There is no need for a hierarchy of cricket games

Dear Editor,

Well-known cricket writer George Dobell wrote recently in Cricinfo a short essay that attempted to encapsulate all the major cricket issues, but which unfortunately did not, in my view, acknowledge the one feature, that if grasped firmly could throw light on an approach that would go a long way towards addressing those intractable issues. That feature is the existence of three formats in the game, a phenomenon practically unknown in other sports. Cricket at the highest level was played as a long game with two innings, that was scheduled since about the nineteen thirties for five days. Only in the 1970s was the one innings limited overs  (first 60 and then 50) game introduced to make the game shorter. In the twenty-first century, an even shorter version of a one-innings limited overs game of 20 overs was introduced. This latest version took off like a rocket for one reason. It seems that almost all new cricket fans and a substantial part of the younger old (old meaning not new) cricket fans believe that a team sporting event should run for not much longer than approximately three hours. However, the very people who were sufficiently aware to recognise the need for shorter versions of the game, felt impelled to distinguish the different formats of the game one from the other, not on the basis of their respective lengths, but rather on the basis of the skill and character required to play the different formats. The longest version was recognised as being of the highest quality, the 50 over as second in the hierarchy of quality and the shortest version at the bottom. All sorts of identifying characteristics were introduced with the objective of emphasising the supposed differences in the formats. The cricketing public seemed to reverse the order of preference by attending the shortest format in the greatest numbers, and the longest format in the least numbers. The financial returns, first at the gate, and then on TV, reflected that new reality. The ICC continued to give priority to its management of the longest format, and to a lesser degree the 50 over format, while within countries the major focus was on the twenty over, the shortest format, which produced millionaire players and at least the prospect of huge long-term profits for entrepreneurs. So there is a disconnect that needs to be addressed, but cannot be, as long as the perception of a hierarchy of quality remains the governing philosophy of the ICC. I think the evidence is growing that the perception of the need for a hierarchy is not justified. The tools are available to change the perception, which if achieved, will eliminate one of the biggest administrative headaches in the game.

Yours faithfully,
Romain Pitt