Cricket adapts to changing post-pandemic landscape

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Throughout cricket, when the person at bat has scored 50 runs, this is normally the clap signal, the strength of which will depend on the manner and style of the innings. In the days of league cricket in the north of England, when the professional turned 50, it was customary for a club official to go around the spectators with a box asking for small change to be offered in recognition of the achievement.

This is my 50th column for Arab News. In recognition of this, I have curated my own collection – that of the recurring topics that have emerged while compiling these columns. Too many emerged to discuss in a single column. Therefore, I will focus on those that have material implications for the future of the game.

The impact of COVID-19 served as a backdrop throughout the year. It’s easy to forget that at this point in 2021, preparations were underway in England for international matches to be played in biosecure venues in front of limited spectators. This method of “keeping the show on the road” worked for a while, but players began to feel the pressure, which raised concerns about their mental well-being. These are now taken more seriously.

Another lasting impact of the pandemic on cricket has been the way it has been forced to adapt its products and revenue streams. The Indian Premier League could not be played in India in March/April 2020. It was then transferred to the United Arab Emirates, between mid-September and mid-November, thereby preserving its media and sponsorship revenue streams . In 2021, the IPL started in India but was suspended mid-term, resuming in the United Arab Emirates in September.

As well as ensuring the tournaments were completed, the changes also provided the UAE with greater visibility in the cricketing world.

This was further highlighted to a wider audience when the delayed T20 2020 Men’s World Cup, which was to be hosted by India, was played in the United Arab Emirates, plus Oman, in October/November 2021. An additional stimulus was provided by the positive performances of both men’s teams. and women’s teams in the United Arab Emirates and Oman, as well as Bahrain, in the 20 and 50+ World Cup qualifying competitions. All this indicates a real advance in competitiveness within these countries, on and off the pitch.

The emergence of pandemic-imposed constraints has led to an abundance of cricket in recent months as tournaments, particularly the ICC World Cup qualifiers, catch up with a backlog of fixtures.

In this mix, new tournaments have been added or existing tournaments have been expanded. In 2021, The Hundred was introduced in England and Wales, a format played nowhere else in the world, designed to appeal to a younger viewer.

In the same year, a T20 Minor League Cricket Championship was introduced in the United States, consisting of 27 teams from four regions. It is a development league for the major American cricket league, planned for six cities in 2023.

In 2022, the IPL has grown from eight to 10 franchises, necessitating an extension of its duration. Over the past year, the direction of travel for cricket, in terms of focusing on the T20 format, has been reaffirmed, especially in emerging countries.

What was also reaffirmed was Australian cricket’s dominance in both men’s and women’s cricket. This is based on his men’s side’s victory at the T20 World Cup in November in the United Arab Emirates, their crushing of England in the 2020/21 Ashes. The women’s team won the ODI 50+ World Cup in April and beat England in a combined Test and Short Format series in January/February. For now, India’s bid for dominance has been halted in recent months, partly due to a hiatus caused by coaching and captaincy changes.

One of the most significant developments over the past 12 months has been the increased support for women’s cricket. This has resulted in increased funding, increased ratings, both in person and on the media, and increased pay, although gender parity has yet to be achieved. Most women’s cricket is played in shorter formats and cricket authorities seem reluctant to increase opportunities for women’s Test cricket.

It is in India that women’s cricket has the greatest latent potential, but the Board of Control for Cricket in India has been slow to provide the necessary platforms for its realization. Even recently, he expressed the view that at this stage there is not enough depth in women’s football in India to warrant further investment. This was accompanied by vague discussions of the women’s IPL.

Although the current chair of the MCC is a woman and holds the position of chief executive of women’s cricket for the England and Wales Cricket Board, cricket remains a male-dominated game.

For example, only one of the 18 professional county cricket clubs in England and Wales currently has a woman as chairman or CEO. Contrary to fashion, one county had a woman in both positions in 2019. Neither is in office yet. The president, herself a woman of color, stepped down in November 2021, apparently saddened by high-profile allegations of racism in the national game.

My column for November 24, 2021 covered these revelations. They rocked cricket, particularly in Britain, where investigations, dismissals and recriminations followed.

These disappeared, but the problem may not have gone away overnight. Among the main recurring topics of the past year – coping with the impact of the pandemic, recognition of mental health issues, the continued growth of T20 competitions, the surge in support for women’s cricket, the spotlight on United Arab Emirates and Oman and the resurgence of Australia – racism is of most concern.

Work is underway within the game to counter its impact and bring about behavioral change. However, progress is not always obvious and needs to be monitored. It takes time to educate and develop the will to change in those who remain in doubt.

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