Cricket is approaching a watershed that includes some strong implications for New Zealand. Andrew Alderson dissects the new Future Tours Programme, originally masterminded by two Kiwis, which could start to cull the 50-over game and affect the global value of our players.
World cricket is attempting to solve a Rubik's Cube of a problem.
It's called the Future Tours Programme (FTP) and it is crucial for the future health of New Zealand cricket.
And guess what? The FTP was the idea of two New Zealanders but, like working the sides of those multi-coloured cubes, the country's cricket leaders need to be methodical and demonstrate foresight to persuade the world powers of the game towards their way of thinking.
If the sport is to progress beyond its current fractious state at international level, a co-ordinated plan is needed to schedule and govern all international cricket from 2012-20; to enable the commercial heart of the game to beat strongly.
That's the period being worked on. The relatively lengthy time frame enables contracts of commercial weight to be put in place with sponsors and rights-holders. Suitable playing windows are also needed to cater for changes in the foreseeable future among members notorious for their unwillingness to compromise.
Linked to that is the players' desire for deals that enable them to work for a number of masters in a new freelance marketplace, while still getting kudos playing for the Black Caps.
Having been around the ICC board table for the best part of six years from 2001-07, former New Zealand Cricket (NZC) chief executive Martin Snedden says there are two key obstacles to getting a workable FTP from 2012 onwards.
First, members need to establish the proportion and weight they want to give each format of the game. Second, they need to get over the hindrance of self-interest.
"It's a question of whether 50-over cricket survives. Do you scrap it and go back to two forms of the game? The game is getting too congested otherwise," says Snedden.
"That's a huge call one way or the other but they have to make it soon. Ultimately, it's inevitable one-day internationals will disappear."
Snedden also laments what is now a largely irreversible situation where the ICC board is based on nationality rather than, for example, the NZC board model which, like most top companies, rewards business, organisational and - in this case - cricket expertise.
"The ICC [boardroom] table is a dog's breakfast normally. Self-interest rules so it's difficult to get those who have power to understand why it's important to look after those who don't. New Zealand always fell into the latter category and you needed representatives of the bigger nations to champion the cause."
Snedden says that makes pragmatism paramount for the likes of the NZC incumbents, chief executive Justin Vaughan and chairman Alan Isaac.
"The ICC board's never going to willingly cede control to an independent group," says Snedden. "You waste energy going down that route so instead you enlist the support of people you need to succeed within the existing structure.
"That's why it's important for NZC to nurture and keep Australia and England on side. They're most likely to back us when the chips are down.
"The Asian countries also lock together, despite regular internal friction. Then South Africa often aligns with the Asian block because of commercial realities. Sometimes the West Indies are a floater but they're financially strapped most of time, so therefore reluctant to upset India. You have to work out how to survive."
Snedden says one of New Zealand's strengths has been continuity within the NZC's top roles. The organisation has had just three chief executives in 14 years. In his time alone, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and Zimbabwe had about three men each in the equivalent CEO role.
THE FTP is effectively a New Zealand invention, born out of necessity in what was fast becoming a cricketing world of haves and have-nots in the late 1990s.
Former NZC chief executive Chris Doig and chairman Sir John Anderson were the architects. Doig says the system is as valuable now as when they introduced it in the late 1990s.
"We were always left scrapping as also-rans trying to get a programme together. I managed to convince the likes of Australia and England that if world cricket was to get stronger and if we were to become credible opponents, you could only do that with an FTP. Their support meant other countries were inclined to follow suit and the likes of Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe were keen because they stood to benefit in the same way we did."
"I wanted to develop a system, much like Australia did with countries travelling there regularly but adding the 'away' element as well. Once we got the FTP accepted, you could then go to your sponsors and television companies to sell a programme five to 10 years in advance. That made a huge difference to their value and allowed the players to look forward and be paid properly. It transformed us into a truly professional sport.
"Critics from stronger nations think they could have done better commercially - and they could - but they're forgetting about what world cricket needs. Fortunately the CEOs like Malcolm Speed [Australia], Tim Lamb [England] and Ali Bacher [South Africa] during my time were commercially aggressive but could see what was best."
India's rise to be the biggest power player in the sport has rocked the status quo of that previous generation. The national side's win at the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup in 2007 saw the rise of the Indian Premier League and Champions League which both have to be considered in any post-2012 calendars.
Hence it's vastly more tricky for the likes of Vaughan and Isaac than when the FTP was first introduced. There was only a need to cater for the World Cup every four years and the then-ICC Knockout (now Champions) Trophy every two.
Snedden acknowledges the added complexities but says it still required careful diplomacy when he was doing it.
"Last time I did the FTP, it took about three years of discussion and negotiation. I remember a consulting company spent a year working on a solution that made reasonable sense, then they got shot down in just one meeting because it didn't suit various countries. Compromise got us through most situations, which wasn't satisfactory. If common sense doesn't prevail, you're not going to come up with the best scenario for cricket.
"Take the debate over the continued deterioration of Zimbabwe and ongoing weakness of Bangladesh and whether they should be full members. Logic suggests no but politics means it will remain so. The Asian countries valued their votes."
The Twenty20 revolution wasn't on the horizon either.
"This time they have to make room for the IPL and probably Champions League," says Snedden. "If they don't, it will lead into total conflict, ultimately with India, who basically have more strength than the ICC. India in this instance will have the players' support because they're benefiting so much financially."
Doig stresses the relationship between NZC and the New Zealand Cricket Players Association (NZCPA) is vital in that regard.
"Having had just a watching brief over the years, the two seem to have developed a close, productive relationship.
"I think [NZCPA boss] Heath Mills would understand our players' IPL status is driven by their performances in international cricket, therefore they have to play a significant amount of it to get their brand awareness and price up.
"Therefore it's essential New Zealand's best are measured against the world's best. That's why you need the FTP so it's not just once every 10 years."
Snedden says: "From a pretty dodgy start [in 2002], NZC and NZCPA have developed a fantastic relationship. That's the strength of the situation at the moment.
"The players are lucky they've got great representation in Heath. And he's right to be asking 'what are we going to do about this and that?' in the future. Any contract system has to be flexible but NZC's in a difficult position - because one of the compelling reasons to set it up was to control the development of players so they could take time out for fitness and skill work.
"This new environment means those options will be withdrawn. You'd have to ask what the objectives of the contract system are now? That would be a good starting point for discussions - rather than a scrap over what the best players are going to be paid.
"The difficulty is if you try to find an answer to one issue in isolation you might find that you think you've solved it but other issues shift and you're left in no-man's land. That's why the FTP future is so closely aligned with player contracts, they feed off each other really. It's not unusual in cricket, it's a remarkably volatile sport."By Andrew Alderson