The problem of an expanded competition
Russell Degnan

While the wreckage of Zimbabwe's two day thrashing at the hands of South Africa is still being cleared, the predictable calls for them to be thrown out of Test cricket have returned. What I don't dispute is that for Zimbabwe - and for Bangladesh who are not appreciably better - repeated canings are unproductive.

The question is: unproductive for what?

For getting the players up to "an acceptable Test standard", certainly. But for the development of cricket in general. Not necessarily. If a judgement on standards is made on each team it will seriously curtail the ability of teams to progress up the rankings when they do have the talent. First you must prove yourself, then you may test yourself.

The problem is that Zimbabwe has a limited first class tructure and player base. They are the first of many nations that will concievably always be mediocre at best and downright terrible at worst - the way Wales or Scotland is in football. If the franchise is to be expanded, and embarrassing mistmatches to be avoided the structure of Test cricket needs to be reformed.

The round robin format is unsustainable. No amount of development money can get around the fact that some teams will never be great, and will often be uncompetitive, except for those brief golden periods when a handful of great players arrive on the scene. In addition, too many tests put too much pressure on players, at the expense of first-class cricket. No further test teams could be added to the current timetable, and if development is successful, that is what must happen.

To replace it, one of two systems needs to be introduced, either:

A tiered system where only the top 8 or 9 teams play each other, and the worst is periodically relegated.

Or, my preference:

Introduce a four-year tournament system based on tiers with relegation ala the Davis Cup. And devote the other years to traditional, tour-based cricket, and regional play.

The advantage of the second is that we don't lose, for example, the Trans-Tasman rivalry, if New Zealand was to again decline markedly and be relegated. As Rob noted in an earlier post, cricket in the weaker nations can't afford - financially - to lose its status. But nor can cricket afford that mismatch played out over the weekend. It is time the structure was reassessed.

Cricket - Articles 8th March, 2005 01:04:23   [#] [0 comments]