cricketing calendar, I think large crowds would be common.)

This is obviously a bit Utopian (and I've ignored the Champions League), but it least it shows in principle that things can all work out.

I should be back blogging next Monday or Tuesday.

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