In the wake of 100-ball cricket, need White Paper on how to save Tests
Ideas for saving Test cricket needs to come from those recently retired or playing currently because they are more in tune with trends in cricket, society and player psychology.cricket Updated: May 17, 2018 14:05 IST
I ran into John Wright, former New Zealand captain and India coach, at a get together in Mumbai recently and asked him what he thought of the 100-ball-a-side league mooted by the England Cricket Board, which has intrigued and confounded aficionados.
“The English were entering the T20 league universe and had to do something distinct to be in this race too!” said Wright wryly about the need to shorten an already seriously abridged format. But I also sensed a hint of helplessness in him at the way cricket is headed.
For latecomers to the unfolding 100-ball story, this is the ECB’s effort to play catch up with the IPL, Big Bash, Caribbean Premier League and sundry other T20 tournaments that have proliferated all over the world in the past decade.
The 100-ball format entails each side playing 15 overs, with the final over being of 10 balls. Not just that, an innovation being discussed is that for this 10-ball over the captain could use three bowlers if he so desires!
This is radical. While cricket has had eight-ball overs in the past, multiple bowlers being used – outside of injury in the course of an over – is unheard of. What’s the deal?
Indeed, why tinker with the T20 format when it has proved so successful? And where such experimentation will end is anybody’s guess. How far are we from a 10-overs-a-side league? Or just a ‘Super Over’, winner takes all slugfest?
A MASSIVE THREAT
The mind boggles and the heart sinks. This is not good news for lovers and and romantics of the five-day format. The primacy of Test cricket, which is what held up the sport for more than 125 years, has never been under greater threat.
ECB chairman Colin Graves, expounding the need for 100-ball cricket said last week, “the younger generation is just not attracted to cricket. In all the work, surveys and research we have done, they want something different...” The import of this can’t be lost on anybody.
Ironically, Graves’s statement came in the same week that Ireland played their first-ever Test, against Pakistan. And did a mighty good job of it too, winning hearts and admiration even if they failed to win the match.
Whether sunrise for Ireland cricket has come when the sun is setting on the five-day format is a cruel paradox that affects all Test countries, players and fans, not just the newbies. (Afghanistan, incidentally, play their first Test against India in mid-June).
So, can anything be done to salvage the situation?
Perhaps yes, if there is will power and concerted effort. While several players from different countries see T20 leagues as their future, a vast majority – and from the more influential Boards – still maintain that Test cricket is the apex of their careers.
NEED INDIA’S SUPPORT
But they need to do more to give this succour. While Virat Kohli opting for county experience to enhance his performance in Tests is laudable, I wish he would also use his clout to convince the BCCI why it is important for the future of the five-day format that India plays day-night Tests too.
There is dire need of leadership from the playing fraternity to save Test cricket. This needs to come from those recently retired or playing currently because they are more in tune with trends in cricket, society and player psychology.
At the HT-MintAsia Leadership Summit in Singapore last month I moderated a session with Sachin Tendulkar where he spoke of making Test cricket more interesting for spectators by having different balls from both ends, a la ODIs.
Whether this will work or something else is open to debate. But it could be a good starting point for a White Paper on how to save Test cricket, put together by the likes of, say, Tendulkar, Sangakarra, Ponting, Kohli, Williamson, Root etc.
A lost cause is only one given up without a fight!