JOHANNESBURG - A few years ago a former Proteas player told me that international cricket as we know it was on its last feet.
Cricket would, the player said, follow football’s example where clubs own the players and occasionally "lend" them to their national federations for international fixtures - i.e. qualifying matches for major events, and then the events themselves, like the World Cup or the Africa Cup of Nations.
At the time I recall thinking the former player was exaggerating. A scenario he outlined involved an expanded IPL, something much bigger than it’s current six week schedule - six months, like a baseball season. Players would be contracted to their franchises and an international window would have to be created to work around the IPL. Think about football now; the biggest European leagues run for nine months of the year, with three or four intervals in that period where international matches are played.
Cricket took a significant step in that direction this week, with that staggering broadcasting deal - worth $2.55-billion (about R33bn) - signed between the BCCI and Star India for the rights to the IPL for the next five years. It signals the incredible value of a product many were sceptical about when first conceptualised, but which now sees the IPL being talked about in the same breath as leagues like the NFL - currently in the middle of an eight year contract reportedly worth $39.6-billion, the NBA - which signed a nine year deal two years ago worth $24-billion, and the MLB - which has an eight year deal worth $12.4-billion.
Those American broadcasting rights, however, were signed with different networks for each sport, the IPL deal was with a single partner. Clearly, they understand the value of the product they are broadcasting. At what stage then will Star India go: "why just six weeks of the IPL, we can get greater bang for our buck with an expanded competition? We’ll give you $10 billion, but the IPL must run for six months."
The ICC’s inability to create context for Test cricket has significantly hurt what is - as we saw with results last week - still a very engaging product. The World Cup is all that keeps the 50-over format relevant, and the IPL is the most dominant force in the T20 format, arguably on a par with the ICC world event in that format.
The pressure is now also on Cricket South Africa to ensure it’s able to secure a substantial deal for its Global T20 League starting in November. The IPL deal is illustrative of the value now attached to franchise T20 cricket. Cricket’s on the cusp of a whole new world where the relevance of international game is rapidly depreciating.