Rahul Dravid's earnest appeal to protect Test cricket missed out on one basic point: Five-day matches will survive only if they deliver quality, otherwise, regardless of noble sentiment and the extent of life support, there will be decline, even demise.
With changing social
habits, and a lifestyle that puts a premium on time, Test cricket must produce compelling, quality content for its consumers. When this happens, fans come out in support, tickets sell, television viewership is high and everyone is happy. If not, this form of cricket becomes unviable and irrelevant.
The India-England series earlier this season was hugely successful both in terms of box office (matches sold out months in advance) and critical acclaim (England played high quality cricket). But India versus West Indies was a dud because of the ordinary cricket on offer. And, frankly, with Chris Gayle absent who would you want to watch, let alone pay to watch?
Same is the case with a lot of Test cricket being played across the world. Among the 10 Test teams, genuine quality is scarce, what abounds is mediocrity. Clearly, there are two groups in the club of 10 --- the Elite comprising India, England, Australia and South Africa on one hand and the less attractive Plate section consisting of the other six.
Most cricket played by these six is unexciting and uninteresting, forcing fans to stay away. Pakistan (international cricket's nomads) have scored many self goals through a steady dose of scandals and controversies. Sri Lanka and New Zealand are not marquee teams by any stretch of imagination and about Zimbabwe & Bangladesh there are persistent doubts whether they are good enough to compete at the top level.
Judged by this measure of quality, even the upcoming India-Australia series faces a stiff challenge. Four years ago, both teams contained world-class players. Now, that has changed and neither side is at its best. Australia is in serious decline. More important, its aura as a dominating outfit has evaporated.
India, too, is beset with problems, as they have practically no bowling to speak of. Kumble and Harbhajan are not there and the fast bowlers, unfortunately, are in hospital, not in the dressing room.
Still, for the Indian cricket fan, the contest boils down to the fundamentals: Will the big four (Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, Sehwag) subdue the Aussie pace attack? Will Tendulkar score the elusive hundred?