In pampering the younger sibling, the International Cricket Council (ICC) appears to have forgotten that cricket’s oldest child – Test cricket – is ailing and in need of complete and urgent attention.
The recently concluded ICC board meeting at Dubai has given an ominous indication that Twenty Twenty leagues played across the world have left a minimum time to organise test series regularly between the countries.
There is no doubting about the popularity of T20 cricket. In domestic tournaments like Indian Premiere League (IPL) or Big Bash League (BBL), we are used to witnessing packed stadium. In a recent IPL match at the Eden Gardens, Kolkata, between the two heavy weights, Kolkata Knight Riders, and Royal Challengers Bangalore saw an over crowded stadium, the officials of the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) claimed that at least seventy thousand people watched the game while Eden has a capacity of 66 thousand. Everybody in the city was eager to see how the superheroes in cricket –Virat Kohli, Chris Gayle, and AB de Villiers handle the bowling attack of KKR. It’s good. But you can not go gaga over T-20 tournaments at the expense of Test cricket. It is fact that Test matches are not always played to packed houses anymore. But you can not promote only T-20 tournaments keeping only the monetary profit in mind.
But the indifference of the ICC has raised a valid question. Is the ICC pushing Test cricket towards a slow death instead of giving it the place it deserves?
Test matches are more exciting than ever, but no one’s watching. Even the legendary Michael Holding, in a recent interview, told, “They (International Cricket Council) need to do something about the most important form of the game, which is Test cricket.” The great West Indian pacer’s concerns are valid. If not addressed, they may turn grave.
When Virat Kohli led India outplayed West Indies in the Carribean soil last year, the matches were played out in front of near-empty stands. In fact, there were few genuine cricket-lovers in the stands to applaud the Indian cricketers.
Test cricket was serving up what it cooks best – interesting cricket. But no one got the memo. ICC never bothers to find out why is no one watching Test matches or how the longer version of the game can be promoted.
Test cricket has history on its side. It is the original form of the game. But the problem genuinely arises as the governing body itself has shown least interest to promote test matches.
Apart from Tests in India, Australia, and England, the longest form of the game is struggling to evoke much interest in the other countries. People have almost disowned Tests in the West Indies and Zimbabwe. There appears to be selective fervor in South Africa, Sri Lanka and New Zealand – depending on who the opponents are. Bangladesh do not host a lot of red-ball cricket. In case of Pakistan, their adopted home, the UAE, is clearly not a fan of the five-day game.
There have been attempts at introducing day-night Tests, but the concept is yet to be embraced whole-heartedly.
Reportedly, the ICC seems to be more interested in T-20 cricket. Domestic T20 leagues, in India, Australia, England, West Indies, South Africa and even in Bangladesh are becoming obstacles as cricket administrators try and find a way to make Test series work in a new international calendar. Some members, in the recently concluded board meeting at Dubai, have even raised questions about the relevance of the international test series.
The ICC’s focus is dissimilar. The health of Test cricket is not all it cares for. It is, apparently, also contemplating league structures for the T20s. If the administrators are so unable to leave room in the calendar for test matches to be meaningful, the supporters who wish to watch, and the broadcasters and sponsors who wish to bankroll, then there will be a damaging loss of interest by all concerned.
Because T-20 cricket is where the financial benefits are – TV rights, tickets, sponsorship, are all in greater demand than in Tests – it appears that the ICC wants to exploit it further.
The ICC general manager of cricket, Geoff Allardice, has suggested one remedy to resolve this conflict and that is to schedule fewer Test matches.
Chief executives of Full Member boards met last week in Dubai to discuss a Future Tours Programme (FTP) model they produced in March. The proposed FTP is the result of a scheduling summit that built on plans to introduce a 12-team Test league played over two years, and a 13-team ODI league played over three. Those plans were approved at ICC meetings in February. But ICC management has identified a number of issues with the calendar and has told Members that the schedule means the new structures will not be approved by the ICC Board.
The most debatable part is about T20 leagues and new ones such as the Pakistan Super League (PSL). The ICC is clearly seen in a dilemma. How to balance the need for a money-spinning T20 league with that of the demands of international cricket? Allardice, in his statement, wrote. “In particular, a 6-week block for the new CSA T20 league, and an 8-week block for the expanding PSL have made the scheduling of international competitions more difficult. These windows have been positioned at a time when the majority of Members are looking to host their international cricket during the October to March period.”
The members of different Cricket Boards fear that Five-match or four-match Test series may not work anymore. Maybe it’s coming to two-match Test series. Now, it’s up to ICC to decide whether to be submissive with the newborn sibling, i.e., T-20 cricket or to give it’s elder one, the Test cricket, a wider breathing space.