In the end it was much ado about nothing. The fate of this year’s men’s T20 World Cup, among other agenda items, has been deferred until 10 June after Thursday’s much-anticipated International Cricket Council board meeting was hijacked by concerns over “confidentiality”, prompting an independent investigation into the matter that the ICC says will be undertaken by its own ethics officer and “supported by global experts”.
As host nation of the competition, these are days Australia can seemingly ill afford to waste. But in truth everything is falling nicely into place for a domestic ruling body crying poor at every turn. Although the ICC is playing down suggestions the T20 World Cup will be postponed, there isn’t a figure in the game who isn’t convinced otherwise.
If nothing else, the next fortnight will give the ICC the time it needs to flesh out contingency plans for a global event that simply cannot happen in the present milieu. Sixteen teams and staff from around the world in bio-safe hubs? In a country that is closer than most to freeing itself from Covid-19? All for a cricket tournament that can staged at another time? Not likely.
Far from resigned to the inevitability of the October-November event being postponed, Cricket Australia will privately welcome the decision with open arms. Publicly, however, it is counting the cost. “The likelihood of significant crowds is very slim – ordinarily that would deliver well over $50m revenue,” CA chief executive Kevin Roberts said on Friday. “The T20 World Cup is a big question and that’s a factor of perhaps $20m ... you would have to say there’s a very high risk about the prospect of that happening.”
For CA, the temporary loss of an ICC-staged event played in front of no fans is no loss at all compared to the alternative. Lurking in the shadows is the Indian Premier League, the 2020 edition of which is still waiting to happen thanks to the global pandemic. Should the IPL season be wiped altogether, it’s estimated the cost to the global cricket economy could be in the region of US$600m.
It’s here where Australia’s destiny is linked to – or more bluntly, in the hands of – India. An absent T20 World Cup opens up a window for the IPL to take place, which then leads directly to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow: India’s summer tour of Australia and the $300m in broadcast revenue that comes with it.
Behind the scenes, Cricket Australia will have been pushing India’s barrow hard. “The Cricket Australia board will want to keep India happy,” former Australia captain Mark Taylor said recently. “They may want to let the players go to India if the IPL goes ahead. Because they want India to come here this summer and play, which will be our biggest summer in terms of dollars.”
And so it has come to pass: Cricket Australia this week announced dates for an India tour that will encompass four Tests, three T20s and ODIs, and three one-dayers for the women’s teams. They might be the fiercest of rivals on the field, but off it Australia and India can be the snuggest of bedfellows when it suits them. Should anyone have forgotten who possesses the whip hand in world cricket, wonder no more.
The dollars produced by India’s summer tour are dollars CA can’t do without, its coffers laid apparently bare by the impact of Covid-19. CA has been frank in its assessment that the game’s survival in this country, at least in the short term, is dependent on India’s visit. Now that the tour has been rubber-stamped, at least while the coronavirus situation allows it, the states will be looking on with interest.
Last week the Australian Cricketers’ Association was highly critical of CA’s cost-cutting, its chairman Greg Dyer saying the game had “yet to experience a significant negative revenue event”. He added: “Now is not the time to diminish the game, but instead seize the moment and improve it.” States have seen their grants reduced by 25%, while nationwide job losses at association level now number in the region of 150.
Queensland Cricket is the latest body to confront the financial crisis, letting go almost a third of its staff. The impact on Sheffield Shield cricket and player development could be profound. When Roberts speaks of “the importance of CA generating revenue to support states and territories”, its members will rightly point to the India tour, the windfall it will bring, and ask why the bloodletting is allowed to continue. CA’s cricket revenue forecast for the 2020-21 season, due any day now, can’t come quick enough.
As for the T20 World Cup, several options are on the table. The event could be delayed for anywhere from six months to two years. On Cricket Australia’s list of priorities, this is some way down the list. For now, it has more pressing matters at hand. Number one is hoping and praying India get here safe and sound. Number two is convincing its members it still has its best interests at heart.