West Indies took advantage of rain curtailing the Sabina Park Test with excellent fight back on the final day to salvage a draw against India. The effort is rightfully hailed, but can’t mask the plight of the once-mighty side in the longest format.
The hosts are 0-1 down and Virat Kohli-led India will still start favourites in the remaining two Tests as they push for a sumptuous third series win in a row in the Caribbean. The West Indies performance for now looks more like a one-off, so steep has their decline in Tests been.
Across the expanse of Atlantic, another team is in a worse situation. Zimbabwe suffered an innings defeat against the visiting New Zealand in the first Test, like what West Indies were dealt by India in the Antigua Test.
This raises the big question whether the time has come for the two teams to move on, ditch their Test credentials and simply focus on the lucrative limited-overs game.
The level of misery in both teams is pretty much the result of internal strife. In the West Indies, exodus of talent to athletics and basketball in the 1990s was compounded by ego clashes between leading players and an unbending cricket board. Chris Gayle leads the list as far as the administration-player feud goes, but Dwayne Bravo, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Denesh Ramdin and Darren Sammy have all had issues.
The vitiated atmosphere has led to players picking Twenty20 franchise leagues over Test cricket. The two World T20 titles in three years reflects where the players’ priority lies.
Zimbabwe too has seen an exodus of players since 2000 over issues with government policies that have influenced the board’s policies, leaving the leading players feeling suffocated. Former skipper Andy Flower’s protest against the ‘death of democracy’ during the 2003 World Cup highlighted the direction the team was headed in.
The International Cricket Council keeping Zimbabwe out of Tests in 2004-5 has not helped. At the 2015 World Cup, it was the turn of their best batsman Brendan Taylor to quit, signing off with a heroic century that almost toppled India, to move to England. Taylor, still only 30, plies his trade in England.
The cupboard is almost bare for both teams for Tests.
That puts the ICC’s efforts to introduce a two-tier system for Tests in perspective. The idea is to boost the declining format by introducing context and competition with promotion and relegation.
“Unless we can give some meaning to these series beyond the rankings and a trophy, then interest in Test cricket will continue to waver. The same applies if we allow uncompetitive Test cricket to take place too often,” ICC CEO Dave Richardson said after the annual conference in Edinburgh in July.
The move looks unlikely with the Board of Control for Cricket in India throwing its weight behind the likes of Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, who fear their lower ranking and relegation will be a financial disaster if they don’t get to play big sides --- India, Australia and England. For Bangladesh, it will also hurt their development.
The ICC plan is to have seven teams in the top tier and five in the second. That would result in Test status for Ireland and Afghanistan, both knocking on the doors after consistent showing in limited-overs cricket.
The West Indies board president Dave Cameron admitted poor turnout for the India Test series was due to the home team’s struggles.
Revamping and reducing the number of Test teams will provide compact contests. Introducing four-day games and playing day-night cricket regularly will improve attendance and ensure closer matches and an aggressive approach by teams.