Contracting the business is not always a sign of progress but in cricket’s case it could well be the saviour of the game.
Instead of lamenting the demise of Test cricket and indulging in conjecture that the 50 over game has run its race, it’s time to formulate a plan that gives all three forms their best chance of survival. The answer could be contraction.
The major problem in having three forms of the game is the congestion it creates in the schedule. This eventually causes players to choose between forms of the game, which then exacerbates the lack of star attractions cricket produces.
There are two chances, Buckley’s and none, that Test cricket can expand into major markets like the Americas, Europe, Japan and parts of Asia and Africa. Therefore it would be pragmatic to concentrate on programming the ultimate competition between the major Test playing countries.
By contracting to an eight-team competition there would be less one-sided contests and it would then be possible to conduct a meaningful World Championship. It may also be possible with the advent of Day/Night Tests to reduce the matches to three or four days duration, as they were originally.
By taking this option you might not save Test cricket (dinosaurs once ruled the planet) but at least the administrators wouldn’t be guilty of an inside job if it does eventually perish.
By all means continue promoting the longer versions of the game in countries where, with proper nurturing, they could eventually raise their standard to compete with the best. However, don’t do it in a manner that dilutes the standard of Test cricket.
The fifty over competitions should be conducted at different levels and operate under a promotion/relegation basis. That way it becomes obvious when a team is ready for the highest level and equally apparent that another team is going through a bad era and needs to drop down a grade.
Once again it reduces the one-sided contests that only do cricket harm by promoting the less endearing aspects of the game on television.
T20 is the form of the game that can be used to foster a wider appeal and open up strong markets in places like the Americas, Europe, Japan and Malaysia.
This is best done on a city franchise basis so that teams in say; Florida, Amsterdam, Tokyo and Kuala Lumpur have a chance of competing on an equal footing with sides from Mumbai and Melbourne.
T20 internationals between countries could then be scrapped and hopefully this would open up opportunities for skilful players from a much broader range of countries.
And that’s where expansion comes in.
Only few spark
In the IPL, the BBL (or any other competition ending in L) apart from the local stars, it’s the same players who spark the headlines and attract big contracts.
The game can’t continue to expand unless it finds a way to produce more top-class players from a broader pool.
Taking advantage of the franchise system by producing players via academies based in potentially productive regions like Afghanistan and parts of Europe could broaden the pool of excellence.
There’s also a need to come up with better ways to best produce top-class players.
It’s no coincidence that Sachin Tendulkar’s great skills were honed on the maidan, Sir Garfield Sobers and Javed Miandad in the streets and numerous Australian cricketers in their own backyard. They all improved by learning how to survive and prosper in numerous pick up matches rather than spending hours in structured net sessions.
I recall watching a young bloke hook, pull and cut with impunity whilst facing a tennis ball skimming off a film of water at 150 kph on a Barbados beach.
“What first-class team does he play for?” I asked one of the players.
“Man, this is the only cricket he plays,” came the response.
Cricket can’t afford to lose players with such a high natural skill level. The game needs to at least give those players a pathway to succeed at higher levels.
To find more skilful players from a broader spread of countries and promote more competitive matches, cricket might need to contract the schedule but not the different forms of the game.