Greed is pal­pa­ble, may come home to roost

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - - WORLD - IAN CHAP­PELL

Sud­denly, it’s shades of 1977 in Aus­tralian cricket; the play­ers’ as­so­ci­a­tion has re­jected the fi­nan­cial deal pro­posed by the Board and there’s un­cer­tainty sur­round­ing the next TV rights deal.

A sim­i­lar formula in 1977 re­sulted in the ad­vent of World Se­ries Cricket. The play­ers were ag­i­tat­ing for bet­ter pay and con­di­tions and Kerry Packer - owner of the Nine net­work - was apoplec­tic when the Aus­tralian Cricket Board re­fused his of­fer of a sub­stan­tial in­crease for the TV rights, then held by the ABC net­work.

Packer didn’t take re­but­tal lightly and with his curse, “the devil take the hind­most,” ring­ing in their ears, he com­menced a tor­rid le­gal bat­tle with the cricket ad­min­is­tra­tors. He found plenty of will­ing al­lies among the play­ers and world­wide more than fifty signed to play for the TV

mag­nate.

LILLEE’S ‘BOUNCERS’

The an­i­mos­ity to­wards the ad­min­is­tra­tors had been build­ing among the Aus­tralian play­ers since the tour of India and South Africa in 1969-70. In 1974-75, Den­nis Lillee - the pre­mier fast bowler - had just re­turned after a se­ri­ous back in­jury and de­scribed his dis­plea­sure at the pay scale (A$200 per Test) in a se­ries of news­pa­per ar­ti­cles.

The then chair­man of ACB, Tim Cald­well, pleaded with me as cap­tain; “Tell your fast bowler to back-off in his news­pa­per ar­ti­cles.” My re­sponse was sim­ple; “Why don’t you tell him your­self Tim, be­cause I hap­pen to agree with him.” From there it grad­u­ally went down­hill to the point in 1977-78 where WSC played its first sea­son in di­rect com­pe­ti­tion with the ACB’S se­ries between Aus­tralia and India.

I’m not sug­gest­ing it’s reached that stage; the play­ers are too well paid these days to se­ri­ously con­tem­plate a strike against their ma­jor em­ployer. How­ever, the greed that has been pal­pa­ble in cricket for the last decade looks like it might be com­ing home to roost.

World­wide Boards have been guilty of si­phon­ing ev­ery last dol­lar out of their me­dia deals. The re­sult in some re­gions has been detri­men­tal to the game, which is now only avail­able on sub­scrip­tion TV in the UK and In­dian view­ers are en­ti­tled to com­plain that the cricket cov­er­age gets in the way of them watch­ing the ads.

The TV com­pa­nies pay so heav­ily for the rights that un­der­stand­ably they then try to cap­i­talise on any com­mer­cial op­por­tu­nity to re­coup some of their in­vest­ment.

The play­ers - in Aus­tralia at least - are so used to be­ing well re­mu­ner­ated they’re un­happy at any hint their liveli­hood may be cur­tailed. The dif­fer­ence now, com­pared with 1977, is the play­ers have lu­cra­tive T20 leagues as al­ter­na­tive em­ploy­ment if they’re un­happy with the Board of­fer.

OF­FI­CIALS TO BLAME

This is a sit­u­a­tion of the ad­min­is­tra­tors’ mak­ing. They de­mand ex­or­bi­tant prices for the me­dia rights, so surely they must ex­pect the play­ers to be just as fi­nan­cially vig­i­lant.

And it was the ad­min­is­tra­tors who de­vised the IPL and other bur­geon­ing T20 leagues, which has in­creased the fi­nan­cial op­tions for crick­eters.

The greed of the ad­min­is­tra­tors - they claim it’s money needed to run the game - has re­sulted in the play­ers ex­pect­ing reg­u­lar pay in­creases ev­ery time a new me­dia rights deal is struck.

In the mean­time, a sur­feit of one-sided Test and ODI matches, where the num­ber of re­ally com­pet­i­tive teams - es­pe­cially away from home - is in­suf­fi­cient to keep up with the in­creased at­trac­tive­ness of T20 games.

The abil­ity of T20 leagues to lure star over­seas play­ers and the rel­a­tive short­ness of the con­test means they have se­ri­ous ad­van­tages over the longer forms of cricket.

T20 matches cap­i­talise on the attraction of close fin­ishes and pos­si­ble up­sets. In the shorter game there’s more like­li­hood that scores will re­main close and a favoured team can al­ways lose to a less fan­cied side.

For all but the mar­quee se­ries and tour­na­ments, this has meant T20 leagues are grow­ing in tele­vi­sion value while the longer ver­sions of the game are in dan­ger of re­ced­ing. The cur­rent Aus­tralian wran­gle could well be an in­sight into where cricket’s fu­ture is headed.

I’m not sug­gest­ing it’s reached that stage; the play­ers are too well paid these days to se­ri­ously con­tem­plate a strike against their ma­jor em­ployer. The dif­fer­ence now, com­pared with 1977, is the play­ers have lu­cra­tive T20 leagues as al­ter­na­tive em­ploy­ment if they’re un­happy with the Board of­fer.

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