Cricketers may have to take drastic action to reduce an international match programme which is at saturation point. It became clear last week that the lack of any formal agreement between players and administrators will be a huge obstacle in reducing the number of games.
Despite warnings of player burn-out – illustrated by the retirement from the one-day game of the England batsman Graham Thorpe – the continuing public demand for cricket is likely to hold sway.
The captains of the Test-playing countries expressed concern in London that their teams were expected to play too much. But the International Cricket Council, whose cricket manager, David Richardson, is preparing a report, are likely to be powerless to act even if they wanted to.
"We can act only in an advisory and consultancy role," said the ICC's communications manager, Brendon McClements. "The ICC have a 10-year programme to which all the countries agreed and that includes a number of Test matches and one-day internationals. But the sovereignty of boards is important. If they agree to play matches outside the programme that's up to them."
The ICC are aware that players need rest, but their needs have to be balanced with commercial imperatives and the wish to take the game to different countries. Although Richardson's report will take the captains' views seriously the ICC are cool about involvement by the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations.
While Fica have associations from seven different countries under their umbrella they do not include India or Pakistan, where the game is most popular. The ICC's private view is that they cannot do business with an organisation who do not represent all the players and that, in any case, the players' views differ on how much is too much.
Eventually – sooner rather than later – the players will have to take matters into their own hands. Player rotation is likely to increase – it is the norm for pitchers in baseball.
Player burn-out is not the only factor which should concern the ICC and member nations. They also have to ensure that international matches do not become meaningless, to avoid the potential for match-rigging.
McClements said: "The issue of games being meaningless will be addressed in the next few weeks when proposals are finalised for the ICC's one-day championship. Every game, not just those in the 10-year programme, will count. That is being done now and the Test championship is also being considered for a change so that all matches, not simply series, count."
Despite potential corruption, burn-out and overkill there are no signs of the number of matches diminishing. In 1992 (when match-fixing was beginning to take hold) there were 89 one-day matches and 26 Tests. By 1999 those numbers were, respectively, 154 and 43, by last year they were 120 and 55 and so far this year they are 74 and 27.
One player's burn-out is another man's reason for getting back in the side. While Thorpe has followed players like Jonty Rhodes and Daryll Cullinan in withdrawing from one form of the game, the 37-year-old Australia Test captain, Steve Waugh, has vowed to regain his place in the one-day side he lost earlier this year.
There is another anomaly, epitomised lately by England. Nasser Hussain, the side's captain, has warned of too much cricket on one hand but England desperately need more one-day matches on the other to match the experience of the rest of the world.
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