Cricket review grinds on as burn-out question remains

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The Independent Online

A review of international cricket to prevent too many games being played has been held up. The International Cricket Council are still gathering financial evidence before they can decide if a different structure should be established. The study was started last June after repeated concerns that too much cricket was leading to player burn-out, and that the international game was in danger of becoming a commodity.

In the background there was also the fear that meaningless matches in unusual venues had partly led to match fixing in the Nineties. If that has been addressed by the introduction of the ICC One-Day Championship, towards which every game counts, the other factors are still in place. England, for example, will play a minimum of 21 one-dayers this year if the programme goes ahead as scheduled. Then, early in 2005, they will play a seven- match series against South Africa. If the Zimbabwean tour goes ahead, the players will have no prolonged period of rest until the autumn of next year.

The ICC review was expected to last several months but is still in its first stage. The delay has been caused by difficulties in securing financial information from some member countries. Only when they know how much money one-dayers - whether meaningless or not - make can the ICC decide whether they can afford a more sensible strategy. They will have to balance player welfare with player reward.

Brendan McClements, director of corporate affairs, said: "Some countries think there is too much, some think they play too little. The same goes for players, but we know we have to be aware. It's taken more time than we thought getting the information but it has been very complicated. What is too much? The NFL in America is the richest sports franchise in the world, and their teams play only 16 games in the regular season."

There is no current sign that cricket is beginning to pall. The series between Pakistan and India has garnered global audiences (and advertising) of several hundred millions. Last week all 10 full member nations were in action, either in Tests or one-dayers.

But the ICC are desperate to find a balance between their own tours programme and the privately arranged matches of boards. The programme means countries must play each other home and away every five years, in Test series of at least two matches and one-day series of three.

England have gone against that trend to try to ensure their players get more experience. The trouble is that by the time they have finished their jaunt around the West Indies the players will be tired of the sight of each other and fans will feel likewise about the players. Malcolm Speed, the ICC's chief executive, told the ICC Business Forum last June that he thought saturation point was close. All the ICC expected of boards was fulfilment of the programme. "There is no compulsion from the ICC for seven one-dayers in a series."

When the international players from all countries organised a survey at the Champions' Trophy in Sri Lanka in 2002, 64 per cent said there was too much international cricket and 78 per cent that players should have a compulsory annual leave period. The players' union, Fica, now have closer links with the ICC, but they may be waiting a while yet for their wishes to be put into practice.