International Cricket is getting some serious blows in regular intervals with big reputed cricketers parting ways from it either to focus on one or two formats or to prioritize domestic leagues around the world.

Last month, English all-rounder Ben Stokes announced his retirement from the one-day format citing that it was going unsustainable for him to play all three formats and in addition to that representing franchises too was a concern for him. Now, adding a jolt to it, New Zealand left-arm pacer Trent Boult made a big decision of taking back his central contract to focus more on T20 leagues around the world and to spend more time with his young family.

Now with that, a question arises is whether Boult is the first of many or if he is the last of any. And with the growing stature of domestic leagues around the world, it would not be wrong to assume that he is the first of many.

Here, we would see how and why cricketers are prioritizing T20 tournaments above internationals and what is the future of international cricket.

Faces of T20 leagues and why these?

It all began with the introduction of the Indian Premier League in 2008 when international cricket got its new cousin in the form of IPL which over the years saw immense growth not only in India but in the whole world.

Taking notes from this pattern, many countries started their own leagues in wake of more money and for more international exposure for their local talents. But with time, these franchise cricket just pour out more business ideas by focusing on money through broadcasting rights and expanding to several countries through the acquisition of players from all over the world.

The basic purpose of these leagues initially was entertainment by bringing world-class players together, just like the wildest dream of watching Virat Kohli, AB De Villiers, and Chris Gayle playing together in one team. Though as the game progressed, it took a turn to commercialization of cricket with the game being played according to the broadcaster's means.

Now, we would take some notes on the basic purpose of the commencement of the domestic leagues in the midst of international cricket:

  • International cricket, basically limited to test cricket and one-day cricket (until the arrival of T20 internationals) was the whole sole format for the viewers and with time, many find it time-consuming and boring with average view hours going up to 6-7 hours. Viewership was declining which forced us to plan for the reforms heading forward.
  • Test and ODI cricket were not attracting viewers from associate nations or other countries where cricket structure isn’t standing on a strong base. Hence, a new style of approach was necessary to term cricket as a global sport.
  • Only T20 cricket had the potential to globalize cricket and thus, a new format with 20 overs per side was introduced following that, IPL was also inaugurated in 2008.
  • T20 leagues around the world gave exposure to players from comparably backward cricketing nations of international standards and help them to lift cricket back to their respective countries. Good examples are Ryan Ten Doeschate from the Netherlands and Rashid Khan from Afghanistan.
  • This is a corporate world and everybody wants to earn as much as possible. That’s where these leagues excel. They provide ample monetary benefit to the players which they won’t get when playing internationals.
  • Plus, if you are not a full member of ICC, then your chances of playing at the top level diminish and there is a mere possibility of you earning a minimal one.
  • Even when you are a member of a top ICC member nation, you have chances of being side-lined enough from the national team and thus there is no big boost to your earning capacity, this is where these leagues help you out.
  • In countries that don’t have good domestic infrastructures like India, Australia, and England have, the possibility of those teams having a good test side is less than nil. Hence, if not test, they can go up and prepare themselves for the shortest format of the game where they can compete with the best teams in the world.
  • This version of cricket has been set up in a way that promotes cricket as a global sport just like football. These T20 leagues have often provided a base for players from those countries to come and perform. Nepal’s Sandeep Lamichhane got international recognition by performing in various leagues over the world and now has helped his country get the ODI status in ICC books.

Thus, these are a few of the traits and the need for the T20 leagues to be present there in the current scenario of cricket but now every other country has its own franchise tournaments and thus a demand for a separate window for their leagues also increased.

IPL has increased their window to two and half months while leagues like PSL, CPL, and BBL too have their separate windows for the commencement of the league. Now, South Africa too is introducing their new league which has IPL teams as its owners. Their dates are clashing with another league that will be based in UAE as ILT20 league.

Now, with each country demanding separate space for their respective franchise tournaments, international cricket is suffering from merely getting the window for bilateral series. Recently, Cricket South Africa canceled their one-day series against Australia owing to the successful commencement of their new CSA T20 league scheduled for early 2023.

With cricketers and boards preferring the domestic leagues in recent times, one big aspect arises is whether international cricket dying or is on the verge of death. Many experts have different opinions about this; however, it can be said that T20 leagues have a very adverse impact on international cricket going forward.

International Cricket and its Slow Death:

Now with the franchise league taking up the higher spot in world cricket, the big question that arises is whether International Cricket is shoved to untimely demise by cricketing boards.

Well, the answer to it may be driven by some facts which don’t really contradict this much-answered question and the fact is some cricket boards are helping out on this case with they are also prioritizing the financially rich leagues over the bilateral series in general as ICC tournaments aren’t in their hand as it is up to the International Cricket Council while bilateral is the result of the agreement of two nations.

Like, the decision by CSA to opt-out of the ODI series against Australia cant be challenged by the ICC nor by the hosting nation too.

With Boult setting up the example of quitting the national contract and heading towards the financially viable option of playing leagues, many players will follow this suit. This option is considered practical for the cricketers who are on the other side of their career and are now likely to add some money power to their bank that will work after they retire from cricket. Many cricketers including Andre Russell and Sunil Narine have gone the same way which has earned them the name of the beast in T20.

Whether they are available for the national selection or not, these players are in demand by the owners of the franchises which in turn can make their investments in the revenue over the course of time.

Moving forward to CSA again, the board moves out of the Australia tour when their World Cup automatic qualification is at stake. In the World Cup Super league, they are currently standing at the 11th position with they are in danger of elimination from the direct qualification. This will put a deep impact on the reputation of the South African team which is considered as the top-tier team in the ICC book.

However, they can mark their presence in the tournament when the World Cup qualifiers will take place next year before the main event. But the casual approach by the big board on the international fixture will hamper the game’s status.

And by now, with ICC releasing Future Tour Programme it has been accepted to accommodate leagues in the tight schedule, and one format has been put under scrutiny and that is the one-day format whose relevance has become a hot topic currently after the retirement of Ben Stokes from this format a few weeks ago. This can also be stated with the fact that big guns India and Australia will face each other only 6 times in the two ODI series in the next 5 years as against they had played a 7-match series in 2013 in India which proved a blockbuster for both nations.

In fact, if we compare the ODI matches in the last decade, it has fallen to less than half of what it was played when IPL was new to cricket, i.e., from 2007-10. In this period, India played 94 one-day matches, most by any team and if we look at the data for 2019-22, India played just 29 matches, less than three times. In the earlier period, the least matches played by any team were 53, by South Africa, and in the later period, it fell to just 13, by New Zealand, signifying the huge decline it has been in the one-day format (as reported by Dainik Bhaskar).

Though, test cricket too was at the same downfall before ICC jumped in and renovate the format and introduced the ICC World Test Championship which gave a new life to the original format of cricket and attract new viewers owing to the fate every match took with it. Now, almost every match gets results unlike previously when test cricket was barely giving us the results.

But what next, despite fueling life to international cricket, star players are giving up their will to endeavor furthermore cricket for their nation? They are accepting the fact that money carries more weight than playing for their nation and Boult is the latest to this unlikeable list. But the truth is these leagues will continue to grow in the coming years and more players will come out and will follow the same lane which Boult chose. 

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