Mumbai: If there’s one thing that Haroon Lorgat is tired of hearing about, it’s the death of one-day internationals (ODIs). The chief executive officer of the International Cricket Council (ICC) explained in an interview why he believes there will always be takers for all three formats of the game, the need for a shorter crisper World Cup (WC), the introduction of UDRS (umpire decision review system) and promoting the sport in newer markets such as the US, among other things. Edited excerpts:
The World Cup in 2007 faced some significant challenges. What were the key learnings?
Look at it this way. That is so far back and since then we have done a number of events. We did the World Twenty20 in 2009, we did the Champions Trophy in 2009. In the Caribbean last year, we did the World Twenty20. So, to be honest, all of those learnings from that World Cup have already been introduced into those subsequent events. Ticket pricing is affordable as a specific case in point. So, while I don’t have any numbers at my disposal, we have got huge demand for many of the matches, particularly for the key ones, and the fact of the matter is that we will just not be able to meet the demand. Planning arrangements are also much more effective. We do learn from our past events and the World Cup 2007 is no longer a yardstick to measure against.
Are you concerned there will be a repeat of the Commonwealth Games fiasco, considering that almost five stadiums are behind schedule?
I am very satisfied with the way we are monitoring and managing the progress. I am confident that the stadiums will be ready, they were behind (schedule) at our last inspection and if any one of them (stadiums) do not meet our deadline, we will reallocate matches. It is our flagship event, and we will not risk a stadium not being ready in time.
As far as scheduling is concerned, how does ICC plan to keep the interest going considering there are huge gaps between key matches?
We’ve got matches every single day. Scheduling is also a function of appropriate rest for the teams between matches, there are several involved. So we have, I believe, balanced the schedule for everyone as best as is logistically possible. And yet I think there are good matches everyday. This is the World Cup and every country playing there has a huge following. You know what a WC does to the passion of people in each country, so I’m confident that the interest will be sustained. And as the tournament goes and begins to see teams coming through to the knock-out stages, it will ultimately get to a frenzy.
When will we see some uniformity in the umpire decision review system? Why won’t ICC make it mandatory for cricket boards to adopt this system?
At the moment, we have got a scenario where we are working through the process of implementing the decision review system. We’ve got a majority of members in favour of it. But we are also cognizant of the fact that there is a limited amount of technical equipment available. So, currently we leave the decision to each of the home boards to decide in consultation with the visitors. And that’s the system we have got in place. We will have another detailed review at the next cricket committee meeting in May and consider what the next step will be. The World Cup 2011 has this review system. But all of this is evidence we will take into the final decision. What I find interesting is that there was a time when very few (members) were supportive of the UDRS, but we were steadfast in suggesting that it would work and thankfully, everyone wants it as a permanent feature. There is no doubt that most want us to make it mandatory. We’re saying we will get to that point.
What is ICC doing to make sure Test cricket does not lose its relevance? Aren’t 50-over games on their way out?
This question is probably historical now! A year or two ago, people were suggesting that Test cricket was bygone. Then the cry became “50 overs is finished!” I don’t hear that anymore. We’ve just seen some fascinating Test cricket, we’ve just seen some tremendous 50-over cricket, India and South Africa, for example. I do not hear that cry anymore. We’ve always said that at the international level, we do believe that there are three viable formats and as long as we get the scheduling and balance correct, all three formats (Test, ODIs and Twenty20) can co-exist.
We’re all set for a heavy cricketing season this year. Isn’t this likely to lead to player as well as viewer fatigue?
Did you enjoy all of those series? I say it is a hypothetical question, when they talk about fatigue! Of course, we will be mindful of the volume. And all of the cricket boards are conscious of that and are very mindful that players have workloads that we must be considerate about.
There is some irritation among fans that ads have become too intrusive. How does ICC plan to balance the need to raise enough revenues for cricket with viewer preference?
There is no question that you need balance. But there is difference between bilateral series that member boards produce and ICC events that we produce. In our case, we have got restrictions in place which limits what broadcasters can do. Personally, it is my opinion that all our members are mindful of this fact (that too much intrusive advertising would be counterproductive) and they do seek to achieve that balance between the commercial and cricketing issues. And I don’t think it’s anywhere as bad as what some other sports may be faced with. We do take into account the sanctity of the game itself.
How does ICC balance the need for a shorter crisper WC, with the need to encourage associate nations? Especially considering WC 2015 will feature only 10 teams instead of 14.
No. Not if you understand that we have expanded the World Twenty20 to 16 teams. So, we are seeing that the Twenty20 format is the opportunity for developing nations to be competitive and have an opportunity on the world stage. To take into account the earlier concerns about scheduling in the World Cup, we’ve reduced that to 10 teams.
Doesn’t that put Test cricket-playing nations at a disadvantage?
No, not at all. The Test (cricket) playing countries are 10 in number. There are 105 members in total and those 105 members have got access to playing in the World Twenty20 through a qualification mechanism. So, that’s where the opportunity lies and incidentally that is played every two years, while the World Cup is played once every four years. So, the opportunity lies in the World Twenty20 and we’ve expanded that to 16 teams. There is no doubt that the shorter format is an excellent tool to attract new audiences and we’ve seen that in the growth of fans who have been attracted to the game through Twenty20.
Will ICC look at a World Test Championship?
We are. We’ve already announced that in our quest to ensure that we protect and promote Test cricket, we’ve designed a play-off for the top four teams, with the winner becoming Test champion. We’ve already agreed to introduce that concept and are currently exploring whether the first Test play-offs could be held in 2013.
There was some talk of promoting cricket in newer markets with the introduction of leagues. What is the update on that?
We’re always keen to promote the game and develop it across the entire world. And at the moment we’re already blessed with having eight divisions of the Pepsi ICC World Cricket League. That offers opportunity to each of the 95 associate and affiliate members to compete in that World Cricket League. So that is already in place, we use that to promote the game and the growth has been phenomenal, both among men and women!