The European Super League

A group of wealthy teams wanting to avoid fair competition and carve the game up for their own financial benefit. Football tried to go full cricket this past week as eleven leading teams and Tottenham Hotspur announced the formation of the European Super League, a largely closed shop league born out of a frustration with the UEFA Champions League not providing enough contests between the biggest (i.e. wealthiest) teams.

FIFA and UEFA condemned the competition far quicker than they do so with issues such as racism or human rights abuses in the host country of the 2022 World Cup. Fan protests followed almost instantly and the league collapsed quicker than a late 90s England batting order with the six English clubs all having pulled out within 48 hours. It was cancelled faster than a Euro T20 Slam season.

Whilst some in cricket were quick to compare it to cricket's current boogie-man The Hundred, the more apt comparison is surely international cricket? The Big Three reforms also involved a group of wealthy teams wanting to avoid fair competition and carve up the game for their own financial benefit.

Whilst much of the Big Three reforms have been undone, it would be naive to think that all is well with cricket. Test cricket is a closed shop, with the World Test Championship being even more of a closed shop, and whilst ODI and T20I cricket are in theory more open if anyone reading this thinks the ICC will allow a World Cup to go ahead without India, Australia or England I have a bridge to sell them.

It should not be surprising that of the six English teams three are, at the time of writing, outside of the qualification spots for the Champions League in this season's Premier League. The last time Spurs won the league Pete Best was still the drummer for the Beatles. Self-appointed elites have always considered themselves above competition. This goes back far - in the 1880s the Yorkshire Rugby Union launched a knockout cup. The "upper-class" clubs didn't like it as they risked losing to a "lesser" (i.e. working-class) team. The motivations may have changed, but the elitist attitudes remain.

Football may have escaped - for now at least - but cricket is still in this world. But in cricket the elites carving up the game for their own financial benefit don't just have the support of the governing body - they ARE the governing body.

How many balls in an over?

Speaking of competitions that cause mass-annoyance, there was a little kerfuffle on social media this week when people became aware that the Hundred will count towards the List A T20 records of the participating players. It wasn't new news having first been announced around the initial announcement of the competition back in 2018.

Talk of this decision spoiling statistics predictably followed but as The Hundred is basically T20 cricket with five ball overs, it was hardly surprising that statisticians would count it alongside "traditional" T20.

Anyone who knows anything about the history of the cricket will know that the length of an over has varied throughout history, with the laws not defining the length until 1980. Prior to that the laws specified that the captains should agree on the length prior to the match though in reality it was defined by the playing conditions of the tournament or series.

People will be aware of Australia's long time use of eight ball overs, though eight-ball overs have also been used by England, South Africa, New Zealand and Pakistan. The first Tests in England used four ball overs and for the last decade of the 19th century England used five ball overs. Statisticians cope just fine with this.

Away from the full member world, Mexico Cricket Association secretary Craig White tells me of a time in the mid-19th century when cricket in that country used 12(!) ball overs so that players could avoid changing ends so often in the energy sapping high altitude environment of Mexico City. Philadelphian club cricket used ten ball overs for much of the 1910s and 1920s and there's a tale from there in the 1890s when the two umpires for a match couldn't agree whether to use four ball or six ball overs and ended up with different lengths of over from each end.

As is the case with most cricket traditions, the six ball over isn't that traditional at all.

More on Olympic cricket

In last week's column I mentioned that the BCCI had given approval to an Olympic cricket tournament. Since then, it has been reported that many at the ICC are keen to suggest T10 as the format because it will allow more teams to take part. There's two problems with that. One is that the IOC has a hard limit on the number of athletes at the Olympics so T10 will absolutely not allow more teams to take part. The other is that the IOC specifically want T20 cricket as they feel that it is their best way to crack the Indian TV market.

Whilst some will point to Rugby Sevens as an example of a shortened format being included in the Olympics this ignores the fact that Sevens is a well established form of Rugby Union dating back to the 19th century and having been played internationally since the 1970s. The IOC require a well established international format, and no T10 internationals have been played to date. There is also only one fully professional league.

Suggesting T10 for the Olympics is therefore not all that different than not wanting cricket in the Olympics. The odds are good that a T10 tournament will be rejected.

There are those who have suggested that T10 will market the sport better because it's "simpler". I could not disagree more with this. Cricket is not a complicated game. Yes it has strange terminology, arcane traditions and difficult to understand rules but then so does every sport. At its heart it is just hitting a ball with a bat. People involved in cricket really need to stop pretending otherwise.

An enjoyable tri-series

I've really enjoyed following the Nepal tri-series this past week. Nepal performed better than many expected when the talismanic Paras Khadka pulled out with a shoulder injury. The days of "two out, all out" for Nepal appear to be over. They do now seem to have some strength in depth, something that wasn't too obvious for the Dutch, although to be fair they did have more absent players. Malaysia may not have won a game but performed with some credit, pushing the Dutch close in the two matches they played.

One of the reasons I've enjoyed it was the excellent commentary team led by former Cricket Ireland and ICC social media manager Andrew Leonard. It really does make a difference when you have a knowledgeable commentary team and is something that the ICC need to learn from when they pick commentators for the live-streaming of their pathway tournaments.

It appears that there were problems with the web stream on the opening day, and UK broadcaster FreeSports lost their feed a few times, this also happened with England's recent tour of India. I'm sure the broadcaster will have learnt from this and provide a more stable feed next time, whenever that may be.