AB De Villiers’ retirement shows Test cricket is under threat from T20 leagues
Test cricket is often gripping, always superior and hugely compelling, but its length is its greatest enemy. That players, not just spectators, prefer white ball cricket is a game-changer.Updated: May 31, 2018 09:38 IST
Even as the debate rages between red and white ball cricket, the verdict is out; white ball cricket has trumped red and the writing, for all to see, is very much on the pitch.
Spectators, the key stakeholders, made this choice long ago, and the resounding success of IPL 2018 is confirmation of where they stand.
In a world with short attention span, time deficit and preference for living in the moment, holding someone’s interest for five days before (possibly) announcing a result is a big ask. Test cricket is often gripping, always superior and hugely compelling, but its length is its greatest enemy.
That players, not just spectators, prefer white is a game-changer. When Adil Rashid and Alex Hales refused red-ball contracts to remain free to compete in T20 leagues, it indicated how players rated cricket’s three formats.
Now, when AB de Villiers suddenly announced his retirement from all ‘international cricket’ alarm bells are ringing at the Wanderers, MCG and Lord’s, the ‘home’ of cricket.
Indictment of Test duration
ABD, a supreme athlete and creative genius with the bat, says he quit because he ran out of gas. It is not a direct rejection of red-ball cricket but an indirect indictment as it shows that Tests take too long and require too much effort and energy.
Test cricket needs stars like ABD but when they leave complaining of physical exhaustion, the game is pretty much up.
For players, T20 cricket is an easier, convenient and more practical option. It is physically less demanding, matches don’t last too long, there is time for the family – and the money isn’t bad.
If ABD signs up for the Big Bash, and returns for IPL, other top players could also move away from Test cricket.
As white scores over red, hopefully more will be done to restore the health of Test cricket. ICC’s prescription of life support is to announce a Test championship to give matches ‘context’, and encourage day/night cricket to attract a wider audience.
India key to concept
For this to happen, India’s buy-in is important, but its stand is uncertain, partly because of uncertainty whether there is a cricket body in control at present. Both moves – Test championship and pink-ball Tests – face a stiff challenge because neither makes economic sense for India.
India, true to its past record of stalling DRS and T20 cricket, is dragging its feet on day/night cricket, putting out conflicting voices to explain its position. First, coach Ravi Shastri came out in support then said the team wasn’t ready, which is perfectly understandable.
Meanwhile, there were bizarre statements about day/night cricket interfering with the ‘body clock’ of players, forgetting that IPL often ends around midnight!
Ultimately, it’s not about white, red or pink but cricket itself. Cricket is richer because of its three formats. Each has its strengths and deserves space.
Players, spectators and sponsors have embraced white and it is for the administrators to ensure cricket’s tradition, history, culture and core survives the commercial challenge. Cricket would be great with both –red and white!
(The views expressed here are personal)
First Published: May 31, 2018 09:03 IST