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ICC World Test Championship’s commercial viability was always in question

There is no guarantee England will even qualify for the maiden ICC Test Championship on soil in 2017 and that is one of the main detractor for broadcasters concerning the tournament © Getty Images
There is no guarantee England will even qualify for the maiden ICC Test Championship on soil in 2017 and that is one of the main detractor for broadcasters concerning the tournament © Getty Images

The broadcasters’ opposition to the ICC Test Championship was always on the cards for more than one reason. Abhijit Banare sheds light on how broadcasters have managed to call the shots over cricket and what are the options left for the ICC to make its dream project see the light of the day.

Every new medium of broadcasting has posed as a perceived threat for its predecessor. And television has been the biggest gamechanger till date. From a mode of broadcasting the sport, it has turned into a commercial product which virtually decides who becomes the superpower in sports, at least in cricket. Cricket boards across countries depend heavily on broadcasting deals to fetch a fortune which in return funds the development of the sport in their countries. And the International Cricket Council (ICC) too is part of this circle securing a huge amount through such deals. And none of the boards have been lifted through broadcasting deals as much as the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) which started off since the liberalisation in 1992.

The influence of broadcasting on cricket has been there much before than the above mentioned example. With such long history of the sport being dragged around by commercial aspects, the ICC World Test Championships is just another tournament which could bite the dust under commercial pressure. After broadcasters expressed their concerns over the possible absence of India and England, the ambitious project of the ICC has been sent in a tizzy. While there has been furore over the possible scrapping of the tournament, a sane businessman could easily explain why it wasn’t a feasible proposition.

It’s not just about selling the five-day format, but the ambiguity over how it will be hosted in itself is a big unanswered question. The Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) has expressed its concerns of the Test Championship playing a vital role in keeping the five-day format alive, which has been perceived as dying since years now. But the broadcasters couldn’t have cared more whether a format will survive or not. From a commercial angle, the ball being dispatched into the crowd will appear much more lucrative than the ball almost caressing the bat six times in an over. With the championship on the verge of being crushed, the million dollar question is, how can it financially be more viable?

How can it be made feasible?

This is the question which has haunted many boards and councils whenever there has been a roadblock from a commercial point of view. The bitter truth is, there is no magic wand to glamourise Test cricket. It is exactly the effort to do so which has led to tinkering with the way the game has been played. It sounds ridiculous to state that the rules have been tinkered for commercial value. But not many would disagree that most of the decisions taken especially for the One-Day Internationals (ODIs) have been based on making the sport more attractive to watch; be it the free-hit or the recent one of having only four fielders manning the fence in non-powerplay overs.

Time and again various formats of the game have only done the task of catching up with commercial demands; a demand which even Twenty20 hasn’t been able to get away with. Even today, the Indian Premier League (IPL) — the money-spinner — has had to mould itself to suit the countless number of advertisers, associate sponsors and the innovative ways of naming a sponsor every season. Despite the hype it is still just about managing to meet the hungry advertisers and broadcasters. Let alone the way it is played, it has even changed the vocabulary of those describing the sport as well.

If the shortest format of the game [which is considered as the eye-catcher] struggles to meet the demands, how can one expect the broadcasters jumping the wagon to bid for hosting the Test Championship? While the ICC plans its dream project, the Futures Tour Programme (FTP) has been tinkered with many times and Tests have been postponed to uncertain dates.

The moral of the story is clear; the ICC will never be able to see the light of the day for a Test Championship if it continues its arbitration with the broadcasters. Bold decisions are tough to take and sacrificing lucrative finances is not an easy call. At the same time, let’s be clear, broadcasters will never be in a position to boycott any series. They will always be there, only that the amount will be less.

(Abhijit Banare is a reporter at CricketCountry. He is an avid quizzer and loves to analyse and dig out interesting facts which allows him to learn something new every day. Apart from cricket he also likes to keep a sharp eye on Indian politics, and can be followed on Twitter and blog)

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