We need new markets and Twenty20, says ICC boss
In a wide-ranging interview with the Herald Sun yesterday, the International Cricket Council chairman said the popular Twenty20 format could eventually reap millions of new supporters and sponsorship dollars for a game that is otherwise struggling to compete with other sports.
The popularity of cricket’s bite-sized format has exploded in the past year and has become a major battle ground for cashed-up television networks, particularly in India, where two domestic Twenty20 competitions will start soon. Australia’s domestic Twenty20 competition has been a success, and this summer there are two Twenty20 internationals on the calendar.
The first is an expected sell-out between Australia and New Zealand at the WACA Ground on December 11, while there are likely to be few seats left at the MCG on February 1 when India is in town.
The sudden influx of Twenty20 cricket means crowded international fixtures have become even more congested and may lead to Cricket Australia eventually axing the traditional one-day tri-series once its contract expires in the 2011-12 summer.
As revealed in the Herald Sun in July, next summer may be a portent of things to come when New Zealand and South Africa play separate one-day series against Australia, with a tri-series unlikely.
While fixturing remains a major problem, South African Mali, speaking from Delhi, could not hide his excitement when asked about Twenty20 and its place in the game.
“My firm belief through Twenty20 cricket is that we can get more attendees to cricket, people that have never played the game,” Mali said.
“It is short, over in three hours. People like that.
“I am looking at new areas like China. This type of game seems to interest them.
“New areas like America. They are so keen on this type of game. In America, they are already playing.
“It can bring new people, both old and the younger generation.”
The ICC’s interest in forging a strong link with China, a country of more than 1.3 billion people, is understandable. Several of the world’s major sports have made a concerted effort to tap into the ever-burgeoning market.
Even the AFL, through the Melbourne Football Club, has made an effort to get a foothold in China, with the Demons holding a promotional camp in there last month.
“I will be going to China very soon, perhaps in May,” Mali said. “The Asian Cricket Council has done a lot to create that interest in the game at school level, which is good for cricket.”
Cricket in China is mainly played by expatriates, who have organised international sixes tournaments in Shanghai for the past four years.
Surprisingly, China has a long cricket history. The first recorded match was held in 1858 in Shanghai, between a team of officers from HMS Highflyer and a Shanghai XI.
Photographs also exist showing 19th century cricket matches in other areas, such as in the southern city of Chongqing, but interest seems to have waned since. The ICC hopes similarities between Twenty20 and baseball can eventually help the game have a minor – but strong – presence in the US.
The US competed in the 2004 ICC Champions Trophy in England, but local associations have been hindered by internal bickering and politics, which have stymied growth. Mali said the ICC was looking forward to the next Twenty20 World Cup, in England in 2009, after the success of the inaugural tournament in South Africa this year.
While Mali said he was excited about Twenty20, he stressed the new format would not kill traditional Test and one-day internationals, which have looked tired in recent times.
“Each one of them has its own space on the cricket calendar,” Mali said.
“I have been watching Test cricket since I was 11 years old. I am 71 and still enjoying Test cricket.”