I know, it is obvious that test cricket is going through the worst time in its history. More than 120 years old, test cricket has been the yardstick of the performance of a team, of a player. And barely a decade into the 21st century, it is facing extinction. Not that it is not being played, but that it has lost a large chunk of audience.
Test cricket was once upon a time played over a week, including a day of rest. Then, shortened to five days of play. The format was standardised, so, there were no more “Australian overs”. But all in all, over more than 100 years, the enthusiasm involved in tests never changed, never dropped. Right from the inception of the game (and the format) by England to the era Don’s Invincibles to the Caribbean golden era over years, test cricket has been (should I say, “was”?)of prime importance to any cricketing nation. Test rivalries were born. From WI-Eng/Aus to Ashes to Indo-Pak nail biters, there always was anticipation to a series. A new team, which couldn’t even lift its head aloft too high in the competition long ago, developed into a world leader very soon, establishing itself as an ODI champion, as well as a competitive test nation. I am talking about Sri Lanka. This team blossomed in the right age. Another team, which came in much later than Lanka, isn’t able to repeat the same. This team, is Bangladesh. Apart from one “success” an year over another test playing nation, B’desh has a pretty poor record in cricket. In tests, it has no success. No, I cannot count the victories they had over WI or Zim as quality victories. Nevertheless 2 or 3 victories aren’t that great either.
England, Australia, South Africa have been keeping the standards of test cricket in good spirits, while the subcontinent is more inclined on having pitches suitable to the home team which may be as boring as the word boring can get. New Zealand have a completely opposite problem. They have good pitches, but not a good test team. I don’t remember NZ playing 5 tests on a trot with the same opening pair, since the retirement of Stephen Fleming. Caribbean cricket has been less than good since the departure of Walsh-Ambrose, their shadows, and the legendary Lara. The pitches don’t have the pace they had, primely because their opponents are better at it nowadays. WI clearly hasn’t found a “strength” in this decade, on which it can ride over their opponents.
All this, and the advent of the faster, richer (read as $) format, Twenty-Twenty has almost guided the test cricket into oblivion. Youngsters want to play for franchises, and not for their nation. Audience is more hooked to the shortest format than the other two. Argument – “we don’t have time to watch the ‘boring’ longer formats”. Well, ten years ago, people were able to watch it all, they had all the time in the world, they enjoyed it a lot, they were “crazy” for it.
The question is open for all. I have always vouched for test cricket. I still prefer to watch tests, the pace-men hit the deck in the opening session, batsmen consolidate, batsmen “build” an innings, spinners tweak the opponents into trouble, every day writing a new script for the next day et al. Compared to this, there are some worthless days of limited over cricket, like the one I saw a couple of days ago, where the pitch is such that the winner can be declared after the toss.
Martin Crowe, one of cricket’s biggest thinkers had come up with the suggestion of annual Test Championship. Here is how it goes -
The top 8 test nations play a knock out tournament. The top 4 teams play home. So, its 4 vs 4, then 2 vs 2, then the final. At each point, the better seeded/ranked team plays host. The tests will be 6 days each, so, that the results are assured. The normal bilateral test series will go as usual, independent of this test championship. These tests will determine the ranking of the teams.
He has set the platform for the world to see, and add its inputs and revive the beauty of test cricket. He has noticed, like you would’ve, that the lower 4 teams are at prime disadvantage. And, is looking for ideas for a more uniform competition.
Here are my ideas -
Clearly, one cannot eliminate the bilateral series. Cricket world without The Ashes is like the world submerged in water. So, like Crowe said, it has to be an independent series, and it cannot be long, as it may lose out on the market and viewers’ interest.
• Well, as far as the ranking is concerned, as mentioned above, the usual bilateral series will determine the ranking.
• But, I think there must be more than one tests played between the two sides at every knock out stage. So, both teams will play a “home” and “away” test for uniformity. The team with more victories in the two games, move to the next stage. In case it is a 1-1 or a 0-0 series, then the team with higher net first innings lead over the other will get to go to the next stage.
• The tests can remain 5 day tests, if the above idea is to be adopted, as the result need not be the only way out. It will be an insult to the memory of test cricket to eliminate “draw” from the results column. The world has seen so many exciting draws, and also tied tests.
• ICC will have to do either of the two – remove Champions trophy cricket, or, make T20 World Cup and quadrennial (once in 4 years) event. It will reduce the international pressure on the cricketers by a wee bit at least.
• ICC should control the number of foreign club-contracts a player has. I would suggest that a player must not have more than 2 active club-contracts in other nations. And, any sign-in must be made before the season starts, and must hold good for the entire season. I have seen players playing for as many as four (home + 3) franchises in the same season. This rule will “protect” the player from burnout, and make him play more formats of the game, than just the T20, in which the introduction of foreign players is more common than it was with county cricket.
• ICC and the local cricketing body should strengthen the domestic first class format structure, and improve it.
• More care should be taken to prepare the pitches. The pitches used for the international games should be reviewed by the ICC pitch committee a week before the match. And all the pitches used for the test championship, are to be reviewed by the ICC pitch committee and also a team from the visiting nation. Home advantage should be there, but not lopsided.
• The finals should be a “best of three” test series. Two at the higher ranked team’s home, and one at the other country’s home.
I feel that this will take an year or maybe one and a half years to be completed, as it has to fit into the other bilateral series, and other tournaments in other formats too. In any case, each stage may take around 4 to 6 months for completion, owing to geographical reasons. Weather conditions may play spoil sport in some cases, for which I have not yet thought of a solution. Maybe, in such cases, an additional day can be used (déjà vu?). In any case, the youngsters must be taught more about the classic format, and the skills needed to excel in this – the basics. Without basics, even the shorter forms will look ugly.
Lets see what happens. I would love to hear from you all too. Comments, corrections, suggestions are welcome!