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Saudi sportswashing plus a second IPL season adds up to bad news for cricket as we know it

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Expert
22nd December, 2023
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International cricket seems to be dying a death of a thousand cuts. Not the good kind like David Boon’s Gray Nic sending a Curtly Ambrose short ball to the point boundary. 

The latest blow to the global game is the news that the BCCI is considering a second version of the IPL each year, fuelled by Saudi Arabian oil money from its Public Investment Fund. 

By staging a second competition each year, playing it under different rules in a T10 or 100-ball format, it could be a vehicle for India to take on a huge injection of Saudi money while keeping ownership of their premier sporting league.

The IPL is already the second biggest sporting competition in the world behind the NFL and unlike America’s footballers who have a limited season, there is an ever expanding timeframe for India to cash in on the T20 revolution. 

And what will fall by the wayside? International cricket, of course. 

Cricket is heading the way of tennis and golf where the calendar will have a few tentpole events at the same time of year with the circuit/circus moving around the globe to lesser tournaments outside of the “grand slams/majors”. 

Saudi Arabia’s controversial, yet ultimately successful, sportswashing move into golf, football and Formula 1 means more and more sports will be in their sights as both playthings for the crown prince and shiny diversions away from their horrendous human rights record.  

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Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins made headlines earlier this week when they fetched price tags either side of the $4 million mark in the IPL auction. Those astronomical numbers will pale into comparison with the fortunes that will be thrown at cricketers in the coming years if golf and football are any guide. 

Tests and international cricket will never die but if there’s another IPL window in September-October, it will eat up more space and players will find it hard to knock back contracts with telephone number amounts. 

ICC events like World Cups or World Test Championship finals will slot in around the IPL tournaments with the lower-profile leagues, a lot of them also bankrolled by Indian corporations, in the US, South Africa, Caribbean and Saudi Arabia (them again) will fill the remaining months. 

Mitchell Starc and Australian captain Pat Cummins pose with the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023 Trophy during a ICC Men's Cricket World Cup 2023 Trophy Media Opportunity at SCG, on November 28, 2023, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

India, Australia and England will still devote resources to their bilateral series against each other but the two-way contests between other nations will be played in the background (even more so than they are nowadays) as little more than filler for cricket’s global market.

Players from nations outside the Big Three have seen the writing on the wall for a long time. Several of the West Indies’ biggest names gave up Tests and then all international duty ahead of time to become T20 guns for hire.

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All-rounder Jason Holder opting out of the upcoming Test series in Australia is a canary in the coalmine moment. The veteran has been one of the Windies’ few stalwarts in recent years, holding the fractured cricketing nation of independent island states together. 

But there comes a time in every player’s career when they realise time is running out and the prestige of the famous maroon cap doesn’t compare to a T20 contract when it comes to being financially rewarded for your toil.

Other elite players like Quinton de Kock (at 29) and Wanindu Hasarangu (26) have prematurely given up the longer forms of the game to focus on T20 leagues. 

Starc’s decision to bypass the IPL for nearly a decade to preserve his body for Australian honours still isn’t given due credit, given that he has potentially cost himself $10-15m over the years to focus on giving his all at international level in all three formats. 

If it’s not too late already for the ICC to wrest back control of the sport, it’s about two seconds to midnight on that front. 

HYDERABAD, INDIA - MAY 12: Jasprit Bumrah of the Mumbai Indians celebrates taking the wicket of Ambati Rayudu of the Chennai Super Kings during the Indian Premier League Final match between the the Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings at Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium on May 12, 2019 in Hyderabad, India. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Jasprit Bumrah celebrates a wicket for the Mumbai Indians against Chennai Super Kings. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Golf’s split over the LIV versus the traditional tour has damaged reputations but the average fan doesn’t seem to particularly care about their sport being used as a PR tool for the Saudis. 

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When the LIV tour came to Adelaide earlier this year there was little backlash and a lot more hooting and hollering about the revenue it brought to the South Australian capital and on the course by fans happy to see top-line talent and get drunk doing so. 

Greg Norman has copped plenty of grief for being the face of LIV but, not that he needs the extra cash, he’s been well compensated and doesn’t seem too fussed by the criticisms about turning a blind eye to Saudi’s bloodshed.

Cricket’s current overhaul is not as abrupt as the Packer revolution of the 1970s but its gradual transformation will change the way the game is played forever.

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