On Tuesday, an IPL game was touted as the second-richest sporting game in the world by rights value, even ahead of English Premier League football’s roughly $11.8 million per game. There will be fussy people trying to tone down our nascent #proudfeels by pointing out that the Premier League’s ‘windfall central revenue’ will hit $10 billion at some point for their 22-25 rights cycle over 1,900 games (380 per year).
The value of major IPL rights at ₹48,390 crore (about $6.2 billion) is more than half of this particular tree, but money aside, the breakdown of the number of expected IPL matches over five years, it’s the fine print that’s worth dissecting. In 2023 and 2024, IPL will stage 74 matches as it did this year. In 2025 and 2026 it increases to 84 games per season and in 2027 it will be 94 games. That’s 410 matches per five years at Rs118.02 crore per match.
About 15 years ago there were heated arguments over the priority given to international cricket commitments over the IPL ‘window’. This window has now been expanded to a considerably larger portion of the game’s facade – and will continue to do so. “In the end, India could become like the United States in baseball or basketball: the seat of a league so lucrative and so international in its pool of players, which would no longer need the money it once generated through bilateral international encounters.” This comes from Crickonomics: The Anatomy of Modern Cricket, a recently published book by sports economist Stefan Szymanski and cricket journalist Tim Wigmore.
Crickonomics is a collection of 20 essays on the state of the modern game, using data to reach conclusions or spark arguments. It uses the Soccernomics framework (written by Szymanski and Simon Kuper) to provide answers to general in-game questions using data and playing patterns. Soccernomics has been updated from an original 2019 book “Why England Lose: & Other Football Phenomena Explained by Szymanski & Kuper”, full of meandering through the whys and hows of football.
Crickonomics takes us through current contemplations of cricket in a similar fashion, including its most cheesy chapter titled “Did the cold cost India a Test series victory in England?” It presents the “first systematic study of the impact of temperature on test performance” in which one reads the construction, please, of a “temperature advantage index”. Cricket so completely English and so completely insane that one would think that Crickonomics mainly comprises a lot of fanciful wanderings.
Not so. Szymanski-Wigmore sees the signs and tracks the shifting tectonic plates on the planet Cricket. Wigmore is co-author (with Freddie Wilde) of the excellent Cricket 2.0: Inside the T20 Revolution and a close supporter of the T20 franchise leagues. T20 has already changed cricket, as much if not more, arguably, than Kerry Packer’s World Series cricket. For starters, T20 upended an old essence of the game, making the batsman the attacker (because wickets don’t need protection) and turning the bowler into the defender.
Next month, the ICC will publish the new Future Tours program (2023-2027) after its AGM on July 23-26. The FTP can show us how more and more T20 “windows” are being “expanded” across the international game. January 2023 is expected to see the launch of the T20 franchise leagues in the United Arab Emirates – the International T20 League (ILT20) and South Africa and Major League Cricket in the United States is aiming for a mid-2023 launch.
These new leagues will be run alongside the IPL, Pakistan PSL, Australia BBL, Bangladesh BPL and West Indies CPL plus England Hundred. Crickonomics lists the findings of a 2018-19 Federation of International Cricket Associations which had 541 players with overseas contracts in “short format leagues” and 124 players playing in at least two franchise teams. Between November 2019 and March 2020, according to Crickonomics, there was only one month “without a major short-form league in the global game” – and that was June, when the 2019 ICC CWC was held.
Having transformed the business model of cricket, what the T20 franchise leagues further promise to do, especially in a post-Covid era, is what even Kerry Packer had not imagined. In the chapter “The Strange Conservatism of Kerry Packer and Why Covid-19 Will Hasten the Rise of Club Cricket”, we are presented with the possibility that cricket will finally fall in step with the other major world team sports aka loaded – football, baseball, basketball, American football, ice hockey – where club leagues trump national games.
Packer’s World Series Cricket (1977-79) took place six years after the first ODI featured “Super Tests”. Although WSC introduced a lot of radical stuff – commercialization, spotlights, colorful clothes, professional salaries, the book says somewhat mischievously: “Packer did not challenge the orthodoxy that international cricket was the highest version of the sport .”
This orthodoxy today, the book predicts, is about to be challenged from within by what Crickonomics calls the “middle classes” of gambling. Covid has shown them that it is much simpler and lucrative to organize leagues rather than internationals. The CPL T20 played 33 games in 24 days, the time it would have taken to fit into two bilateral white-ball series of three ODIs and three T20s each.
Crickonomics has plenty of other engaging digressions to delve into – women’s cricket, the rise of New Zealand, Afghanistan in Germany – but today and at this time its tea leaf reading is spot on.