Saturday, April 13, 2024

Test cricket at the crossroad


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I want to?believe, reluctantly, that Test cricket as we know it is on its last legs.
How else could you explain England, of all teams, coming to the West Indies next year only to play the shorter versions of the game?
Many moons ago, this would have been unimaginable.
We would have been preparing to welcome the lions and their droves of supporters affectionately known as the Barmy Army, for nothing less than a five-match Test series and a 50-overs contest.
In more recent times, we have seen Tests reduced to three and equal attention being paid to 50 overs and Twenty20 battles.
I understood that to mean that the International Cricket Council (ICC) did its marketing research and concluded that this model would be ideal in its attempt to make cricket a more global attraction, along the lines of football.
Of course, it will take some time to have the same appeal as football but the signs are there to prove that the shorter versions of the sport, particularly T20, have brought greater interest to cricket internationally.
The logical reason for this is that it is more spectator friendly in those formats than Tests, which with its structure means you can play for five days and still not have an outright winner. T20, for instance, produces a winner in three hours. That’s what the average, contemporary spectator cares about.
A lot of the purists don’t believe in this form of the game but it is serving a purpose as far as spreading the gospel of cricket to wider borders, hoping to turn non-believers into converts and perhaps, more important, capture a greater share of the television market which generates billions of dollars mainly through broadcast rights.
More money means that the ICC can give its affiliates a bigger slice of the pie to help develop their programmes and also to help improve the state of play among associates.
Truth be told, there was never more hype generated around cricket until Kerry Packer introduced some razzmatazz in the mid-1970s and Allen Stanford did the same with T20 cricket.
Both are pioneers in their own right but ironically their flamboyant approach may have inadvertently led to disinterest in the longest form of the game. The shift may have been incremental in earlier times but the winds of change have now gathered pace at lightning Bolt speed.
There seems to be no turning back. All lights are on green.
Another truism too, is that there has been a steady decline in the standard of Test cricket generally and if we are honest, only the Ashes continues to grab the attention of partisan and non-partisan followers.
Because of politics, there might still be some spice in an India/Pakistan series but by and large there’s nothing more to it than that these days.
West Indies and England fought pitched battles along the lines of former colonial masters versus subjects who were determined to turn the tables as a way of paying back for injustices done to their ancestors.
The teams led by Clive Lloyd and Sir Viv Richards were arguably the ones who played with that as their mission statement and mantra better than other West Indian units before or since.
The sight of Sir Viv wearing his red, green and gold wrist band served as a pertinent reminder of his Pan Africanist stance and was a symbol of how he felt playing against the so-called Mother country. His beliefs appeared to rub off on his colleagues as we witnessed in the Fire In Babylon documentary which chronicled West Indies cricket at its peak.
I don’t think this generation of West Indies players has the same motivation or the same philosophical moorings to remind them that duels fought in the middle against England are much more than just cricket.
Plus, several teams had stopped taking West Indies seriously until the recent renaissance after our acute and incredible decline from the mid-1990s.
Still, we must remember that the last time West Indies hosted England in Tests we won 1-0 under the leadership of Chris Gayle and a three-match Test series is on the cards for 2015.
West Indies Cricket Board’s cricket operations manager, Roland Holder, has started with a plausible public relations campaign for next year’s limited overs series but in it all, I sense an attempt to gloss over the inevitable question: why not a single Test?
Some might suggest that it’s because of the tight, hectic schedule most internationals teams have and the bind or inflexibility of the ICC’s Future Tours component or that it makes better business sense to structure the tour the way it has been.
All the same, whatever reason is forthcoming, the future of Test cricket looks bleak all over the world.
? Andi Thornhill is an experienced, award-winning freelance sports journalist.


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