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Hard times, but all's not lost

Test cricket is about to celebrate its ability to remain relevant with the two thousandth match being played at Lord's between England and India. Ian Chappell writes.

cricket Updated: Jul 19, 2011 22:44 IST
Ian Chappell
Ian Chappell
Hindustan Times

Test cricket is about to celebrate its ability to remain relevant with the two thousandth match being played at Lord's between England and India.

The commencement of a four-match series will feature all that's good about Test cricket; an even contest played between two good teams with many established stars and a few potential younger heroes.

It's series like these that make cricket fans proud of the past and confident of the future. But is confidence in Test cricket misplaced with the challenges posed by the T20 explosion and a fast changing lifestyle?

Strong leadership
Not if the game is afforded strong leadership. This is where major concerns abound. A lot of Test cricket's shortcomings are the result of shortsighted decisions. The premature upgrading of Bangladesh and retention of Zimbabwe has diminished the credibility of Test status. The sanctioning of a one-off match between Australia and the Rest of World in 2005-06 indicated an alarmingly casual approach to duty of care. The proliferation of rushed Test mini-series to accommodate short form games is a narrow vision that extends only to the bottom line of a spreadsheet.

The absence of any grand plan for all three forms of the game to move forward cohesively is a major concern. The game often has the appearance of a runaway train headed for disaster. Then, just when it appears Test cricket will crash and burn, the administration comes up with projects that indicate a more caring approach.

Pragmatic moves
Moves to play Test cricket at night and the introduction of a hard fought world championship have merit. The former only needs a suitable ball and the latter the right format.
However, the administrators need to go further and implement a two-tier competition.

The eight major nations should continue to play Test cricket, while Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and the stronger associate nations play a four-day competition that also includes the major A sides. That way credibility is restored and the credentials of potential Test nations can be evaluated properly.

The administrators may have to go even further. The West Indies has been poor for too long; Pakistan cricket can't be expected to thrive while the country is in turmoil and New Zealand is a marginal Test playing nation with a small pool of players.

Only four or five countries produce a surplus of Test standard players. The associate countries provide a few star players but not enough for a competitive Test team.

Broadening the base
Perhaps the longer version of the game could learn from the T20 version. By adopting a franchise style system that allows for the trading of players at the second-tier level, the longer game could be improved. The game has to find ways of increasing the number of Test quality players produced. In the process, it also needs to broaden the financial base of the game.

In the late fifties Test cricket was deemed to be dying. The tied Test between Australia and the West Indies in 1960-61 kick-started a revival and numerous other exciting series since have made those reports premature.

The England-India series will ensure the death calls are muted for a while longer. However, the game will only continue to prosper with strong and effective leadership from both players and administrators.

First Published: Jul 19, 2011 21:55 IST