Clayton Murzello: Never too late for a fillip
Test cricket has never been closer to a system where the No.1 team in the world will be decided in a final and that's great news for purists
There is nothing better for Test cricket than to have the No 1 team emerging from a final, as against the present scenario where teams achieve numero uno status through points.
If world cricket administrators rally around each other at the on-going International Cricket Council (ICC) meeting in Auckland, they will put new meaning to the word champions in the longest form of the game and thus do the sport a great service.
India cricketers celebrate the wicket of Angelo Mathews during the second Test against Sri Lanka at Colombo in August. Pic/AFP
No one, save those who are intoxicated with Twenty20 cricket, wants the traditional form of the game to disintegrate. England and Australia still love the five-day game, but that's not good enough and the toughest form of the game will slip into an abyss when meaningless series are organised merely to beef up the coffers of financially weaker cricket boards.
What the current administrators are attempting in their pursuit to have the champion team decided in a Test final is not unprecedented. However, a successful end result will be breaking new ground.
The late Jagmohan Dalmiya wanted to see a Test championship come to fruition. He organised a meeting with the best minds in cricket during the India vs Pakistan Test at the Eden Gardens in early 1999, but all plans went pear-shaped due to a combination of cricket politics and unworkable schedules.
There was also Chris Doig, the chief executive of New Zealand Cricket, who burned the midnight oil to devise a World Test Championship plan. During the 1999 India vs New Zealand Test at Mohali, Doig told me that he had submitted his blueprint to the ICC which was, "provincially accepted."
Doig was stunned that India, at that time, hadn't toured Australia for eight years. "To me, this is very wrong. Also, I would like to see a New Zealand vs India Test series having the same value as the Ashes," he said as we watched Stephen Fleming's Kiwis negate India's threat to win the Mohali Test in order to go one-up in the series.
Doig's Test Championship efforts coincided with Dalmiya's stint as ICC chief (1997-2000). The Muhammad Ali of cricket administrators, as Ravi Shastri called him, was all for a Test Championship but he only lived to see it happening in Asia twice. Wasim Akram's Pakistan won the inaugural one in 1998-99 when they beat Sri Lanka at Dhaka. India did not participate in the 2002 edition due to political tensions with Pakistan. Sri Lanka, captained by Sanath Jayasuriya, took home the silverware after winning the Lahore Test by eight wickets.
The players have always wanted such a competition, especially after the well-received Australia v Rest of the World Test in 2005-06. When the ICC failed to conduct a Test Championship in 2011, the then South Africa captain Graeme Smith threw a fit. "As cricketers, we want to see the ICC make decisions that are the best for the game and I'm not sure that's happened now. Waiting another five years, you can skip a whole generation in that time," said Smith. And Michael Clarke's words proved prophetic: "If it works out, it will be fantastic, but by that stage I'll probably be watching on the couch."
One man who will be most interested in knowing what emerges from the ICC meeting in Christchurch is Ian Chappell. For long now, the Australian cricketer-turned commentator/journalist has been campaigning for a Test Championship. Apart from being among the cricket greats who Dalmiya invited for that Kolkata meeting in 1999, Chappell first wrote about why the concept would auger well for the game way back in 1991. His prescription was based on the Rugby League World Cup qualifying system. Chappell apprised ICC president Colin Cowdrey through a conversation with his former foe at Auckland airport the morning after the Pakistan vs New Zealand World Cup 1992 semi-final. A Pakistani journalist, who also wanted to see a World Test Championship initiated, joined the conversation and showed interest in the subject to which Cowdrey responded by telling him, "You should get one of your delegates to propose it to the ICC."
The late Cowdrey was a fine man, but he gave Chappell the impression that he wasn't too excited about taking the concept forward. In his book The Cutting Edge, Chappell contrasted Cowdrey's response to the idea with influential West Indian commentator Tony Cozier's reaction to a plan that could invigorate Test cricket. "He (Cozier) immediately asked me to send him a copy of my article so he could reproduce it in one of his Caribbean cricket magazines, with a view to fanning the flames of discussion. It's Coze's enthusiasm and urgency which is missing from cricket administration when it comes to important issues," wrote Chappell.
Pulling off the World Test Championship will also bring a smile on the faces of Dalmiya and Doig in the great beyond. Cancer-stricken Doig passed away in 2011, in the same country where the ICC big guns are meeting. A few months before his death, he called his cancer, "another project I have to deal with." Doig was an eternal optimist and that's what the present-day world cricket administrators must be in their 'project.'
mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello. Send your feedback to email@example.com
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