Friday, July 17, 2009

A bad analogy won't help test cricket

Here is one analogy that people are fond of making when they are feeling optimistic about test cricket: classical and rock music have differing appeals, and there is no reason to imagine that the increased popularity of one genre will have any effect whatsoever on the other. Therefore, by analogy T20 will not affect test cricket.

This analogy does not work. And in fact, it is a particularly bad one.

Firstly, if the New York Philharmonic was to play in Central Park today, they would attract a crowd as large as any pop star. Classical music has a huge market and great audiences. There is no attendance crisis in classical music. Every single concert in New York City, which attracts the world's greatest musicians, sells out, no matter how high-priced the tickets. Pop music and classical music do not compete for the same fans (though there are some crossover fans) and for the same fan dollars. CDs of classical music are still hot items, and many young classical musicians are stars in their own right.

Secondly, and most importantly, the same musicians are not in a position to say "Hmm..shall I play pop and get paid more, or shall I play classical and get paid very little relative to the time I put in?" Classical musicians and pop musicians are disjoint sets. There is little danger that an exodus of talented musicians will deplete classical music precisely because most musicians pick a career path in one and then stick to it.

Thirdly, the same governing body does not control pop and classical music and as such their excessive devotion to one form does not hurt the other.

There are some good arguments out there on why test cricket might survive; this analogy is not part of them.

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14 Comments:

Blogger Homer said...

Samir,

The analogy holds insofar as different forms of music and cricket having their captive markets with slight overlap.

So, just like Classical music does not face extinction because hip hop is the flavor of the season,ditto Test cricket and T20.

The problem happens when there is a demand that the audiences for all forms of the game be the same or on par. And that is a ridiculous position to have.

Cheers,

2:59 PM  
Blogger Mohan said...

Simple solution is for the boards to schedule both forms of the game in parallel. Expand IPL to 6-8 months a year and while it is going on, schedule Test series too. Let the players and fans choose what they want to play/watch. If most top players choose to play IPL because of the money involved, so be it. Let the second string players play Tests.

But I don't understand this "excessive devotion to one form" you spoke about. Despite the ratings clearly showing that shorter forms enjoy much higher popularity, the boards have still been allocating lion's share of the schedule to Test cricket, as has been pointed out to you in an earlier post. If they can be accused of being excessively devoted to any form, it is to Test cricket.

4:14 PM  
Blogger Samir Chopra said...

Homer: Things would become much simpler if we could reduce the total amount of cricket played, including test cricket. And concentrate on pitches being result-oriented.

Mohan: That strategy will definitely kill test cricket. No one will watch lesser players playing test cricket. As a way of killing off the longer form of the game, its great.

The simple question for all concerned is whether test cricket is worth preserving. If we can get straight on that, things will be much clearer.

6:33 PM  
Blogger Mohan said...

Samir: I don't care whether that strategy will kill Test cricket or not, but that is the only fair way of striking balance between different forms. Offer all variants to the players and fans and let them choose. The current strategy of limiting the popular format just so that Test cricket can survive is certainly not fair.

As for whether it is worth preserving, if Test cricket wants to take that line, then I would suggest it is better off splitting off from the commercial structure and relying on governments or UNESCO or something. Boards are business entities and as such there should be no expectation from them that they will preserve Test cricket just for its historic value.

1:26 AM  
Blogger Samir Chopra said...

Mohan: So, if the ICC was to find a business venture that made it more money than cricket does, they should go for it and dump cricket? Please note that this is a straightforward consequence of your "its just a business and nothing else" principle. After all GE simply stopped manufacturing electrical appliances when it found there was more money in other ventures. If its a business, then just do that which makes you more money, period. T20 might not be as profitable as other things, right?

I'm presuming that sports governing bodies are driven by something other than the profit margin. You think not. From your views follows a simple consequence: that cricket itself could be cast aside for other, more profitable, activities. I tend to think sports governing bodies have a responsibility to help the highest form of the game flourish, precisely because they are not businesses first and foremost. If sports governing bodies are purely businesses they owe zero fidelity to the game. And no on in the ICC should care if cricket, all forms of it, die out if they can do something more profitable. Even T20 is subject to the same financial constraints then.

10:58 AM  
Blogger Mohan said...

Samir: Sure. As private bodies, they are free to do what they want. We are just their customers. We give them our business if we like their product, else we go somewhere else.

Sure, some of them (like, bcci for example) are registered as trusts and as such they have a certain charter. BCCI's charter makes no mention of Test cricket, but it does say their charter is to organize cricket matches and popularise the game in the country. To that extent, it may not be possible for them legally to cast aside cricket altogether and start selling, say, soaps. But as long as they are in the business of cricket, they should be fine, whether it is Test cricket or T20. In fact, since the charter specifically says their job is to make the game popular in India, if they continue to patronise Test cricket at the expense of the more popular formats, then they could be accused of violating the charter.

11:33 PM  
Blogger Samir Chopra said...

ohan: Very good. Now we are getting somewhere. So long as we've agreed that non-commercial factors can play a part in determining how a sport's governing body should function, we are on the road to be able to make an argument that cricket governing bodies should support test cricket precisely because it is the highest form of the game. The function you had in mind for UNESCO or governments is one that cricket governing bodies are charged with: take care of the game and that means possessing the nous to distinguish between different forms of the game and how to best help them flourish. Cricket will be poorer without test cricket - the least its governing body can do is recognize this fact and take appropriate actions.

1:36 PM  
Blogger Mohan said...

Samir: I would disagree with "should function", "are charged with", etc. No one has charged bcci with the responsibility of taking care of the game. Some private individuals came together, formed an association to help spread the game in the country and that's how it has been operating ever since. Based on their charter, government provided the association with land for lease at nominal rates, but that's about the only help they have received from the government. So if that private club decides they don't want to sustain one form of cricket (or any form for that matter), there is little rest of us can do about it. Government can possibly take back the land it has given, but even that they cannot do as long as bcci is sticking to its charter of organizing cricket matches in the form of IPL, etc.

11:54 PM  
Blogger Mohan said...

Samir: So, are you convinced?

btw, Gideoh Haigh echoes your confusion in Tehelka: http://tehelka.com/story_main42.asp?filename=Ne250709gone_once.asp
"What we’re watching then is akin to a process of privatisation – that is, we are being sold something we thought we owned. The game, which administrators once held in a kind of public trust, is becoming a private sector product – the same kind of transfiguration that occurs in the bottling of water."

Therein lies the source of confusion. We never owned the product - we just thought we did. Cricket was never a public sector company.

1:36 AM  
Blogger Samir Chopra said...

Mohan: You have convinced yourself the BCCI is a corporation. It's not. This issue has been debated before in the courts in India (via a PIL). If the BCCI is a private corp. take the India name off the shirt, call it something else.

There is no confusion on Gideon's part. Sport is a public affair. One organization put itself in charge to promote the game. How did it become a private corporation whose business was to maximize profits? The fact that it has economic interests that are funneled back into sports promotion does not make it into a corporation.

The market logic you are obsessed with, as I've pointed out, leads to only one conclusion. The moment you don't want to go there, you admit other factors such as the need to promote test cricket (in the case of cricket's governing bodies).

If market logic had been at hand in the early days of most sports, those would not have flourished at all.

Thank god we didn't have this narrow market logic in the early days of the net. There'd be no internet today.

4:49 AM  
Blogger Mohan said...

Samir: Not a corporation, but a private registered society. That's the legal status of bcci and Supreme Court has given its verdict on the matter too upholding its private nature. Sure, just as any other society, it has a charter and it needs to abide by it. But unfortunately for Test cricket fans, that charter doesn't say they have to protect Test cricket. And as a private society, they are even free to wind up the club, if they feel so.

6:37 AM  
Blogger Samir Chopra said...

Mohan: Since we are going in circles here, let me say one last thing and then I will sign off. Please feel free to respond.

The sports governing body's charter might not say test cricket but given the history of the game and its prominence, it is ludicrous to say that they don't have an implied charter to preserve test cricket. Test cricket has been played for 132 years as the highest form of the game. It will take a hell of a lot more than a couple of balance sheets to make the case that this governing body has no implied duty to preserving this form.

Explicit charter statements are not the only binding factors in governing a governing body's action. A history of taking particular action and setting up a state of affairs also sets up implied charter statements so that mere economic factors cannot be the only reasons to stop supporting a form of the game.

Where you are right is that it is a matter of demand. If players don't want to play it, and people don't want to watch it, there is no need to support it. But we are a fair way from that situation yet, and there exist ways and means to get both those groups to support so that it can flourish. What I don't like is the deliberate, almost malign neglect. That is what has prompted most people's worries about its survival.

10:14 AM  
Blogger Samir Chopra said...

Mohan: Hope I didn't come across as sounding like I didn't want this discussion. I found it very useful and plan to write a full post on it at Cricinfo. It'll be good to get a discussion about what governing bodies' commitments are. Thanks for your comments.

11:15 AM  
Blogger Mohan said...

Samir: I think you are still ignoring the fact that it is a private club. They don't have any *duty* to protect anything. Sure, they have to abide by the government regulations as it governs them (like making sure they are complying with the written charter, etc.), but nothing beyond that. Just because they have been doing something for past 100 years doesn't mean they are duty-bound to continue doing so.

Take an example from another field. Say, an old restaurant like Vidyarthi Bhavan of Bangalore, for example. It has been in existence for over 100 years, become part of the culture of the city, people still love its dosas, etc. But if one day the new owner decides to turn it into a Pizza place, it is his prerogative. We as citizens cannot demand that he still retain the old menu, old style, etc. Sure, if the city has given him permit only for a restaurant, he cannot turn it into something other than a restaurant (akin to bcci sticking by its charter), but there is nothing to stop him from changing his menu.

10:23 PM  

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