The future of Test cricket has generated as much interest as demonetization, lately. It does not need rocket science to understand why Test cricket is losing its charm, if not relevance. Although the emergence of Twenty20 cricket has occasionally shown its ancestral form in poor light, drawing much larger crowds to stadia, Test cricket has also failed to provide an experience as gripping, or competition as compelling, that can keep the fans engrossed. That said, a two-tier system could help Test cricket rediscover its rightful place.
While the introduction of day-night Tests is a great initiative, to attract newer audiences and rekindle the interest of the old fans, the idea is bound to lose sting if matches finish in less than three days, with one team so dominant that it compels people to question the international status of the said match. Yes, I’m talking about the recently concluded Test between England and West Indies at Birmingham.
Both the teams are scheduled to play a total of three Tests with England already gaining an emphatic lead in the series opener. Losing is an integral part of the game, but West Indies were so poor that it highlighted the bankruptcy of the minds of those who thought It prudent to organize such a mismatch. On a pitch where England amassed over 500 runs, West Indies lost 19 wickets in just one day’s play, indicative of the chasm between the two sides.
A similar script was written in another part of the world, where India whitewashed Sri Lanka in their own den. Saying that India meticulously controlled the three-match Test series would be an understatement as they conquered two games by an innings, and weren’t too far from doing it in the first Test either, only that Virat Kohli decided to give his bowlers a breather. Once again, there was lack of any competition, and the results were a foregone conclusion from the get-go.
People keep complaining how One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and T20 cricket are the cause of Test cricket’s demise, but the reality is that it is games like these that are killing the interest of the most devout fan of Test cricket. Teams are turning up for a traditional slaughter at the hands of three or four powerhouses, and while the format is more result oriented these days, it’s actually a reflection of how one-sided these games are getting. The most glaring concern is teams losing comprehensively at home.
It begs the question – what reason have these one-sided games provided to the fans to continue to be intrigued? That said, what could be the solution to produce more competition and excitement? A two-tier system in Test cricket could well be the way.
Consider this: India hosted three top teams last year, consequently this year, they are left to play six Tests against a struggling Sri Lanka. One doesn’t need to be a soothsayer to predict the results of the remaining three matches in India. If India could wreak havoc in Sri Lanka’s own den, imagine the kind of damage they will inflict on home soil.
On the flipside, the recently ended Test series between England and South Africa had a lot of intensity with the former emerging victorious in a deciding Test at Old Trafford, further suggesting how a battle between two strong sides can be a fascinating affair over five gripping days of cricket.
The debate over two-tier system in Test cricket has been going around. Michael Holding has also been in support of this for years now. After West Indies’ disheartening loss to England at Birmingham, Holding said, “What is the point of having a team outclassing another team like this? That has been on my mind since this Test series started – and I’ve been talking about it for years. What is the point of having a team outclassing another team like this? That has been on my mind since this Test series started – and I’ve been talking about it for years.”
With Afghanistan and Ireland being allotted the Test status, there are 12 Test nations on this planet. A possible solution is – divide the 12 into two groups. The top six side in one tier and the other six in another. Initially, teams will obviously be placed based on the current ICC Test rankings. Teams in both the tiers will lock horns with each other in a bid to either remain on top or climb the ladder, thereby also be rendering each Test match relevant.
All this should revolve around a Test Championship held every four years, for which two teams from the lower division will qualify to join all six teams from the upper division. Two teams from the elite division that finished on top leading into the Test Championship should be assured of a place in the top tier for the next four-year cycle, regardless of the result. Whereas, the two teams that finish at the bottom in the Championship should be relegated to the second tier, giving enough opportunity and incentive to all. A system like this will not only provide tougher competition but also inject the hunger to stay at the top.
Yes, there will be teething problems, like with any revolutionary change. The system will have holes to plug as we go along. Perhaps, the revenue models will require a relook by the International Cricket Council, to keep the member boards happy, and for such a system to be successfully implemented. Besides, regardless of the risks involved, it’s likely to leave Test cricket in a better place, rather than on a stretcher like it is today.