Exclusive: Fewer Tests, shorter tours and pay cuts — impact of Covid-19 on world cricket is revealed

Tim Wigmore
England captain Joe Root chats with vice captain Ben Stokes during Day Three of the First Test match between England and South Africa at SuperSport Park on December 28, 2019 in Pretoria, South Africa - GETTY IMAGES

The number of Test matches could be reduced to save costs due to the financial turbulence caused by COVID-19, a series of senior administrators have warned. There is also support for shortening and condensing tours to cut costs. 

A special report by Telegraph Sport has revealed how COVID-19 could transform the landscape of international cricket. Changes could include: 

  • Boards prioritising the most lucrative international fixtures, and playing fewer loss-making games
  • Discussions about shortening Test matches to four-days reopening 
  • International cricketers throughout the world facing pay cuts
  • Club cricket growing in importance
  • Greater financial inequality between Test nations 

“We're going to have to think differently, and act very, very differently,” said Wasim Khan, the chief executive of the Pakistan Cricket Board. “It might be that you look at lessening the number of Test matches within a series.

“Playing two-Test series, playing more white-ball cricket, may become the norm just simply because those are the areas where the most money can be made.” 

Apart from series involving Australia, England and India, two-match Test series have already become increasingly common in recent years. Even many limited-overs matches between Full Members lose money, so could be under pressure too.

There is already support for exploring four-day Tests among some administrators, which may be strengthened by the financial difficulties caused by COVID-19. “It in my mind could be on an opponent to opponent basis,” said Cricket South Africa's acting chief executive Jacques Faul. Most Tests not involving any of Australia, England or India make a net loss, generally in the region of $500,000 (£400,000). Some estimate that reducing Tests to four days could save in the region of 10-15 per cent per game.

To protect Tests, administrators called on the ICC to reintroduce the Test Cricket Fund, which previously saw countries receive $1.25 million a year to cover the hosting costs of Test matches. “For all the smaller nations, without reintroducing the fund it'll be very difficult,” said Hamilton Masakadza, the director of cricket for Zimbabwe Cricket“This will ensure that countries that are forced to cut Tests on a purely financial basis will be able to play them.” 

While the global game has been relatively fortunate with the timing of COVID-19, which has affected far fewer games than had it struck during the English winter, there remain huge fears over what could happen to the game if the disruption extends to 2021. “Make no bones about it – I very much doubt that anyone can survive for more than a year without any home cricket,” said Johnny Grave, the chief executive of Cricket West Indies.

Cost-cutting is expected to lead to truncated tours, with matches played more intensely - for instance, three T20 internationals could be played over four days, enabling a touring team to only be in the country for a week to play a series. “Shorter tours may well become the norm moving forward as every country looks at how they can cost cut,” Khan said.

Yet in the short-term global travel restrictions could either encourage countries to prioritise domestic cricket - which cricket’s wealthiest nations will be best-placed to adapt to, due to their bigger economies - or to cram as many fixtures into each tour as possible, if all teams need to quarantine on arrival and, potentially, departure too. 

“There's no way anyone's gonna fly anywhere for six white ball games in two weeks if you're going to quarantine for two weeks, then play two weeks and then quarantine on the way back,” said Grave. “We're approaching a situation where - due to the uncertainty arising from COVID-19 and the potential travel and quarantine restrictions - that Future Tours Programme needs to be completely reevaluated.”  

Travel restrictions will also lead to the costs of staging international cricket soaring, intensifying financial pressures. “If the only way back to for us to host international cricket is by private charter flights and biosecure stadiums, then realistically our only option for a home tour that is commercially viable is England, who are just eight hours away,” said Grave. 

Ideas to reduce the costs of tours previously floated - like reducing the numbers of players and support staff from touring countries that the host nations fund - could also be revisited.

Pay cuts for international players already seem certain. Countries like Australia, New Zealand and South Africa have revenue-sharing agreements, meaning collective payment pools for players will likely dip in the future if there is a reduction in revenue. Other countries - including England - have different models, but no country is likely to be completely immune from salary cuts.

Even for countries who can minimise the loss of fixtures, COVID-19 is set to lead to reduced income from sponsors and broadcasters, exacerbating existing financial pressures. “It is too early to say how the financial impacts on cricket will manifest through each country, through each level, other than to say everyone will be looking to find efficiencies and savings where possible,” said a Cricket Australia statement. 

But there is hope that major cuts to women’s cricket can be avoided, with many countries saying that they believe the women’s game will move into profitability in the years to come.

Administrators called on India to play a responsible leadership role for the good of the global game. Hosting a series against India is known to generate around 20 times as much than one against New Zealand, say.

“The future programme's uncertain,” said Faul. “I think India must play a leadership role, a responsible leadership role in bilaterals - I mean that's the crux of it. And that's where your survival will be.” 

The 2020 edition of the IPL is now being planned to begin in late September, with the T20 World Cup postponed. With the 2021 IPL expected to run in its normal slot of April and May, this will effectively mean that four months out of eight are given over to the IPL. “All the boards would be trying to secure home tours within the December to March period so the calendar would be very congested,” said Grave.

Decisions about how the international game should respond to COVID-19 will be made incrementally, with the next ICC chief executives’ committee meeting in early June.