No associate nation should be playing Test cricket -- neither Bangladesh or Zimbabwe; the longer form needs to have more competitive balance not less to prosper, writes Ian Chappell
The ICC’s recent announcement that they are providing a pathway to Test cricket for associate nations almost — I stress almost — made me forget the dysfunctional nature of the administration.
For a fleeting moment I shelved my concerns about ‘The Big Three’ power grab and the ICC’s incoming president currently being barred by the Indian Supreme Court (pending a corruption inquiry) from holding the same position with the BCCI.
Surely the ICC’s main priority is to address the flaws in Test cricket rather than add to them by introducing new teams. Not that the ICC announcement actually stated there will be any additions from among the associates but they made it abundantly clear there won’t be any subtractions from the current ten member nations. Wouldn’t want to upset the balance of power in the board room voting would we? Certainly not just for the sake of addressing what ails Test cricket.
Boyd Rankin of Ireland celebrates the wicket of Afghanistan’s Sadiq Karim during an ICC World Twenty20 qualifier in 2012. Pic/Getty Images.
The ICC’s ill-conceived plan is to have the winner of the ICC Intercontinental Cup [a first-class tournament between associate nations] play the lowest ranked Test team. This will be a series of five day first-class matches held every four years starting in 2018, two at home and two away.
This might seem to be a dream come true for the stronger associate nations like Ireland but the fine print acts like a cold shower on an aroused male. No full member, beaten by an associate nation in one of these challenges, can be relegated. So if Ireland or Afghanistan or another strong associate nation was to beat Zimbabwe or Bangladesh or, heaven forbid, the West Indies, it doesn’t necessarily mean they get to play Test cricket.
State of imbalance
That’s reassuring, considering Test cricket is already in a state of competitive imbalance. There are four sides who rate as ‘strong’ — South Africa, India, Australia and England. However, all four have flaws; India hasn’t won a match of any consequence away from home recently; England has dramatically slipped from strong to teetering on the brink of moderate; Australia has improved but is only months removed from 4-0 and 3-0 overseas thrashings and South Africa could be in for a tough time following the retirements of stalwart all rounder Jacques Kallis and a strong leader in Graeme Smith.
Sri Lanka ranks just outside that group but they struggle to produce quick bowlers and the spine of their batting, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jaywardene, are edging ever closer to retirement. Pakistan continues to produce talented young cricketers but with no games at home this will become ever harder to replicate and they already frustrate with their consistent inconsistency.
Small player pool
New Zealand fight like hell under a brave captain in Brendan McCullum and they now possess a decent attack but they have such a small player pool it’s always a battle to match it with the superpowers. Then we come to the saddest tale of all — the West Indies. They’ve been a basket case for more than a decade and cricket desperately needs them to be strong because playing well, they are a big draw card. And Bangladesh and Zimbabwe as Test nations is a misnomer that could only be dreamt up by a body more interested in votes than victory on the field.
Associate nations being elevated to Test level should be about them attaining a consistently high standard of play against strong opposition and developing a solid, dependable production line of players. It shouldn’t be about one of them getting lucky with a talented group of players in one four year period.
The ICC need to be wary in their assessments, judging by the progress of Ireland’s best players. It’s not like the transfer to England’s colours has seen Eoin Morgan, Ed Joyce or Boyd Rankin actually take Test cricket by storm.
And anyway, looking to add more Test nations when you already have two who shouldn’t be playing and another team that needs serious help, is ludicrous. I don’t think Ireland or Afghanistan or Netherlands or any other associate nation should be playing Test cricket. However, neither should Bangladesh or Zimbabwe; to prosper, Test cricket needs to have more competitive balance not less.