“When the BCCI cancelling the Tests against New Zealand in 2019 due to commercial constraints, one is forced to wonder at the future of cricket and the format that is dying a slow death”
Test cricket, for ages, has been regarded as the sternest test that a cricketer could undergo. With inane temperament, with skills that should withstand all conditions and with an unerring dedication, a player has to emerge through all the obstacles that are thrown his way. But while matches played at home offer the home side breathing space, Tests held overseas wring out the team’s patience levels furthermore.
As a result, Test cricket in the current era is following a defined pattern – teams traditionally have started doing well when they play in familiar by-lanes, while the win ratio of teams winning while touring are drastically reducing. In the last ten years, 403 away Test matches have been played by 11 sides (Ireland played their maiden Test at home, and hence are not included in the list), with only 110 away wins being scripted. Australia, with 20 overseas wins in 54 Tests lead the pack, while nations like Sri Lanka and New Zealand registering just 9 and 8 away wins in the interim, respectively.
Hence, to see a Kiwi side that has traditionally struggled abroad rise up and overthrow Pakistan in their own den was not only much-needed but also pleasing from a cricketing angle, where the importance of grooming players that can excel in all conditions came to the fore.
But what was even more pleasing was that a side, who were playing for the first time in six months took to the conditions in UAE like a duck takes to water, holding their nerve and scripting a shock win over a side that is prone to collapses more than any other. Hilariously called the “ghost Test team” for playing just four Tests from March 2017 to October 2018, the Kiwis ensured that the rustiness that could have crept in were swept away as they notched up a close 4-run victory over their rivals.
But is the alarmingly low rate of Tests that the team has played a signal of the things to come? As the Kiwi outfit took the field for 13 ODIs and 10 T20Is in this interim, one could sense how the pendulum is shifting towards the shorter formats, as both cricketers and administrators prefer the relaxed atmosphere that a limited overs game offers. Finance too plays a big role in the dwindling numbers of home Test matches.
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Most Boards make a net loss of over USD 500,000 per game, which is alarming, especially given the fact that apart from Australia, England and India, no country rakes in the big moolah. New Zealand Cricket gets an annual revenue of 35 million USD per year, which is almost eight times less than what Cricket Australia receives. This disparity hence makes it inevitable that New Zealand will shy away from hosting more five-day games.
The inception of the World Test Championship will further lead to a decrease in the number of Tests being played. Under the format, a series will have at least two Tests, with a maximum of 5 Test matches (like the Ashes). The nine Teams who will qualify for the Championship will play only six opponents in a span of 24 months – three series at home and three away. Hence, this will leave most teams with just six to eight Tests in a year, though of course, they can host games outside the Championship.
When the BCCI cancelling the Tests against New Zealand in 2019 due to commercial constraints, one is forced to wonder at the future of cricket and the format that is dying a slow death. With the T20 clubs springing up in almost every nation, and with broadcasters too chasing these leagues along with the players, Test cricket is barely surviving. Though Test matches this year have been competitive and have provided edge-of-the-seat thrillers, fans hardly flock the stadium unless the game is poised for an exciting finish. With the late introduction of T20Is, new supporters of the game have built their experiences around the shorter formats, which will then make it tougher to focus their attention on the other formats.
Hence, New Zealand’s lack of exposure to the format – which threatens to wipe out the quality of cricket they play in the next few years – is just a worrying sign of things that might arise, where teams do not totally avoid Tests but reduce their participation in them.