In 2025, the cricket world has settled into a new equilibrium.
The Indian Premiere League, now in its 18th year, has shifted to the Indian winter. The tournament is now played from January to March, taking advantage of a cooler climate, no rains and, let’s face it, the financial reality of the county summer.
The IPL has the highest revenues, audiences, salaries and by the time the tournament gets to the playoffs, the atmosphere is electric and the competition is fierce. The quality of competition in the IPL has improved dramatically since the early years. After years of tinkering with the format of the tournament and of the T20 game itself, the organizers have crafted an enthralling competition. The designated bowler rule, which meant a six-wicket-per-side game where bowlers did not bat, led to a more even contest, with a strong role for top bowlers and higher premium on a wicket.
With a long history, local franchises are increasingly embedded in local folklore. Team names have changed to reflect a local flavor as well, shedding their anglocentric baggage.
Kids around the world want to play in the IPL. Kids in ghettos, from Haiti to Johannesburg, know that the only way out of their private hells is to hit hard or throw fast when the IPL scouts come to town.
But the truth is, while all the kids want to play the IPL for the money, the IPL stars really wants to play the English County League.
As an analogy, an actor could spend an entire career making good money in bit parts in superhero movies, but winning an Oscar gets you the acclaim, the legacy, and even bigger bucks in the next superhero movie. The IPL is The Avengers, the ECL is an Oscar.
And this is why the English county summer remains a prestigious venue to play cricket. The English summer is now an IPL-style Test tournament of private county franchises full of international talent. A player who can excel here and in the IPL, is the king of cricket fandom (not to mention endorsements).
The BCCI helps prop up the longer game because it buys legitimacy for their players and protects the not-insignificant market of upper-middle-class traditionalists. Even after three decades, T20s are viewed as “a bit of fun” by a large segment, and while the skill levels have risen dramatically, its youth, sound, speed and colors are still a barrier to achieving elite legitimacy. The ECL allows contemporary players to legitimately be compared to past greats like Dravid, Bradman and Kallis, thus ensuring a legacy and brand that can be marketed at that level.
For this reason, the greats of the game continue to develop skills in both formats.
This structure has, in some respects, broken the “full member” control over the game. A talented rookie from a backwater comes cheap and is a marketing miracle. If only for a season. The IPL has players from every continent, and is broadcast live in every one as well.
Most domestic leagues operate in the shadows of these two marquee events, or in the September to December window, where they also compete with the few bilateral series that still exist. Many top internationals spend their time in the Australian domestic season during these months, for the weather, the beaches and to keep in top form. New Zealand has been entirely absorbed into this Australian system.
The Ashes in Australia start in this timeframe, while in England they compete for time with the county league. India plays Pakistan in Tests on occasion, though relations between the countries still make this unpredictable. Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan field a team each in the Indian domestic Test championships. The IPL scouts appreciate this arrangement.
The ICC remains as a small body headquartered in Mumbai with the primary purpose of organizing inter-nation tournaments. Specifically, the 16-nation T20 World Cup and the increasingly out of place, yet great big party of a tournament, the 7-nation 50 over Cup. Both tournaments are organized during March or October, at either end of the 5-day season. An interesting side-effect of the dissolution of inter-nation cricket is that former full members can rarely field full-strength teams– their stars have franchise obligations– which makes for a more level playing field in ICC events. The teams formerly at the fringes of full member status are now on equal footing in these events.
Has the game improved for the better? It’s hard to say– more players from more countries are earning excellent wages, but fewer spectators around the world have access to top-level sport, except for the sponsored T20 exhibition world tours.
However, if you find yourself in Kensington Oval or the Basin or Malahide during the domestic, you will be treated to a good bit of fun.
It’s not the good old days for sure. But the good old days weren’t that great either.