Twenty20 cricket: the sleek and sharp version of Australia’s favourite pastime. Since its inception in 2003, this version of the game has significantly altered the cricketing landscape. For the non-cricket lovers, T20 is a compacted version of the traditional five-day Test Match or 50 over game. Being less than four hours in duration, it fits perfectly into the prime time television slot. Introduced in England as a response to dwindling fan interest in cricket, it has increased attendance, sponsorship and player’s wages, yet it has also had an adverse effect on the other forms of the game.
T20’s introduction has had significant effects on the player labour market. Take the Indian Premier League – with 1 billion cricket-mad Indians, the TV rights contract is understandably lucrative. The increased revenues in domestic cricket competitions such as the IPL have vastly increased the potential earnings available to cricketers. For example, consider an 18 year old deciding whether to pursue a career in cricket or Australian Football. Cricket Australia only awards 17 contracts per annum; the AFL grants 811. A player equally talented in both sports may decide to pursue a career in the AFL, with a higher chance of being accepted. High profile players such as former number 1 draft pick Brett Deledio,and West Coast captain Shannon Hurn turned their back on promising cricket careers to try their luck in the AFL. T20 has provided the chance for the marginal player. Those who cannot qualify to receive a Cricket Australia contract, but are still good enough to play domestic cricket, now have the opportunity to earn a higher wage. Such opportunities exist in the Big Bash League, the domestic T20 competition. This increases the incentive for budding sports stars to take up a career in cricket, which increases the cricketing talent pool. In the long term, overall quality of Australian (and worldwide) cricket improves – with more competition for spots, the lower quality players get pushed out; higher quality players lead to a better quality product, which results in increased television revenues in the future. This means even higher wages, further increasing the incentive for people to take up cricket.
Despite being a boon for the players themselves, T20 has impacted upon the other forms of the game, most notably Test Cricket. The different cricketing skills; batting, bowling, and fielding, are easily transferrable from one form to the other. This implies that the labour resources, (the players and their skillsets), are interchangeable. The costs of moving from Test Cricket to T20 are minimal: there is no need for retraining. A cricketer bases decisions on many factors, but I’ll focus on two. The first is expected earnings, which comprises of base wages, match fees, performance bonuses, and sponsorship deals. The second is the intangible value derived from playing for a particular team. The stature associated with representing Australia in a Test Match is higher than playing for a team such as the Melbourne Stars, whose short four year history pales in comparison with the centuries old Test side. Holding wages constant, no cricketer would choose the Big Bash over the chance to don the baggy green.
However, money talks. In the late 70s, Kerry Packer’s breakaway World Series Cricket competition was introduced. With the introduction of the World Series Cricket competition, many high profile players, such as England captain Tony Greig, forewent the opportunity to represent their country for some extra dollars. A similar phenomenon is being witnessed as a result of T20 cricket., a prime example of this being the West Indies. Once a powerhouse on the field, they now lack the financial resources available to adequately compensate their players. In October last year, the West Indies abandoned a tour of India over a pay dispute. Yet a player like Kieran Pollard, despite never having played a Test Match for the West Indies, was offered a 750,000 USD contract with the Mumbai Indians in 2010. Not bad for six weeks of work. Market forces are shifting the way labour flows in the market. The esteem associated with representing ones country is diminishing, particularly outside the older cricketing nations. This is being inflated by the increasing opportunity costs in playing international cricket in a more lucrative market. In the long run, the prestige factor is fairly constant, yet the wages on offer are relatively unbound.
T20’s long run impact is still up for debate, with the increased spectator interest and wage incentives benefiting the sport immensely. Still, they come at a cost: the seemingly declining interest in Test Cricket. Cricket has the potential to grow through T20: the shortened, high-impact version of the game can bring in new fans. It has become a portal into the cricketing world. But, I sincerely hope it remains a complement to other forms of the game, not a substitute.