Test Cricket’s Future

By Neil Drysdale

I remember growing up at a time when Test cricket was the absolute pinnacle of the game: an opportunity for the next generation of Garry Sobers, Sunil Gavaskar and Geoff Boycott to fend off such merchants of menace as Dennis Lillee, John Snow and Andy Roberts.
At that stage, it was routine for a team batting first to meander to 228 for 5 at the close of the opening day. Except, and even in a period where wildcat strikes and industrial action were part of the landscape, it never felt as if they were deliberately on a go-slow. Instead, the participants realised they were involved in a five-day battle of wills. We understood it. And if the tussles required time to come to the boil, that simply whetted our appetites for the next day.
Apologies for this lengthy intro. It might have taken longer to read than some of the batting efforts – if that is the right word – from the world’s Test elite in the last few weeks. But I think somebody with a Sky subscription, but without any link to that benighted company, needs to post a serious warning about the future of Test cricket. If indeed it has one.
During the last two months, I’ve watched South Africa, ostensibly the ICC’s top-ranked side, being thrashed by Indian opponents, who have no claims to greatness. I’ve sat through Australia pummelling a dire West Indian line-up, who have developed into a dreadful parody of the side which used to dominate the sport. And I’ve squirmed as Sri Lanka, following the retirement of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, were thrashed inside 45 overs in a one-day abomination.
Precious little of this has been entertaining. On the contrary, the dearth of application and commitment, not to mention basic technique, has been painful to behold. Cricket should be taxing itself with the issue of how to bolster the Test circuit. Yet it spends too many hours dreaming up new variations on the T20 format, at the expense of the long-form version.
Thus it is, as we enter 2016, that there is no Test ensemble remotely on a par with the West Indians in the 1970s, the Australians in the 1990s or England a decade later. Mediocrity rules. To some extent, you get the feeling that some youngsters entering the game don’t really want to make Tests a priority. Financially, it may be understandable. But this is dashing down a cul-de-sac on a rancid road to nowhere.
Just look at the leading countries. South Africa were pitiful in collapsing to defeat against England in Durban. Now that Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher have gone – and Dale Steyn is nearing the end – they are a bog-standard squad.
England, for their part, recently lost to Pakistan – an outcome which will be reversed next summer – and yet one suspects they will dominate the Test milieu for the foreseeable future, if only because there is nobody else, given the pitiful decline of West Indies and Sri Lanka, the casual descent into the commonplace of India, and the inability of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe to make any impression on their rivals.
I have surveyed Australia with particular attention in the last few months, because their commentators would have you believe that Joe Burns and Usman Khawaja are part of a glorious future. Maybe they are, but just look at their line-up compared with a decade ago and the scale of the decline becomes obvious. The class of 2006 had Langer, Hayden, Ponting, Clarke, Hussey, Gilchrist, Warne, Lee and McGrath. Any of these stars would walk back into the present squad, no problem. But since this isn’t Doctor Who, so what!
It might be asked how this dilemma can be resolved. The bigger issue is: Do the ICC even want to try? They have faffed around with various ideas and will offer the leading Associate country an occasional chance to penetrate the game’s closed shop in the next couple of years.
But the fact is that the ICC, the BCCI, ECB and Cricket Australia have been blinded by their 20/20 vision. Nobody’s saying there isn’t a place for the wham-bam format, but when only 7000 spectators turn up to watch England beating the Proteas, it’s obvious there is a problem.
It’s also evident that the international governing body doesn’t have a clue how to tackle it.

Comments

  1. Cat from the Country says

    Money … the root of all evil.
    And this generation’s lack of perserverance and application.
    Terry Alderman bowled at the wicket repeatedly and took most wickets LBW.
    Current bowlers are all over the place and apart from bouncers have very few othe tricks.

    I used to watch most games and even know the score, but not now unfortunately!

  2. Luke Reynolds says

    Spot on with your observations Neil. Your question of “Do the ICC even want to try” is most pertinent.
    A World Test Championship is much needed. And soon.

  3. Is it that the bodies overseeing cricket don’t know how to tackle the ‘problem’ or is it that they don’t want to ? Maybe there is no problem. the one constant in life is change, the young become old, day turns into night, all that is solid melts into air. Maybe Test cricket is at its use by date.

    Test cricket is the ultimate form of the game, certainly it is my preference. But no matter what changes are taking place it is struggling. A clear example of this is the absence of a Number One side Since the end of our great era, the number one ranking has been changing more often than my socks! Seriously who is the best test playing nation n the world ?

    I don’t want to sound like a portender of bad tidings, but I’m really unsure what can be done with Test cricket. in a time where the sole nexus in human relationships is cash exchange for benefit, if T20 is bringing in the moolah, but Tests aren’t, than as they say, “things are crook in Tallarook”.

    Glen!

  4. Interesting points, Neil.
    I wonder about the dilution of cricket in all forms.
    In previous times, a Shield player know they had only “x” innings per summer in which to perform.
    Every outing counted.

    I wonder about the saturation coverage, saturation playing of short-form cricket, and the decline in relative importance of each innings.
    Maybe there’s no need for a player to “apply themselves” diligently, for there will be another opportunity tomorrow.

  5. Neil Drysdale says

    Thanks for your responses and a belated Happy New Year. I don’t want to sound too pessimistic about Test cricket, but I remember ghosting Rahul Dravid’s column when he was playing for Scotland in 2003 and his attitude was absolutely fantastic. He hated giving his wicket away, practiced every day, was a consummate professional – actually, craftsman might be a better word – and I don’t see too many people of his stature and Stakhanovite work ethic on the current Test circuit. I hope I’m wrong, but if things continue as they are doing, there will only be one outcome. 7000 at SA v Eng and 46,000 at a BBL game where even I have to admit Travis Head played a blinder on New Year’s Eve.

  6. Peter Clark says

    I also ponder the future of cricket. From timeless tests, to 5 day tests, ODI’s, 20/20, where next? Are we on a path towards cricket’s vanishing point? Will the attention span of spectator’s and the marketing demands of television/ online broadcasting doom the game to an inevitable extinction? Maybe the next format will be interactive cricket played on even smaller grounds, where the crowd compete against the pyjama players. Points awarded for crowd catches, celebrity batters invited from the stands to have a go themselves. Or will we see a renaissance of test cricket when the followers of the mindless forms of the game demand more substance and value for their money?

  7. Barry McAdam says

    Test cricket’s future very much under threat from the T20 explosion, very much agree with the calls for a Test championship that would give relevancy to every test.

  8. Peter i won’t be surprised if we get the interactive game you’re talking about. In the world of having, not being, taking a crowd catch , celebrity appearances, more fireworks, with even less cricket are not far fetched.

    The portrayal of the mindless followers of the game might ruffle a few feathers. I totally concur with you re the franchised limited overs entertainment , BBL is about instant gratification,nothing more or less. Can anyone tell me of a memorable, or classic BBL match? I won’t hold my breath. But Peter we have to acknowledge it’s drawing people in, with far more importantly it’s bringing in the $$$, lots of them.

    The death of test cricket was spoken about in the 1980’s and 90’s as the ODI’s took off, drawing in crowds and money. Test cricket survived then as the sameness of the ODI’s became a tad boring. Now the new kid on the cricket block is the 20/20 match. Unsure if test cricket can see it off, but for tests to survive some major changes are required. Tests might die a slow, public death, but they won’t vanish while they can still bring in good money.

    Glen!

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