Cricket’s powerhouses have to lend a helping hand to smaller nations, says Mike Atherton

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“You’re getting a kind of two-tiered system at the moment”

Former England captain Mike Atherton has called on the sport’s powerhouses to lend a helping hand to the smaller and weaker nations.

Speaking at the ESPNcricinfo at 20 event in Brisbane, Atherton also noted that the Indian Premier League (IPL) was having a negative effect on teams like New Zealand and the West Indies since their players would rather play in the tournament than represent their national teams due to the fact that their cricket boards cannot afford to pay them the same amount of money they would earn through an IPL contract.

“I think strategically it’s the biggest issue that faces the game, really,” Atherton said. “You’ve got four very strong nations [financially] in India, England, Australia and South Africa to a lesser extent, and then a lot of ailing nations. So you’re getting a kind of two-tiered system at the moment, and the IPL particularly impacts upon New Zealand and West Indies, who can’t quite pay their players the same amount.

“Their players are very interested in going and playing in the IPL, as we would all be. It doubly impacts upon the Caribbean because the whole season for the Caribbean is February, March, April, which is exactly the time for the IPL. It’s in the long-term interests of England, India, Australia and South Africa to have eight strong nations rather than four.

“If you only have three or four strong nations, cricket is diminishing all the time and you get what’s happening at the moment, with England playing Australia more often and playing India more often, and that fixture list diminishes. You can’t call it the world game if only four nations play the game… It’s in the long-term interests to make sure the other countries are strong.”

A lot of the major cricket boards gain a majority of their profits through television rights, but Atherton believes there is a way for profits to be distributed more evenly.

He used the example of Major League Baseball and how they split their broadcasting rights between teams since he feels it could be a perfect solution for cricket, but only in terms of internet rights. 

“Internet rights are in their infancy,” Atherton said. “What happens in baseball is there’s a kind of organisation jointly owned by the clubs, and internet rights are pooled together and then the profits are spread out between all the clubs, the weak clubs and the strong clubs. They’re trying to create a level playing field.

“I think something like that has to happen with cricket. You won’t get India giving away their television rights, you won’t get Australia giving away their television rights, but internet rights are in their infancy and something like that [may work].”

Atherton was also quick to challange the comments made by former Australia captain Steve Waugh about the IPL helping weaker nations as it allows players to earn more money, while reducing the pressure on their boards to increase their income.

“Does it take pressure off their boards or put pressure on their boards?” Atherton said. “We have a Test series in England usually in early May…it’s often a two-Test series against what you might call the less powerful nations, a New Zealand or West Indies at the moment.

“Consequently the players are either not available because they’re in the IPL or they’re coming back from the IPL the day before a game and therefore under-prepared or badly prepared for Test cricket. It impacts Tests negatively and puts pressure on boards, I would say.”

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