Latest issue
Online newsletter
Product Knowledge
March 2014

Is it still cricket?

In future, children will have to be taught a different meaning to the idiom That’s not cricket! Based on the recent developments at cricket’s ruling body, cricket can no longer be a synonoum for fair play and doing the right thing.

For example, the new boss of world cricket, Narayanaswami Srinivasan, has been implicated in allegations of bribery, conflict of interest and passing information to bookies in two separate court cases in India (see Meet the new ICC boss). He already survived a court order to stand down as president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and it is therefore highly unlikely that his current legal problems will prohibit him from becoming chairman of the International Cricket Council (ICC) in July this year.

In contrast, Cricket SA (CSA) CEO Haroon Lorgat is suspended from taking part in ICC affairs pending the outcome of an investigation — preventing him from having any influence during the negotiations about ICC changes. His crime? He is accused of collaborating in an ESPNCricinfo article in which the former ICC head of legal affairs, David Becker, said it was "improper" to allow a board member to "blatantly disregard an ICC resolution" when the BCCI announced that they were deviating from the agreed ICC Future Tours Programme (FTP) by cutting short their tour of South Africa. Lorgat denies involvement with the article.

Becker also gave journalists a statement, saying that he resigned from the ICC in 2012 because of governance issues, in particular, dominance by Srinivasan. "Perhaps the most concerning example is the recent attempt by Srinivasan to manipulate the FTP schedule for his own benefit," Becker said. Lorgat also ran foul of Srinivasan while he was head of the ICC. The report he commissioned from retired English judge Harry Woolf, recommending greater independence for the board to prevent dominance by one country, was shelved. Just like Lorgat.

ICC proposals

It is therefore not surprising that the demise of the FTP is one of the proposals the BCCI, with support from Australia and England, pushed through in February this year (see Proposals accepted by ICC p64). It is also no coincidence that these radical changes to world cricket were tabled at the Finance and Commercial Affairs committee of the ICC.

Because, as Michael Goldman, professor of sport management at the University of San Francisco, explained to the The World at Six radio programme: this is all about the money, or more precisely, negotiating and securing future lucrative sponsorship deals for test cricket, which lags far behind the millions generated through the IPL and the ODI Champions Trophy.

Apart from the big three (India, England and Australia) other test playing nations do not make money from this form of cricket. The shortened Indian tour, for example, reportedly cost CSA R200-m. Despite protests from across the world, the proposals to change the face of test cricket were adopted by eight of the ten full members of the ICC — including South Africa, whose Chris Nenzani accepted it is a flawed, but liveable situation, after initial opposition.

Even though the Proteas are the ICC #1 ranked test cricket team, our AB de Villiers tops the current test and ODI batsman rankings and Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn are the world’s top test bowlers, South Africa was relegated to the reserve benches during these negotiations.

The BCCI knew that their threats to withdraw from future ICC events (ODI and T20 World Cups) if their proposals were not approved, gave them the upper hand. With more than a billion TV viewers, the money generated by cricket in India is vital for the future existence of the ICC. According to news reports, they contribute 80% to ICC funds.

No impact on cricket in SA

But, even before CSA capitulated and entered into a plea bargain agreement with the big three, people involved in local cricket doubted that the proposed changes at international level would affect the game in South Africa. As long as our cricket heroes go on performing and the facilities exist for kids to play cricket, the game would remain popular, they agree.

Everybody we spoke to say that the winning performances by the Proteas against Pakistan and India helped to keep the cricket-loving public interested and glued to their TV screens, justifying the R1.5-bn India’s Taj TV allegedly paid for the long-term broadcast rights for five cricket boards — South Africa, West Indies, Zimbabwe, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

The injection of TV funds is, however, a two-edged sword, as TV keeps spectators at home, especially with the high cost of tickets. Thus reducing CSA revenue. It might be an idea to look at the Australian example where they don’t allow TV broadcasts until a certain percentage of the tickets for a game had been sold, former Proteas player and Dolphins coach Pat Symcox told Cape Talk radio.

While the man in the street will be irritated by the shenanigans on the world stage, the average cricket fan is oblivious to the political in-fighting — as long as our cricket heroes are playing, they’ll attend matches, says Wayne Schonegevel of OBO SA, supplier of Aero cricket. “People love to see heroes in action, heroes help to keep the game alive. People will always want to see AB de Villiers play.” South Africa is one of the top ranked sides and fans worldwide want to see the best playing the best, agrees Derrin Bassage of Puma SA. “Youngsters will continue to dream of one day becoming like one of their heroes.”

Selling bats

AB de Villiers’ heroic performance certainly sells bats, says Nicola Ludlow of JRT Crampton, local distributor of Kookaburra. Grattan Rippon, supplier of New Balance cricket equipment, recounts how a father called him because he wanted “everything David Miller plays with” for his son. And after an emotional century-scoring departure from test cricket, Slazenger’s Jacques Kallis has been practicing hard to show the world he’s #1 in the shorter version of the game, inspiring a new group of young fans. It still remains to be seen how well Faf du Plessis’ name will sell the new iXu brand. There are many indications that cricket is as popular as ever.

The number of youngsters coming into the game through Baker’s Cricket is increasing, which is a promising sign, says Ludlow. “Our structures at school level are very strong, and that drives the game,” adds Schonegevel. “We have wonderful coaches at schools.” Good facilities is another factor that encourages youngsters to take up the game, and in South Africa we have them, he believes. The nets at any cricket ground are full of young players being coached in the nets — many of them getting individual coaching, says Rippon. There are numerous cricket academies across South Africa, all attracting youngsters who want to improve their game.

There are lots of possibilities for talented cricketers these days, he continues. If you are good enough to be contracted by CSA you can earn a good salary. The top guys earn millions playing in the IPL. “Over the next five years cricket is going to grow globally,” he predicts. “There is a lot to play for.” Bassage is, however, not convinced that there is much scope for growing the local player market. “The cricket market in South Africa has become a mature market with no substantial growth in player numbers. There are many factors involved and cricket needs to keep up with the times to attract newcomers to the sport,” says Bassage.

Challenge of economy

One of the main challenges faced by cricket retailers, is the economic downturn and weak exchange rate. While some suppliers say they experienced positive growth during the past year, others say that the economy had a negative impact on sales — and even when their products sold well, retailers battled to pay accounts.

Interestingly, entry level products were more affected by the economic downturn than the higher end goods. “Our mid-level and upper ranges did very well,” says a local distributor of a quality cricket brand. January is usually a good month for cricket sales, especially higher end bats, says Nigel Prout of Opal Sports, local distributors of Gunn & Moore.

“The new senior teams are picked in the beginning of the year and players at school are often rewarded with a new bat for being elected to the first team.” Bassage, however, believes “there seems to be a shift where customers are either purchasing entry level or top-end. The current market conditions are challenging and quality cricket equipment is a fair investment.”

The fact that more and more customers are bringing in bats to be repaired, shows that money is tight, says Brett Burnill of Leisure Holdings, local distributor of Gray-Nicolls. “People are not replacing bats so easily.”

With the weakening Rand, top end products will be placed under more pressure as consumers will no longer be able to afford them, he says. They therefore focus on specialised cricket retailers with exceptional product knowlege for top end products, says Bassage. “There are not many big players in the cricket retail space in South Africa. This puts pressure on increasing shelf space and store presence to grow market share.”

The customers who buy from a cricket specialist store, like Sports Horizons, still buy top end products, confirms Dale Hermanson. But, due to the exchange rate, many of them will buy one model down from what they might have bought in the past. With the exchange rate hiking the price of top bats from R5 500 to R7 500 and increasing the price of a good, mid-level bat to R4 500, cricket becomes an expensive sport. Outfitting a player with good quality cricket gear — including softs and a bag — could cost R8 000-R9 000.

When the economy is bad, the trusted, well-known brands offering better products do better, says Schonegevel, “because people trust the quality and know the brand.”

New brands

Another challenge in the cricket market is the proliferation of new brands — some that don’t survive for long. There are currently more than 25 cricket brands available in South Africa, some new names not heard before. If retailers make the mistake of stocking products from brands that don’t sell, they don’t have the funds to pay their other suppliers, is a complaint from a supplier wishing to remain anonymous.

Even if these brands are sold from car boots and don’t occupy retail shelf space, every sale is one that affects the rest of the market and retailers’ profits. Another supplier questions whether all these new brands are accredited by the ICC, which they have to be if the equipment is used in matches. It can take a long time to get this accreditation, he says, because the ICC is very strict that all equipment must comply with all their regulations.

The brand also has to be affiliated to the ICC to ensure that it is a proper cricket manufacturer, not just a cool drink brand using the bat for marketing purposes. The traditional cricket brands further face a challenge from the big international athletic brands who have a lot of money to buy top class players to lend credibility to the brand.

For example, the signing of players like David Miller and Justin Kemp, as well as the sponsorship of four of the six franchises, got New Balance retail space because it established that the brand was a serious player in the cricket market. Signing a top international player could, however, cost £80 000–90 000 (roughly R1.5-m), which is beyond the scope of local brands.

Local policies

Ironically, local cricket politics present some of the challenges to the growth of the South African market. CSA has some strong development programmes in place ... but, these programmes can only continue to produce new local heroes as long as the money is available, say an administrator who wishes to remain anonymous.

Currently, 23% of CSA’s funding goes into development. Most of the funding, however, comes from sponsorship, and there is no attraction for sponsors in grassroots development, where there is no glitz and glamour or TV coverage, CSA told the Parliamentary Committee on Sport.

This point was sadly demonstrated by the collapse of cricket development in the Border and Griqua regions: after the six big franchises were formed about seven years ago, these areas were left out in the cold. With no more big matches to draw spectators, no more sponsorship fees, money to maintain facilities and keep development programmes going, dried up. These regions used to be the cradle of black cricket development, but now the development programmes have petered out.

This could have been the spectre awaiting South African cricket had the ICC proposal gone through without us in its original format: with no test matches or funding from the ICC to finance cricket development, the game might have started losing its appeal in a decade or two. Which, could still be achieved by CSA policies, another commentator fears.

The quota rule that at least two black players (not coloured or Indian) must be selected for franchise teams, and three per team in amateur matches, could have a long-term affect, he says. This means that 17% of each franchise team must be ethnic black ... but there are only two franchises who have more than 17% black players in their squads: the Highveld Lions with 30% and the Warriors in the Eastern Cape with 20% black players. This means that the other four other franchises have to select the available black players, whether they are injured and irrespective if there is another better player to fill the spot. In future, any of the 120 positions that become available at franchises will have to be offered to black players, in order to meet the player quotas.

He is therefore concerned that this could discourage future cricket heroes from considering domestic cricket as a career option — and encourage them to go overseas for opportunities. The South African cricket market is small — outside school structures there are only about 150 000 registered cricketers playing for 900 clubs, he continues. If we can get cricket established in the black communities, the size of the market could double. It would make a vast difference if we can get 130 000 black children playing cricket ... but we need funding for that.

The Sunfoil trust currently provide school bursaries for black children to attend good sport schools, but at present the structures don’t exist to support black players outside the school system. Creating a cricket culture takes time. Top coloured and Indian players like Hashim Amla, Vernon Philander, Alviro Peterson, etc. are the products of communities with long-standing, strong, cricket traditions. He is also concerned that too many new, unknown players, in a team might affect attendances at matches. Fans like to watch well-known players in winning teams — as demonstrated by the full grounds when national team players join their domestic teams. But, tomorrow is another day, to paraphrase Scarlett O’Hara. Today, there is still lots to be optimistic about.

Meet the new ICC boss

February 2014 was a busy month for Narayanaswami Srinivasan, president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), MD of India Cements, owner of IPL franchise Chenai Super Kings, president of the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association ... and from 8 February, the future chairman of the International Cricket Council (ICC).

On February 12 Srinivasan appeared before a Central Bureau of Investigation court in Hyderabad in the bribery trial of Jaganmohan Reddy, accused of selling favours on behalf of his politician father. India Cements is accused of investing in his businesses in return for government benefits.

On February 10 a 170-page report submitted to the Supreme Court by former Chief Justice Mukul Mudgal indicted Srinivasan’s son-in-law and Chenai Kings CEO, Gurunath Meiyappan, of illegal betting and passing on information to bookies during the 2013 IPL. According to the report Srinivasan's India Cements is liable for Meiyappan's actions and the Chennai Super Kings could lose their franchise for being in violation of the franchise agreement.

One of the people who gave evidence to the judge was the lawyer of former IPL chief Lalit Modi, banned for life from all BCCI activities following charges of financial irregularities in the IPL and rigging of the auctions of two new teams. He claimed that Srinivasan ensured that specific umpires were appointed when the Chennai Super Kings were playing and that he rigged the IPL bidding for Andrew Flintoff in 2009.

This report is independent of the Mumbai police investigation following the arrest of Meiyappan in May last year, on the same charges.

Following Meiyappan’s arrest last year Srinivasan was pressurised into stepping down as BCCI president in June. The Indian Supreme Court ruled in September that he should be barred from being BCCI president until further orders, but this ruling was set aside in October 2013 when the BCCI unanimously re-elected Srinivasan president.

Few people therefore believe that he will heed calls for him to step down as BCCI boss following the publication of the latest report.

He has, after all, weathered many other storms: for example, a 5-year court battle with former BCCI boss AC Muthiah after Srinivasan amended the BCCI constitution to allow him to buy the Chenai Super Kings while he was the BCCI treasurer in 2008. The conflict of interest charges continued when his son-in-law became Chennai Super Kings CEO and team captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni became a vice-president of India Cements. Kris Srikkanth, BCCI chief selector, became the team’s ambassador.

But, as Cricket SA (CSA) chairman Chris Nenzani says: he must be assumed innocent until proven guilty. And so, Srinivasan will control world cricket from July this year.

Transitional proposals until 2016 accepted by the ICC committee

• Future Tours Programme: approved as a legally binding regulation by the ICC in 2004, future tours between the ten ICC member countries were allocated on a rotating basis over an eight-year period. This allowed each board to plan their international programmes and make deals with commercial partners. This has now been replaced by bilateral agreements between nations to cover test series between 2015 and 2023. The fear is that lower ranked countries like Bangladesh or Zimbabwe could be sidelined as the big three will no longer be compelled to play against them ... in the more than 20 years that Zimbabwe had been playing tests, Australia played only three tests against them.

• Two-tier format for test cricket: the bottom two teams in the ICC rankings (at this stage Bangladesh and Zimbabwe) will be relegated from next year and will have to fight for promotion back to the top division in a four-day Intercontinental Cup and then a playoff. If a relegated country doesn't win back its place in the top tier on the first attempt, it would lose money from the ICC. Associate members Afghanistan, Canada, Ireland, Kenya, the Netherlands and Scotland, who currently only have ODI and T20 status, will be able play tests through promotion.

• The Executive Committee and Financial and Commercial Affairs Committee, consisting of the big three as permanent members, plus two other rotating members, one of them nominated by the small seven, will make decisions. The committees will only be chaired by one of the big three until 2016.

• Leadership: a proposal reads that there is “the need for strong leadership of the ICC, involving leading members, which will involve BCCI taking a central leadership responsibility”.

• Income distribution: the contributions of full members to ICC events, like the World Cup, will be recognised through contribution costs. India, who apparently contributes 80% of the ICC funding, will now get by far the most. ICC income will be distributed as follows: 65% shared on an equal basis by all full members and an extra 35% shared on a sliding scale between the big three. This replaces the old system whereby the ten full members receive an equal share of funds from ICC events and associate members (e.g. Netherlands, Ireland, Kenya and Bermuda) also got a percentage.

• Test Cricket Fund: The other seven full mem- bers (except the big three) will be paid equally on an annual basis from a test fund. CSA will now receive $10-m per year after we were originally left off the beneficiary list.

• ICC Events: there will be three major ICC events in each four-year cycle, with the Champions Trophy remaining for 2017 and 2021, and the proposed World Test Championship, involving the top four test teams, falling away.

Worldwide condemnation of ICC proposals

• Paul Marsh, head of the Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations, representing associations of seven ICC members, said the proposals will broaden disparities between cricket’s “rich and poor.”

• Former ICC president Ehsan Mani wrote a letter of protest to the ICC which was undersigned by Malcolm Speed and Malcolm Gray, former senior administrators with the ICC and CA, Clive Lloyd, former West Indies captain and former ICC cricket committee chairman, Shaharyar Khan and Lt Gen. Tauqir Zia, former Pakistan Cricket Board presidents.

• South Africa’s Ali Bacher wrote to the ICC: “ ... it would lead to division and strife in world cricket as never seen before. ICC member countries should never forget the animosity that existed particularly in the Sub-continent and the Caribbean when England and Australia had veto rights prior to 1993.”

• Malcolm Speed, a former ICC chief executive, wrote:. “I cannot see any reason whatsoever why India should receive extra funding from ICC events at the expense of struggling countries such as Scotland, Ireland, Uganda, Kenya and the other 100 Associate and Affiliate members where every dollar counts.”

• Former England captain Michael Atherton was scathing in his condemnation of the proposals.

• Transparency International issued a statement saying the “intention to entrench a privileged position for the big three appears to be an abuse of entrusted power for private gain.”

• The New Zealand Players' Association has described the draft proposal as scheming.

• Imran Khan called the proposals "colonial" and Lord Harry Woolf, author of a report into the ICC's governance, says they were "entirely motivated by money".

*Read our copyright notice before making use of this article

© SA Sports Trader