Daniel Brettig at ESPNcricinfo recently wrote that the International Cricket Council will meet soon to consider a two-tier Test Championship.
The concept could include promotion and relegation and facilitate the introduction of Ireland and Afghanistan. On the provision they can compete the inclusion of new nations is positive, but the two-tier system could starve 2nd tier sides of lucrative series against the big guns.
There’s a lot of detail to consider. Underpinning those considerations is the pseudo format-conflict dividing Cricket. The rise of T20 has been astronomical, but it threatens the game’s future.
The Romance of Test Cricket
To me, watching a good Test Match is to consume a great novel. There’s depth in the plot and thick, unpredictable layers of sub-text. Parallel stories feature an incredible range of characters. Villains and heroes challenge prevailing ideas and philosophies. Some thrust themselves into the fray during the initial chapters. Others develop with more complexity as the days pass. Eventually they crash through the story, drastically altering events.
Some of these novels emerge from the pack as classics. Great Test Matches create memorable series, which become an historiography of the world’s most captivating sport. They remind us of great players who, as protagonists, shape remarkable stories.
Test cricket is psychological warfare. It is made of up infinite battles pitted through the expression of tactical deployments, field placings and bowling plans. Human abilities clash with environmental conditions. The pitch changes and players work frantically to manipulate the behaviour of the ball. This occurs right around the world in some of the most challenging and diverse locations. South Africa and India. The Caribbean islands and the north-east coast of South America. Australia, New Zealand, England, the Middle-East and Pakistan, and on an island in the India Ocean. Contrast this beautiful complexity with the “other cricket”.
The Limitations of T20
T20 can be compared to flicking through a shallow, commercially confronting low-brow magazine. The pitches are all the same. The role of unique environment is diminished. We drown in multiple editions from the sub-continent to Australia and the format is increasingly predictable. Ramp shots, reverse sweeps and unbridled slogging.
Look! There’s fireworks and endless saturation advertising, again. See enough of this and you feel as if you’re thumbing through the same old cartoons and hearing bad dad-like jokes again.
Don’t get me wrong. Clearly T20 is here to stay and it has a big role to play in cricket’s future, but if Cricket isn’t careful they’ll kill the golden goose. Cricket cannot be shortened, tarted up and trotted out to dance in front of commercial interests any more than it already has. Cricket must be careful not to overplay the T20 card, especially at the expense of Test Match cricket.
The Future of Cricket
There is opportunity for Cricket to reassert the spectacle of Tests. The format has existed for over 120 years. It has adapted, but not enough. It must evolve further, but is starved of quality attentive administration. A reassessment of priorities and fresh strategic posture is needed.
One critical problem is that cricket’s fringe dwellers – the not-so-committed fans and new fans attracted by the saturation advertising attached to T20 – have wholeheartedly bought into the implication of cricket’s current global message: Tests are boring, uneventful manifestations of an era gone-by.
The ICC must discover some teeth inside its mouth. It must bite back at some of the selfish commercial pressures and debunk myths. It should initiate an holistic strategy to assist the masses to understand and appreciate the complexity of Test Match through progressive administration and radical marketing. So it can take precedence in schedules and rise again as the greatest game of all.