An investigation into the ‘Big Three’ of international cricket

Does the huge disparity between wages paid by cricket’s ‘Big Three’ and the rest of the Test cricket nations have an effect on results? Budding young sports journalist Leo McGuinn investigates (with some impressive self-made graphs may I add). Keep an eye out for my upcoming piece on cricket diplomacy, which leads on from Leo’s excellent work. LW

Cricket has always been a sport for the elite, especially in the UK. Popular amongst the upper class and at private schools. In 2014 the International Cricket Council, ICC, decided that the best route for the game to take was to divide the lion’s share of cash between the three most powerful nations, England, India and Australia, or ‘The Big Three’ as they were called. Outrage followed this news and since then these plans have been scaled back but the money these three titans can offer their cricketers still dwarfs any of the other seven test nations. But how do results compare to this gulf in wages?

We explore the realms of test cricket, the pinnacle of the game, as we see the vast disparity in money earned depending on the country you represent. While the information collated is correct, it also has to be taken with a pinch of salt. The figures in the graph below, provided by Cricinfo, are the base fees players earn. They are also paid match fees and bonuses. This graph give a great basic indication however.

The disparity between the ‘The Big Three’ and the rest is striking. England and Australia are way out in front of any other nations. India are surprisingly low on the list despite being one of ‘The Big Three’. This can be perhaps explained by the huge riches earned by Indian players in the Indian Premier League. All Indian internationals are involved and it is the second highest paying sports league in the world after the NBA.

Zimbabwe find themselves at the bottom, with the average player earning £12,000 a year. This has also created the problem of players turning their back on their national teams to ply their trade elsewhere, such as former Zimbabwe captain Brendan Taylor, who quit international cricket to sign for English County Nottinghamshire. He has since returned to play for his country but missed four vital years of international cricket.

West Indies are also low on the list, and this has created huge problems within Caribbean cricket. Countless board disputes and missed payments mean that many West Indian cricketers have opted not to play internationally and have instead chosen to play franchise cricket all over the world for much more money.

None of this comes as a surprise to anyone who watches cricket, the real aim here is to see if this disparity in wages creates a similar disparity in results. In other words, is test cricket dominated by England, India and Australia?

This chart shows the test sides records since 2017, Zimbabwe, Ireland and Afghanistan aren’t included as they have not played enough games. On first glance England, India and Australia do have more wins than anyone else but they have also played quite a few more matches. The only way to contrast it fairly is by looking at the sides win percentage over the past three years.

This gives us a much more telling indication of the team’s performances over the time period. What the chart really shows is the gap between the top and the bottom. ‘The Big Three’ are clear of everyone else, bar New Zealand, and all lie between 53% and 60%. Seeing New Zealand with such a high win percentage comes as no surprise. The perennial overachievers continue to compete with the big boys despite the gap in earnings, and population.

The one big surprise is perhaps seeing South Africa so low on the list, despite earning more than the rest of those around them, they have just about the same win percentage as Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the West Indies. Bangladesh languish last in both charts, both in terms of earnings and results.

A disparity between top and bottom is hardly unique to cricket. Just last month a power grab by the Premier League’s big boys was shut down, but in cricket it is certainly harder to control, given the amount of control England, Indian and Australian cricket boards have within the ICC.

Perhaps one reason why there are so few solutions in cricket is the fact the pinnacle of the sport is international, not club level like football. In other sports teams have owners and ideas such as salary caps in that are used in the USA can be introduced. This isn’t possible for a whole nation, obviously, and means that the gap will always be there between David and Goliath.

Cricket currently seems insistent on eating itself, and out of the team sports with major World Cups (football, rugby, volleyball, basketball, hockey) cricket is the only one who’s participants have contracted. Where every other World Cup has increased its participants, the cricket World Cup has gone from 16 teams to just 10 in the last two editions. The ICC insists on the poster event of the sport, watched by billions, being a old boys club. There are no plans for this to change by the next edition in 2023.

The ICC have tried to shake the elitist tag in the last few years. Introducing an 11th and 12th test nation to the game, Ireland and Afghanistan, respectively. The findings above, however, show that money does have a big impact on the game and on field success. With the evidence showing the stark contrast between top and bottom, that elitist tag is sure to stick around for a while longer.