The Way Forward For Test Cricket

As the overs rolled by and Australia’s series victory against the woebegone West Indies inevitably drew closer yesterday, the time came for truths to be told.

Test cricket is facing crises greater in magnitude and quantity than the days before World Series Cricket. Crowd numbers are falling. The gap between good and bad sides is widening. The international popularity of Twenty20 is forcing the format itself into an identity reassessment.

Is there any way for Test cricket to solve these problems without compromising the course of modern cricket, losing commercial capacity or undermining traditional appeal? Happily, there is a way: reduce the Test arena from a 10 team competition to seven.

No one will be outraged by the statement that the West Indies, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh are well below par as Test playing nations. The political divisions and economic handicaps within each country may well prevent them from ever becoming so (at the Almanac dinner in September, Gideon Haigh pointed out that the Windies’ dominance at Test level in the 1980s was all the more remarkable given that the club is made out of 30 almost totally separate, impoverished islands).

The Windies’ long, not very slow decline has given them just 26 Test victories in the 150 matches they have played since 2000. For Zimbabwe, the figure in the same time is 11 wins from 97 starts and Bangladesh are even worse with seven from 93. Why waste the considerable resource expenditure of playing Test cricket when they can instead be released to compete in the far more lucrative limited overs formats? Afghanistan and Ireland have already broken through to the international ranks with One Day Cricket sides. No one derides them for not playing at Test level and – another truth be told – they would only be marginally less competitive than the Windies, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

The benefits that would come from this move would inform all current Test playing nations. To put the Windies, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe out of their five day misery and allow them to concentrate on limited overs cricket will be a financially viable move that will cut down on the one-sided slaughter such as what we have been grumpily watching in the current tour. In doing so, a competitive edge will be returned to Test cricket. For the remaining teams, the competition will be distilled into a more even playing field. The gap between top (South Africa) and bottom (Zimbabwe) is so far as to almost render their clashes irrelevant. So the idea of the most lopsided play-off being between South Africa and Sri Lanka makes for a far more appealing brand of cricket. The tradition and privilege of Test cricket would only be strengthened by relegating the sides who cannot compete on an international scale. We have a chance to shore up the esteem of the Test format and strengthen the limited overs format in doing so.

A stronger, more even competition would in turn sharpen Test cricket’s rivalries. Unquestionably, rivalries draw interest in matches, which brings the people. Australia’s crowd figures against our arch nemesis England are comfortably higher than against any other side but otherwise international cricket has been poor at cultivating rivalries (yes, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India hit the stage with the BYO Political Rivalry package). The time between matches is too long for players and fans to identify with enough opposition players to create an emotional connection between teams.

Australia last played Sri Lanka in early 2013. Just five of that Sri Lankan team is currently battling New Zealand, and of that handful of players only Dimuth Karunaratne and Angelo Mathews would be recognised by the average international cricket fan. A seven team competition would see countries playing each other with much greater regularity, giving a much more immediate context and backstory every time the sides clashed.

Furthermore, the cricketing world would get a better understanding of countries’ rankings when the extraneous sides are cut. Australia is currently sitting third, below the Indian side we thrashed at the beginning of this year and three spots above the English side that comprehensively outclassed us in the winter. Dead cat bounce victories over easybeat teams misrepresent a team’s quality.

Much has been made of Australia’s chances of reclaiming the number one Test ranking in February, just as much has been made of the possibly irrecoverable perils of West Indian, Zimbabwean and Bangladeshi cricket at Test level. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a solution that could see the privilege of that ranking emphasised and a future rekindled for Test cricket’s cellar dwellars?

 

About Callum O'Connor

Here's to feelin' good all the time.

Comments

  1. I think promotion and relegation like the Davis Cup has merit.

    I like the idea of a tournament, a World Cup/Cricket Olympics things – maybe men and women teams from the top 12 countries playing across the 3 formats, for a gold medal. (the inclusion of all three formats in the women’s Ashes intrigues me.)

    I like the idea of fewer standalone series. Of higher quality. We used to play the Windies every 4 years. Before Pakistan came here in 72 they hadn’t toured for 8 years. With pay TV we could watch them (v India, Sth Africa etc) without having to have them tour too often.

    And then, in non-Ashes summers, I have floated this idea – a rolling series, starting at the Gabba, 5 days cricket in every venue. if one match finishes, start another, if one isn’t finished, continue it at the next venue. I don’t see how this can be more boring or contrived than the (a) nothing happened for 5 days; or (b) it’s all over in 2.5 days and I don’t want to mow the lawn.

    I also think we are only ever as excited as our bowling attack – we suffered through some pretty banal series in the early 90s. Until Warne. And then beating the Windies with McGrath.

    We must pick a leggie for the sake of cricket. Or at least my sanity.

  2. Good areas, Callum. That said I don’t think test cricket is in crisis. It continues to get strong TV audiences even if people in some places aren’t watching at the ground. I think, in Australia anyway, a substantial downward revision in ticket prices with more flexible options would improve crowds.

  3. Callum, I concur with much of your article Far too much test cricket, far too much cricket full stop. We can’t stop the financial juggernaut controlling the latter point, but we can put some restraint on the amount of tests.

    No more two test series, they have nothing of value to cricket,but must of course bring in money. Let’s revert to sides touring less often, and playing full , four test+ series. The Ashes is often perused as the pinnacle of test cricket, for along time we played every four years, now we have Ashes tours of England in 2013 and 2015. Apart from the obvious, money what i s the cricketing purpose?

    If we had less tesst played, by the legitimate test playing nations, it would benefit the ultimate form of the sport. I won’t hold my breath, but being an optimist, i’d like to see test regain their primary role. We could have a 20-20 match every day, of which i have no interest, but let’s give tests a chance. One lives in hope.

    Frohes Neues Jahr.

    Glen!

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