Hampshire and Rajasthan deal the future of cricket?
Exactly how significant the deal announced this weekend between the Rajasthan Royals, Hampshire, the Cape Cobras and Trinidad and Tobago could become is barely within the realms of comprehension.
The IPL is barely three years on since its hasty inception as a reaction from the BCCI - India’s board of control - to the controversial ICL and yet it has already become the most significant financial presence in the game.
The popularity of the tournament, which returns to India in April after a security enforced sojourn in South Africa last year, has simultaneously tilted cricket’s power balance irreversibly the direction of Twenty20 cricket and the sub-continental powerhouse.
What has been less clear however is how far towards club and franchise teams have taken over from International competition. The sight of largely empty stadia for Test matches has been a familiar one for many years (with the exception of matches involving England) and the increasing popularity of domestic T20 tournaments across the globe has highlighted this forthcoming battleground and the Royal’s announcement has formalised it.
The Royals, who are also expected to announce a link with an Australian state side, will now have a finger in the pie of England’s expanded T20 cup, the highly successful Australian ‘big bash’ and the South African pro20 as well as the West Indian inter-island tournament.
Sean Morris, the Royals’ chief executive, said the deal “will enable us to take advantage of the changing landscape in cricket, not least in terms of marketing and player development.”
It is anticipated that the Royals, who won the inaugural tournament in 2008, will quickly formulate a talent sharing system whereby several of their highest profile players and coaches, who include the likes of Shane Watson and Shane Warne.
The Australian duo have both played for Hampshire and the Royals and Warne, who is captain and coach of the team, has supposedly played a key role in negotiations. It is also thought that Victoria, Warne’s former state team, will become the Australian link to the Royals.
Morris and co. will however want more to come of the move than simply the free movement of players between their sides. T20 competitions have become ubiquitously popular and though the English and South African tournaments were the more pioneering enterprises, cricket boards across the globe are increasingly mirroring the IPL.
This year the Australian ‘Big Bash’ encouraged its state teams to bring in international stars such as Dwayne Bravo, Lasith Malinga and Muttiah Muralitharan in order to improve its stature. Traditionally, Australian states have been extremely reluctant to employ overseas players but with the prospect of full stadiums, increased TV money and the riches of the Champions League for the top two sides, they are quickly reassessing their stance.
No other ‘global franchise’ truly exists to draw comparisons from, but if other IPL teams make similar links in the near future there is the prospect of the IPL becoming a more globalised event with, say, four instalments throughout the year in Starting in England during our summer and progressing through Australia in the Autumn, South Africa early in the new year and climaxing in India during the IPL’s current April/May window.
Each leg of the tour would be fairly brief; encompassing little longer than three weeks and in time there could also be the possibility of rotating one of the annual windows to allow countries such as Sri Lanka, New Zealand or Bangladesh to host the tournament.
The franchises, with their teams spread across the globe would have a core group of stars who would be complimented by a majority of cricketers from the host nation in order to ensure local support.
Traditionalists will of course be horrified by the prospect of the IPL growing but with short, fixed windows available the national boards will be able to create a new international schedule free from clashes.
With the current system there is every chance that cricketers, particularly those reaching the end of their careers and those from countries who cannot afford to pay wages comparable with the IPL, will prefer to take multiple, short term contracts in the increasing number of domestic club competitions.
A consistent schedule and a limit to the number of paymasters a top international player is answering to might appease the national cricket boards and the ICC, who might finally be able to effectively implement some form of Test world championship.
The response of other teams and governing bodies across the globe to the Rajasthan move will tell us whether or not they view it as a threat or a great leap forward but for now all we can do is wait.