Test cricket needs a four-year, not two-year, championship with no final, and with all 12 teams participating
Back in the late 1980s there was a debate whether Test cricket was dying and One-day cricket was the way forward. Three decades later it continues to survive. So whither Test cricket? The traditional Ashes series between England and Australia continue to draw crowds at the grounds. In other countries, especially India, spectators are seen at the stadiums when there is a good contest.
Obviously, times have changed. Earlier there were less forms of entertainment, there was no live telecast, and a Test match came to one’s city once every year or two. So people thronged at the venues. Crowds may now have thinned at the grounds but there are still millions watching on television. And the nature of Test cricket is such that it allows companies to advertise liberally at reasonable rates. The problem, really, is apathy of the administrators, and lack of proper marketing of Test cricket.
After dragging its feet for decades, the International Cricket Council (ICC) put together a ranking system. Clearly, this concept of rolling championship never worked. I never thought it would. Who cares whether Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal is no. 1 in tennis at a particular time. But everyone wants to know who won Wimbledon, US Open, French Open, Australian Open….. and everyone wants to watch these tournaments.
Test cricket needs a long duration championship. A triangular tournament between England, Australia and South Africa was tried more than a century ago in 1912, and it was not a success. More recently in the 1990s an Asian championship was attempted but made no headway. I am convinced that Test cricket needs four-year championships between two One-day World Cup tournaments, not two-year ones as scheduled by the ICC now.
Like many other sports, a four-year Test championship would be just right
In this way we will have a champion Test team at the end of four years. Why, isn’t there a champion One-day team every four years? Isn’t a soccer World Cup held every four years? Aren’t the Olympics held every four years? Why should a long game like Test cricket be confined to two years? The logic of the ICC confounds me. A saying in Hindi goes thus: “der aaye durust aaye” (they came late but arrived in fine fettle). Here ICC came very late but not in good shape at all.
When there are twelve Test-playing nations, why are only nine participating in the Test championship? And why are these nine teams playing three series at home and three series away in this two-year period? If we have all twelve teams participating in a four-year championship, they can easily play each other at least once, and with some twice – home and away – in this time, as in the case of The Ashes. The series can be of two, three, four or five Tests, as decided mutually by the respective boards.
There is no need for a final either. How can ONE Test match decide the fate of such a prestigious championship played over years? It should be a league in which the team topping the table would be world champions. ICC might think that a final would add value and interest to the championship, but that is as thoughtless and short-sighted as the number of boundaries deciding the One-day World Cup champions. They might end up ruing their decision sooner than later.
The points system was creating unnecessary confusion earlier. Now it is a more sensible system, easy to understand with 12 points for a win, 4 for a draw and 6 for a tie. Percentages decide the leader-board, that is, points earned divided by the points contested, multiplied by 100. That is simple and fair enough.
Test cricket will not just disappear. It is our heritage, a way of life. More books have been written on Test cricket, than on all other sports combined. It has more stories, tales and legends, as also intricacies, than any other sport. It has evolved steadily over the last nearly a-century-and-a-half to what it is now. How we preserve it is up to us. In my view, ICC should immediately re-think the World Test Championship it has devised and take corrective action right away.
(Updated on 23rd June 2022).