The Global T20 League: A scheduling disaster

T20 cricket
KP

So another jamboree will soon be upon us.

The Global T20 will feature some 57 matches crammed into a six-week slot on a global cricketing calendar that is already fuller than an IPL final at Eden Gardens. So precious are a couple of days here and there, in fact, that the organisers have chosen to do away with the playoff stage of the competition. Instead the two sides that finish top of the log go directly to a final on 16 December at the Wanderers.

In making this decision the organisers may have committed tournament-scheduling hara-kiri, but without the honour that accompanies the Japanese ritual of belly-disembowelling suicide by sword. Let me explain why.

Twenty20 cricket is fun stuff. It is entertaining and has brought untold numbers of dollars and new fans to the game. Its’ rise has been spectacular and while it has detracted some attention from the purer versions of the beautiful game, it has largely seemed worth it. It has revolutionised the sport at every turn and even the most stubborn Test-match enthusiast, myself included,loves the thrill of a close T20 finish where a team somehow hat 20 runs off the last over to win off the last ball.

The problem is that cricket needs something more than just excitement to really satisfy us. It also needs meaning. A T20 World Cup has some meaning and so does an IPL final, even just for the scale of it. But the enormous problem of an eight-teamed tournament where only the top two qualify for the final means that the tournament will be plagued by a great many dead rubbers, where the game is irrelevant in terms of the tournament. They are close to meaningless.

The dead rubber is cricket’s weak point. If a dead rubber in a Test series has almost no meaning then can you imagine how pointless a dead rubber in yet another T20 tournament is? Furthermore, the fact that many teams will have zero chance of qualifying for the final from the halfway point in the competition, is certain to result in a litany of games that hold almost no intrigue for players and fans will result weaker crowds and TV audiences also.

Furthermore, and here is the tricky part, this will drastically increase the scope for corruption in the Global T20.

As soon as the tournament’s predecessor, the much smaller Ram Slam T20, was aired on the subcontinent we saw countless examples of match and spot fixing in South Africa. Now that CSA have bent over backwards for the rich Indian and Pakistani owners of the Global T20 franchises, you would have to be a fool to think that some of the players in the sides won’t be tempted to do the same.

Cricket South Africa stands to gain so much from this exciting tournament that transforms the landscape in SA overnight but they have a duty to ensure that it is corruption free and, by not having playoff games that keep most sides in the tournament until the last few of the 57 matches, they have dropped a catch to do so. Not a regulation chance, mind you, but a sitter. An absolute dolly.

CSA must be praised for their good work in actually busting players for funny-business after the last RAM Slam. Players get so many anti-corruption talks from ACSU officers that even the ones that aren’t so bright can recite the warnings ad nauseum, but there is no real deterrent unless people are caught and punished. Most of these leagues don’t do enough to catch the baddies, which certainly isn’t an easy job when most shady deals happen behind closed doors. Remember also that many senior players already have close relationships with team owners from other tournaments and many players will now find themselves on different teams to their previous owners and or the owners of their current teams in different leagues.

It is a quagmire that is almost impossible to police. Instead you have to rely on the ability of the 150 players in the tournament to not be led into temptation. Corrupt businessmen from India seem rather tricky to lock up in SA at the moment and the threat of being banned from the game is less serious to those who are already at the twilight of their careers.

The temptation for jiggery pokery is larger than ever before. The matches will be played at prime time in India and the amounts wagered on games are unfathomable in a region where betting is illegal and it is almost impossible to trace the transactions of gamblers and bookies. Legalising, regulating and closely monitoring the ever-growing industry would help to clear up these murky waters but that is an argument for another day.

Remember also that players are not representing their nation with pride in such a tournament – instead they chop and change their team shirts when they are sold like cattle at an auction. Players are invited to lavish functions by team owners and attend secret meetings in their hotel rooms.

South Africa is open for business and is an offshore stage for a new kind of board game. It is clear that franchise owners are in the game for money and thrills – owning a team in this kind of a league is a play thing for the rich. If they actually cared about developing the game in South Africa then we would have seen more respect for provincial boards that don’t have much more than a clue about who is taking over their stadiums, never mind the vital work of transformation, where so much progress had been made.

I am very excited about the tournament and eagerly await its arrival but I urge the organisers to rethink the lack of an incentive to come in the top half of the table. It is not too late. The schedule is long and can easily be re-worked a little but if the dates are sacred then a play-off day could easily take place on one of the days off before the final, or even on the day of it. In England, they play both semis and a final all on the same “Finals Day”.

In future, I would like to see the bottom two teams eliminated from the tournament altogether at the half-way stage, like “the cut” in golf. That would give them something to play for!

I hate to say it but I can only assume that some of those around whichever boardroom table that made this decision, had ulterior motives in mind when they cited the urgency to complete the tournament in the shortest time frame possible. Let us hope that they do not rue the decision to ignore this request that comes in good faith – if not then they run the risk of being hoist with their own petard.

By Nicholas Sadleir

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