Saturday, June 02, 2007

Zimbabwe's loss, Associates half-gain

The ICC Cricket committee's recommendation that Zimbabwe be held back from Test status until they can prove their ability against the top associates is almost a really good step for World cricket. Almost, but not quite.

It preserves the sanctity of Test cricket by ensuring that only teams good enough get to play it, and in the structure of the International game, this is necessary to keep the purists and traditional cricket lovers happy. It gives the top associates a chance to prove themselves against Zimbabwe - a side with Test experience and a longer history in multi-day cricket that any of the Associates.

It also allows countries like England, Australia and New Zealand the opportunity to sidestep the political ramifications of playing Zimbabwe and handing that moral dilemma down to teams such as Scotland and Ireland, but that is an argument to be left for another day.

At a pure cricketing level, this measure (if adopted by the executive) will mean that once they prove themselves good enough, Zimbabwe can step back up to Test cricket. What it does not do is provide a similar chance for an Associate team to make that same step. This should have been the perfect opportunity for the ICC to put in place a system whereby the most deserving team could earn itself a Test spot, instead they let the ball slip through their fingers.

Had they wanted to show they are serious about expanding the game, the ICC should have said that the winner of the 2007/8 Intercontinental Cup will be promoted to Test cricket for a period of 2 years - the period of the next Intercontinental Cup. At the end of that time, the lowest ranked Test side would then host a series against the new winner of the Intercontinental Cup with the winner retaining Test status for another two years, and so on.

This would in effect mean that the top 11 cricket playing nations would always be the ones playing Test cricket. No dilution would occur to the records and the high standards of Test cricket would have been safeguarded. For Associates, it would provide that final bridge to top flight cricket. It would provide an incentive for players from the Associates to stay with their countries rather than defecting to England and would significantly raise the stakes of the Intercontinental Cup making it more attractive to sponsors and hence providing increased funds for cricket growth on a global scale. In an ideal follow on, there would then be a third division introduced for the next tier of nations with a similar a promotion/relegation system. It is high time that performances on the pitch were allowed to determine who gets to play Test cricket rather than old-fashioned prejudice and politics. The ICC say they want to continue expanding the game. This is the perfect opportunity for them to actually deliver on that rather than offering empty promises.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Self Governance - A masterplan for a domestic competition

Happy Madaraka Day. On this anniversary of internal self rule, I thought it would be appropriate to post on something that has been ticking away in the back of my mind for some time now.

Kenyan cricket is at a cross roads. We continue to do well at a senior One Day level, but have not been so successful at either junior level, or at multi day cricket at the senior level. It is not rocket science as to why. For a cricket player to improve, they need to play regularly against decent opposition. Currently, Kenya has no domestic structure that allows for our top players at any age level to play each other enough. The NPCA leagues are the best in the country, but our best players are split between three divisions and the format is only limited overs.

Cricket Kenya have said since they got in that they will address this, but I am sure that I am not alone in wondering when it will actually happen. There was a national tournament mooted for late last year/early this year, but rains and the WCL scuppered that plan. So far, there seems to be no news on when it will happen, and this is a major worry.

Looking at the situation in Kenyan cricket, I have come up with my own idea on how things could be addressed, but first there are a few facts that need to be established:
  1. Cricket in Kenya is currently played almost exclusively on Sundays.
  2. Due to weather and Christmas, there are two windows in the year when cricket can be played: June to November and January to early March. A total of 8 months.
  3. The core of cricket in Kenya is the regional tournaments run by NPCA, CCA and RVCA.
My idea will involve the selected teams playing games on Saturdays as well as Sundays. If any multi-day cricket is ever going to happen in Kenya, this has to start happening and because of this, the financial implications in terms of sponsorship cannot be ignored. Basically, many current players work on that day and will need to be reimbursed if they are to play cricket instead.

Because of the importance of the current club structure, my model would try to leave as much of the June-November window free for club cricket as possible. This is after all the grass roots of the game and must be protected.
Assuming 4 weekends in January and February are available and 2 in March, some inroads to November and possibly October would be needed for a national competition.

Though the aim of this model is to introduce multi-day cricket to the players, it also aims to give the top players practice against each other at both One Day and 20-20 level as well. Thus a league system would be set up with each team playing the others in the following:
1 x 2-day game (Sat & Sun)
1 x 50-overs (One Day) game (Sun)
1x 20-20 game. (Sat afternoon)
Host teams would alternate on a yearly basis with a team hosting the 2-day game one year and the one-day and 20-20 the next.

To achieve this, the following time frames would be needed:

# of teams weeks req start end
4 6 Jan Feb
5 8 Jan Feb
6 10 Jan March
7 12 Nov Feb
8 14 Nov March
9 16 Oct March
10 18 Sept March
To put the emphasis on the 2-day games I propose the following points system based on an amended version several existing scoring systems:

2-Day game:
1st innings lead: 6 points.
Outright win: 16 points.
Draw: 6 points each
Bonus batting points at 150, 200, 250 and 300 runs per innings (4 max per innings)
Bonus fielding points at: 3wkts, 6 wkts, 8 wkts and 10 wkts per innings (4 max per innings)
Total available points: 38

1 Day Game:
Outright win: 16 points
Bonus batting and fielding points as above.
Total points available: 24

20-20 game:
Outright win: 10 points
bonus batting points at: 125, 175, 225, 250 (max 4)
bonus bowling points at; 3, 6, 8, 10 wickets (max 4)
total points available: 18

These may well need to be re-jigged, but give a basic starting point.

In terms of which teams should be included, I have worked on both the current relative strengths of the regions, future potential, youth growth and regional promotion. I believe the following table gives the best guide to how such a competition should be set up:

# of teams NPCA CCA RVCA Western Ken U19 Uganda Tanzania
4 2 1 0.5 0.2 0.3 0 0
5 2 1 0.7 0.3 1 0 0
6 2 1 0.5 0.2 0.3 1 1
7 2 1 0.5 0.5 1 1 1
8 2 1 1 1 1 1 1
9 As above + 1 depending on where required, etc for more teams.

As of April 2007, RVCA considered themselves too weak to compete in such a competition. Realistically however, they are unlikely to be much worse than the CCA and if bolstered by U19 players, they would almost certainly hold their own. As yet, Western hardly exist, but there is immense potential that needs to be encouraged there.

Any of the top 3 options could be implemented immediately with the others being introduced as development in regions such as Western Kenya and Rift Valley start to produce more and better players. Note that the division of players in shared teams would be discretionary and left up to the selecting committee of such teams with guidelines on a minimum number of players from each area.

Note also that the current U19 team are almost all from the NPCA, so until other regions improved to contribute more players, this would in affect give NPCA 3 teams in the competition.

The inclusion of Uganda and Tanzania would obviously depend on their boards and their willingness to participate. Benefits of their inclusion would mean the tournament would be more appealing to sponsors and it would help raise the level of cricket in the region. The make up of the teams would be left up to the boards and, as they get stronger, there would be no reason why these could not be development teams rather than full squads - similar to the team Kenya sent to the Logan Cup. Uganda may well already be at this stage, Tanzania probably not quite yet.

This is the crux on which such a competition would rest.
I believe the best system would be for a major sponsor to cover the tournament as a whole and then each team be separately sponsored as a franchise. There would have to be a limit on professional players from overseas - I'd suggest 1 per squad, and there would have to be a salary cap. However, I believe it would be a good idea to allow, and indeed encourage, sponsors to spend as much as they wanted in developing the game in their feeder clubs/area.

Money from the event sponsor would need to be allocated to provide regular feed to the media. Ideally this would include full write ups and scorecards in print media as well as highlights packages on TV and radio. This would help grow the supporter base for each team and in time could be expanded to include some live coverage as well.

Sponsorship dollars would also be needed to carry out an aggressive marketing campaign using the top players from each team and incentives such as luck gate prizes and 'catch a six and win' promotions. Initially, fans (especially those who know little or nothing about cricket) will need to be 'bribed' to attend matches. Use of music and entertainment between over/wickets and innings also needs to be looked at, especially in the one day and 20-20 matches. With other spectator sports in the country really suffering, this is an ideal time to promote the game, but as I said, people will initially need other incentives than just the cricket . In time this will change as new people learn about and get hooked on the game and teams will begin to build solid fan bases. It is this goal that must be kept in mind.

The Associates are constantly whining about not getting matches against the top teams, but we also need to start with some decent self-governance. Here's hoping Cricket Kenya follows something along these lines and soon!