If there’s still a desire to spread the reach of the traditional form of the game, some thought could be given to eventually including teams composed of players who represent non-Test status teams
Australia skipper Pat Cummins and teammates celebrate the fall of Dean Elgar’s wicket on Day Five of the third Test against South Africa at the Sydney Cricket Ground on January 8. Pic/Getty Images
There are two big questions that appear to be overlooked by those in charge: How many teams should be playing Tests? And why aren’t administrators working with the players in a partnership to ensure the future of the game?
Test cricket is a tough but rewarding game and players deserve the opportunity to participate in the format if that is their choice. However, Tests are also steeped in culture and that requires the countries involved to have a strong first-class infrastructure. Not many teams have or can afford to build such infrastructure, as it costs money rather than bringing a return on investment. T20 leagues, which produce a healthy return, are much more acceptable to administrators.
If there is still a desire to spread Test cricket’s reach, some thought could be given to eventually including combination teams composed of interested players who represent non-Test status teams.
Teams should still have to fulfil infrastructure and financial requirements to qualify for Test status. This would require a second-tier competition, where teams that perform well could state their case for Test status qualification.
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The whole cricket structure, especially the schedule, is in need of a thorough but positive inquisition with the game’s future in view.
There is also the glaring matter of the lack of partnership between players and administrators. Surely it shouldn’t be—as it is currently—a matter of the administrators deciding the programme without any input from international players. If the international programme evolved as a result of consideration from such a partnership, then it would be much more palatable than the abomination that is the current schedule. T20 leagues are popping up faster than weeds in summer and an already implausible programme is headed for an almighty implosion.
T20 leagues now clash with each other and star players are signing longer-term contracts with expanding IPL clubs. These contradictions mean there will be a growing problem of how to produce greater numbers of marketable cricketers. In the current environment some leagues won’t be able to sign the limited number of star players available and this could eventually damage the ability to remain financially viable.
These are all matters that need urgent attention but the big one is to ensure the players have a voice in the game’s future.
Last year, as the Test season recommenced, the format’s two longest-serving teams promoted the game in entirely different ways. In Perth against the West Indies, the Australian team indulged in the time-worn practice of grinding the opposition down with relentless run-scoring. Meanwhile in Rawalpindi, England sprinted to a mind-bending 506 on the first day of a record-setting run rampage against Pakistan.
This variety of effort came at a time when Test cricket—under siege by popular infatuation with T20—needs all the help it can muster. The fact that England’s record first-day Test score passed the previous one created by Australia in 1910 should dampen the enthusiasm of those who think helter-skelter run-getting is a recent phenomenon.
As England captain, Ben Stokes has done much to not only markedly lift his team’s performance but also raise the profile of Test cricket. Stokes has decreed that England players bat freely, but he also has fans anticipating something akin to a T20 run rate in the five-day format. This massive change of approach has come at a time when Test cricket, like the 50-over game, is suffering at the hands of the junior format. Despite Stokes’s highly commendable approach, the game still requires answers to some difficult queries.
It’s great that Stokes and the England team have raised the Test-match bar at a time when the game requires extensive promotion. However, alongside their sterling efforts, we also require the strong input of a quality partnership between the players and administrators.
Ian Chappell, a former Australia captain, remains one of the leading voices in the game.
Clayton Murzello’s Pavilion End will be back next week
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