The domestic cricket schedule in Australia was announced yesterday by Cricket Australia. I have written previously that I hoped for a focus on first class cricket via the Sheffield Shield competition to be the centre point of the 2013/14 schedule as I believe that Cricket Australia should be focused only on preparing our players for the coming Ashes series. Now with the schedule announced it goes without saying that I think the three first class games Cricket Australia has scheduled before the Ashes to be a massive missed opportunity. That said, I cannot let this moment pass without also commenting on the new format for the Ryobi Cup competition.
The new format runs something like this:
· This tournament will be used as a season-launching competition;
· It will run from September 29 to October 27.
· Teams will play six matches each before the final.
· Every game will be held in Sydney, with Bankstown Oval, North Sydney Oval, Hurstville, Drummoyne and Blacktown to be the venues rather than the SCG.
To be clear, I have no cavil at all with:
· The domestic schedule being clearly differentiated so that players can, in the words of CEO Sutherland, “give players the best chance to maximise their performance in each form of the game without the chopping and changing of previous years”; and
· The Ryobi Cup competition being played in tournament style and I again agree with the statement of CEO Sutherland that “replicating a tournament style competition for one-day cricket is the best way of preparing our one-day cricketers for one-day internationals and the World Cup in early 2015”.
What I am unable to countenance is the move by Cricket Australia to play the Ryobi Cup at a cluster of venues in the Sydney suburbs. I am troubled by this because:
· It completely ignores the fans of the game in the other states. If we do not have access to the GEM Channel (on which a “majority” of the games will be telecast) fans in Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia will not get to see their respective team play in this competition.
· Bankstown Oval and North Sydney Oval have, on rare occasions, been used for the purposes of first class cricket and domestic 50 over cricket but they are, along with the other grounds, hardly more than club cricket grounds.
This move is hardly the conduct one would expect of the governing body of the next Cricket World Cup is it? Surely said governing body should be seeking to, on the one hand, promote the game to all of the its constituent fans and, on the other hand, prepare each of the host grounds for the tournament to come. The only way to do that would be, of course, to play the tournament in each of the states (whilst still in a block format). It is that simple isn’t it?
Therein though lies two problems for Cricket Australia as I see it:
1. They have make a mistake in leading off the summer with the Ryobi Cup because:
a. The spot that they have slotted in the Ryobi Cup competition is in the heart of the football finals season in Australia with at least the Melbourne and Sydney grounds likely to be out of action for the whole month; and
b. The Adelaide Oval redevelopment is still ongoing and they are relaying the turf at the Gabba.
2. They are so bound to Channel 9 as host broadcaster that sending the Ryobi Cup around the country is, seemingly, not an available option. I make this assumption because the only reason that I can see for the games being so Sydneycentric (aside from the foregoing) is to reduce the costs borne by Channel 9 in broadcasting the games on their secondary channel.
The former problem would be easily resolved by slotting in the Ryobi Cup competition immediately after the Big Bash League finishes. That way the Sheffield Shield competition could have been front ended with five available fixtures before the Ashes and the Ryobi Cup could have picked up a flow on of the crowds brought in by the BBL both on the TV and in the stands. The later problem is one less easily fixed given the power that Channel 9 obviously exerts in the game having been the host broadcaster for so long. To that problem there is no easy solution.
These problems though get us back to something that I have been harping on about for some time about Cricket Australia and its stewardship of the game: Cricket Australia seems to be caught in an ongoing battle between filling its coffers and acting in the best interests of the game. The announced schedule again shows, as has much of Cricket Australia’s conduct in its stewardship of the game, that that battle is being won by the filling of the coffers rather than what is best for the game. For a start, if I was sitting in the halls of power in the ICC, I would be looking at this announcement by Cricket Australia and wondering how committed Cricket Australia really is to the 50 over a side form of the game and, by extension, the World Cup and that cannot be a good thing!