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IPL won’t kill Test cricket but international contests fading into background on global landscape

The Indian Premier League will never kill Test cricket but it is well on the way to becoming the sport’s main global focal point.

All international cricket, for that matter, is in danger of eventually becoming the support act to the IPL as its popularity, finances and footprint continues to grow quicker than a Jofra Archer thunderbolt. 

The IPL is embarking on a rapid rate of expansion on the back of its recent broadcast rights mega deal. 

And the competition will only keep getting bigger. 

Within a decade or two, the IPL could double in size and take up nearly half the calendar, leaving international associations a smaller and smaller window.

It’s on track to become cricket’s version of the NBA where the sport’s elite players get paid eight-figure salaries and are showcased around the globe.

The other versions of the sport becomes second-rate – like basketball’s other foreign leagues – or quaint nods to international traditions, like the World Cup and bilateral series.

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)

Domestic leagues continue to spring up in the traditional and emerging cricket nations – the oil-rich United Arab Emirates is bringing in its own T20 competition early next year with Major League Cricket in the United States kicking off a few months later.

The Big Bash League is already sliding down the global pecking order due to problems with scheduling and a lack of star power. Channel Seven is clearly unhappy with the inferior product being dished up with the network trying to cancel its broadcast deal with Cricket Australia.

All the other nations are competing to be the third best behind the IPL, with daylight second.

There are already not enough months in the year for the ICC to cram in the international tournaments and tours.

Something’s got to give and it won’t be the IPL. 

Even if the IPL window “only” becomes a three or four-month permanent fixture on the calendar, star players will more and more scale back their international availability the rest of the year to ensure they’re fit and ready for their main money earner. And who could blame them?

The IPL’s previous broadcast deal was a five-year agreement for $2.6 billion to Star TV, owned at the time by Rupert Murdoch but since sold to Disney.

This time around it was $5.6 billion with Disney Star paying $3b for the broadcast rights in the Indian subcontinent and Viacom 18 splurging $2.6b for the digital rights for 2023-27.

According to Forbes, the IPL is now the second-richest sports league on the planet behind only the NFL, in terms of media rights dollars per match. 

Babar Azam & Pat Cummins (Photo: Cricket Australia)

The NFL is estimated at $36 million per game, followed by the IPL at $13.8m, the English Premier League at $11m, Major League Baseball at $9.57m and the NBA at $2.12m.

The competition is expanding from 74 matches to 94 by the 2027 season, stretching beyond its annual two-month window.

With the licences for the two most recent franchises – Gujarat Titans and Lucknow Super Giants, being sold for $745m and $945m, the BCCI intends to add two more teams in the next broadcast cycle, adding even more funds to its bulging coffers.

One factor in the favour of traditionalists who hope to see Test cricket combat the latest threat to its longevity is Sourav Ganguly being the president of the BCCI.

He wants to keep this format the pinnacle of cricket. Well, he tweeted it so it must be true, right? No one misrepresents their true feelings on social media.

Ganguly does indeed love Test cricket. It’s fair to say he was the first Indian captain who treated the five-day format as seriously as his main counterparts in Australia, England and South Africa.

When he took over the captaincy in the late 1990s, he instilled steel in the Indian side, bringing an abrasive Western leadership style to the role.

Famously, he deliberately kept an increasingly annoyed Steve Waugh waiting for him at the toss in 2001 when India upset the Australians in one of the greatest series of all time.

Test cricket can’t compete financially when stacked up against the T20 format, particularly the IPL, but it can’t be left to wither on the vine.

GALLE, SRI LANKA - JUNE 29: Australian players celebrate after dismissing Lasith Embuldeniya of Sri Lanka during day one of the First Test in the series between Sri Lanka and Australia at Galle International Stadium on June 29, 2022 in Galle, Sri Lanka. (Photo by Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images)

(Photo by Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images)

ICC CEO Greg Barclay attracted plenty of criticism for his recent comments about the future of Test cricket but the New Zealander was being a realist rather than an alarmist.

“There is a men’s and women’s event every year and the growth of domestic leagues are forcing things from the bottom and … what is getting squeezed is bilateral cricket and so we are trying to fit everything in,” he told the BBC’s Test Match Special. 

“There will be some unfortunate consequences from a playing experience and a revenue point of view for some of those countries who won’t get the amount of cricket they might hope to have and they won’t get exposure, particularly against India and to a lesser extent Australia and England. So we will see a squeeze.

“In 10-15 years time I still see Test cricket being an integral part (of the game), it may be that there is less of it.”

His comments reflect an ICC view that for the big three nations – India, Australia and England – that Test cricket should continue pretty much unaffected as the T20 revolution takes over.

Darcie Brown

(Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)

But for the other established nations like Pakistan, New Zealand, South Africa and the West Indies, and women’s cricket, they will inevitably be directed by the ICC towards the white-ball arena, particularly the shortest international format. 

Because that’s where the money can be found. 

Ultimately, it’s the fans who are dictating the future and the administrators are following their trail.

In the time-poor, short attention span digital age, a sporting contest which runs over five days and still can end in a draw is an anachronism. 

Yes, a draw can be a much more thrilling spectacle than a match that ends in a clear winner but that’s the purist’s view and like a forward defensive shot, the SS Jumbo and Sheffield Shield followers, our numbers are not as plentiful these days.

Sporting administrators know they have the rusted-on fan’s attention no matter the format, they want new customers to grow their reach. 

By the 2030s, it’s conceivable that the cricket calendar will be filled with an IPL season of 5-6 months with the rest of the Future Tours Programme major events like the T20 and ODI World Cups, the Ashes series and Tests involving India getting marquee windows.

All other T20 leagues which survive and the rest of international cricket in the three formats will slot in around those headline acts. 

Cricket will end up more like basketball and football, where the rich leagues get all the exposure and only the significant international match-ups will be given prominence.

The commercial realities will dictate the future but Test matches need to survive for cricket to thrive in the future and retain its soul.

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