There are some among cricket’s traditionalists who still dismiss the highly commercialised Twenty20 version of the game as simply ‘money cricket’.
It certainly is generating a lot of money. That’s because Twenty20 television audiences – source of the real money – are multiplying even in places where not so long ago cricket hardly earned a mention.
Twenty20 cricket, which took hold just over a decade ago, is ideal for global television. Unlike the more traditional versions of the game which can last up to five days in the case of a Test match and a whole day for a One-Day International, Twenty20 cricket lasts just over three hours.
It allows a tight entertainment package that is irresistible. Savvy business interests have been quick to see the enormous potential and have leapt aboard.
And while, as we have said, television provides the bulk of revenues, Twenty20 cricket is pulling large live audiences as is now evident in the ongoing Caribbean Premier League.
Inevitably, rich, colourful Caribbean culture, not least music and dance, is being shown off – a boon for the region’s tourism.
For cricketers all over the world, including those in the Caribbean, the Twenty20 version has boosted earnings. It has created a dilemma for some who end up choosing between cash-rich Twenty20 leagues around the world and representing the West Indies team for less money in more traditional formats.
Eligibility rules requiring players to play in domestic competitions in order to represent the West Indies provide added complexity.
A few players have opted to make themselves unavailable for Test cricket as a result.
This month, that aspect comes powerfully to the fore with the Caribbean Premier League taking place at the same time as the first two Test matches of India’s four-Test tour of the Caribbean.
There has been much talk about the need for the International Cricket Council (ICC) to find a way around problems such as are facing the West Indies.
The trouble is that rich, powerful cricket-playing countries such as India, Australia and England are able to retain their very best players because they do have the ability to offer very lucrative contracts. The motivation to act is therefore not there for the real rulers of world cricket.
The West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), already under pressure over governance issues, needs to come to an understanding with its top players over how to arrive at some sort of compromise. A meeting expected sometime later this year will hopefully help.
For any sensible arrangement to be arrived at, the WICB will have to recognise that the players are their only assets of real value. The players, too, should accept that it was West Indies cricket which made them and that it is in their own self-interest, as well as right and proper to give back.