Top international cricketers choosing franchise cricket is not a shock but a reoccurring issue in the world of cricket.
The SA20 is a relatively new competition, with its second edition beginning recently. January is the window that South Africa has earmarked for its flagship tournament.
Last year, the same issue occurred, which resulted in South Africa forfeiting a One Day International (ODI) series against Australia, even though there was a chance this may have affected their 2023 World Cup qualification.
This year, they tried to reschedule the tests against New Zealand, but again, the decision had to be made as to what to prioritize. For two consecutive years, top South African cricket players have prioritized their country’s franchise league over test cricket.
For the SA20 to be a success, it relies on top players being available. However, due to scheduling issues, this means test cricket is under a lot of pressure. Hopefully, this instance with South African cricketers is just a phase and won’t be an issue next year.
Where does this leave test cricket?
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Test cricket is the oldest format of the game, but will only survive if it’s exciting and attractive and includes the world’s brightest talents. However, these stars are being lured away to franchise cricket.
The main issue is the financial benefit of franchise cricket. Cricketers don’t have long careers and may be retired by 35, sometimes younger. Therefore, the attractiveness of a large salary playing for teams around the world is unsurprisingly very persuasive. For example, the SA20 has offered contracts near $90,000, this large sum of money is what is enticing players into franchise cricket.
The other issue is the growing gap between India, Australia, England, and the other cricketing nations. The three countries dominate world cricket and are financially superior.
For example, all three nations hold huge broadcasting rights for their test cricket matches. Unfortunately, test cricket may be destined to only be played by the top teams, leaving the rest behind. The gap is only going to get wider.
For South Africa, the SA20 is vital to generate excitement for cricket and to make a positive social impact on the sport and wider economic ecosystem in the country.
Economically, this is majorly driven by the Indian franchise teams, who are affiliated and bankrolled by Indian Premier League (IPL) owners. That’s why South African cricket stars are choosing the SA20 over test cricket, due to the impact the tournament can have on their country.
On the topic of the IPL, it can’t go without mentioning its dominance over the rest of world cricket. Not only is the sport evolving around T20 but more specifically around the IPL.
Due to the superiority that India financially has over the rest of the world in terms of cricket, it can branch out globally. This is shown in both the SA20 and Major League Cricket in the US. This leads to the question of whether test cricket can co-exist with all the franchise tournaments that are appearing around the world.
Test cricket cannot provide the opportunities that T20 and franchise tournaments offer, which did not exist 20 years ago. Financially, the SA20 offers much more than a test series against New Zealand would.
However, test cricket offers some of the greatest sporting spectacles, which arguably white ball cricket cannot match. The 2023 Ashes series is a prime example. Nevertheless, it is going to take more than one exciting Ashes series to save test cricket.
The problem that South African cricket is facing is not new and has been an issue for several years now. The SA20 has been put in place by Cricket South Africa as domestic cricket is in a state of crisis, emphasizing where their priorities currently lie – the financial benefits that the SA20 offers.
The formats can co-exist. Cricket South Africa has already said that in the future, the SA20 will not clash with any series in which South Africa is playing in. T20 cricket is in a phase of exponential growth, but it’s just a phase.
The calendar year is packed with franchise tournaments around the world, where a player could fly between multiple countries if they wanted to, playing white ball cricket in different leagues for most of the year and being paid for doing something they love. Therefore, scheduling is vital for both formats to stay alive, especially test cricket.
It would be naïve to think that cricketers are going to turn down T20 franchise contracts, and cricket may join the likes of soccer where domestic leagues control the schedule.
National boards are not able to match the money that franchise leagues are offering players, especially the less wealthy cricketing nations (apart from England, Australia, and India).
Nevertheless, test cricket is unique, each test is different, and no other sport can be played for five days and still not have a winner and a loser.
Especially with the introduction of BazBall, England’s exciting new attitude to test cricket, the longest format of the game is attracting sell-out crowds in England, and not only for the Ashes series.
Test cricket is not yet dead, we just may not see it played in the way it has done in the past. Like everything else in the world, it evolves, and we must evolve with it.
As Ben Stokes has suggested, the best way to keep test cricket alive is to show something that inspires people – attracting crowds and broadcast deals, etc., is vital in financially supporting test cricket.
Despite the recent disappointing situation in which South African cricket has found itself – and this will not be the last of its type – test cricket will always be the ultimate form of cricket both physically and mentally.
It inevitably may just be performed less frequently, and as BazBall has shown, played in a slightly different but entertaining way.
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