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New year, new hope?

by Neil Burns

As I take a glance over my shoulder at Year 2020, I cannot really believe the impact that COVID-19 has had on everyone, around the world. The devastation it has caused is almost beyond belief.

I have never been one to fear the worst – I am more of the ‘hope for the best’ type of man. But, as the national lockdown became extended last summer, my fear for business plans, and for sport’s future as a professional entertainment business grew. My bigger fear is the effect that COVID-19 and its’ messy unintended consequences, will continue to impact societies in a way that is far worse than currently imagined.

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With England arriving in Sri Lanka for an upcoming Test series, and a thrilling competitive series unfolding in Australia between the host nation and India, whilst New Zealand host Pakistan and South Africa continue to dominate Sri Lanka, Test cricket is being played around the globe with good levels of interest following the format. Meanwhile the Big Bash continues to expand its popularity among players and its’ breed of ‘new supporter’.  Apparently, the IPL recently had 200 million people viewing its’ final on TV around the world. Cricket is seemingly healthy.

With a World t20 tournament on the horizon, and a new domestic competition in England (‘The Hundred’) due to commence in 2021, the growth of the short format is obvious. Professional players are excited to be earning considerable sums of money for what is a relatively short period of employment.

Significant broadcasting revenues underpin the game’s economic health. India has led the way since the World Cup in 1987 proved to the entrepreneurs of that country how much could be extracted for the rights to broadcast international cricket – especially a World Cup. T20 has proved a massive hit for both broadcasters, and players. Advertising revenue, viewing figures, matchday ticket sales and a broader demographic of supporter purchasing tickets and merchandise has transformed the game’s commercial potential.

Cricket is big business and if it’s leading administrators are clever, and can negotiate participation in future Olympic Games events, then its profile will never have been higher. 

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With a committed agenda to promote the opportunities for females to become full-time professionals, and gain media exposure to inspire a future generation, I believe we will see an exponential growth in Women’s Cricket around the world over the next 25 years. The key is to improve the quality of the best international players and teams whilst simultaneously nurturing the growth and development of school age players to provide a pipeline of emerging talent.

So, as 2021 dawns, and a massive year of Test cricket lies ahead for Joe Root and his England team, I wonder how they will fare in Australia in 12 months time. I fear the playing schedule is going to be too demanding for the majority of leading players unless their rest and recovery time is carefully monitored. England’s batting and Joe Root’s captaincy will get severely tested in the period and I remain concerned that it will prove too brittle against Australia’s aggressive attacking instincts, unless individuals can improve and also be fresh for the battle.

Here’s wishing everyone is fit and healthy for the many battles which lie ahead for us all in 2021. And let’s hope the game of cricket can continue to bring us the cheer it provided it what was a remarkable 2020 – for many different reasons.    

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