Overs 1.1 - Relentless microscope on Test cricket
Even with the introduction of two fresh new faces in the form of a gritty Ireland outfit and the immensely talented yet raw Afghanistan, the future of Test cricket nonetheless remains in limbo. According to many superstars and luminaries of the game, including Indian superstar Virat Kohli, test cricket still remains the pinnacle and rightly so. However, for the traditional format to keep its head firmly above cricketing waters, it needs to start cleaning up its act and not sweep the issues under the carpet. Promotion for the longest form including viewership, preparation of good test wickets, and more opportunities for nations other than the Big 3 (India, England and Australia) should be at the forefront of their agenda.
In a recent interview with Alison Mitchell on BBC's Stumped, former Australian cricketer and possibly the greatest ever test spinner Shane Warne underlined that the governing body needs to do more to advocate and endorse Test cricket. Furthermore, he adds that in test cricket, the best more often win but no so in the shorter formats. Warne believes Test cricket can co-exist with twenty-twenty cricket, but the authorities need to be "promoting test cricket" more than what they currently are. Warne uses the analogy of a "nice roast" when describing Test cricket as compared to "fast-food" nature T20 cricket. Due to the increasing popularity of T20 cricket with the flourishing IPL, BBL, Caribbean and other leagues across the globe, the promotion of Test cricket has taken a back seat.
2019 will provide an interesting perspective with the introduction of the World Test Championship which has previously been cancelled, twice! The World Test Championship will provide an incentive for nations to get better and provide fans with the opportunity to get behind their nations, however, the challenge may be bigger than the International Cricket Council anticipates. Leading Indian journalist and commentator, Harsha Bhogle told Cricbuzz that the context of the championship is unclear and is dreading that this could be a reaction at the expense of T20 cricket. Bhogle believes that the governing body is like any other major influencer in society - one or two steps behind reality. He adds that the ICC should give the viewers what they want and not what the governing body wants whilst creating a platform for Test cricket.
Viewership is also another reason that Test match cricket is waning. Firstly, even though test match attendances at venues in founding nations England and Australia has improved, the crowds around the rest of the cricketing world leave a lot to be desired. This could be due to any number of reasons - ridiculous ticket prices, poor quality of cricket, the dominance of T20 cricket and many more. More importantly, the TV viewership, especially in India, the global powerhouse of the game, has decreased remarkably over the course of the last decade. Introduction of the Pro-Kabaddi league, the increasing popularity of the Indian Super League Football competition and the giant shadow of the IPL have cast an uncertain future for Test cricket.
Australia was once the pinnacle of sporting pitches with every wicket around the country being of a different nature. There was an even contest between bat and ball. Unfortunately, the current pitches are a shadow of its predecessors, so much so that the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground was rated poor by the ICC at the aftermath of the 2017 Boxing Day Test. Some of the great encounters in the recent past have been played out on pitches that have had something for both the bowlers and the batsmen. Ex-Australian captain, Ian Chappell wrote in an article for Cricinfo during the final test match between South Africa and India, that he is firmly of the opinion that the pitch preparation should be left entirely to the ground curators and staff.
"The good curators are like the best players. They take great pride in their work. The best ones I've spoken to all say a similar thing: "I want the pitch to provide opportunities for all players and a result late on the fifth day", Chappell said. England probably has the most balanced pitches, and the recent Test series against India was a testament to this. The argument that Test matches should be four days and not five is understandably amplified due to the poor state of the pitches dished up today.
In 2014, England, India and Australia were provided more authority and a larger share of the revenue. The Big Three had been established. But due to numerous shortcomings and ignominies of the Indian cricket board, the balance of power weakened, and the decision-making shared amongst the member nations. If Test cricket is to survive, all member nations need to be given equal opportunities and not just voting privileges. The Test championship, even if it provides other nations with opportunities, does not necessarily mean that the opportunities are equal. Providing countries such as Ireland and Afghanistan with more exposure suggests that the vision of expansion is there, however, these nations need to be provided more matches against the more experienced nations. Pakistan and NZ for example, only play 28 tests as compared to 37, 46 and 40 tests for India, England and Australia respectively. Afghanistan, Ireland and Zimbabwe play less than all their established counterparts. For cricket to be taken seriously in these nations, they need to be provided with equal opportunities.
As a traditionalist, I hope Test cricket resurrects itself from the Ashes (pun very much intended) and consolidates itself to be the premier brand of cricket. And for it to do so, changes need to be made. And it starts with how the game is run.