The true threat to test cricket is inequality
Russell Degnan

You could be forgiven for thinking the ICC banned test cricket, such has been the outrage at the demise of the proposed 2013 test championship. Lined up against the ICC are current and former English players, numerous columnists, and spammers masquerading as saviours.

Gideon Haigh was late to comment, is typically well argued, but veers too quickly into malice. The demise of the championship is regrettable, perhaps, but it didn't deserve this eulogy:

"It [the test championship] was welcomed as a much-needed innovation: a chance to contextualise the game's most skilful and historic format, and enrich it with a finale worth the name."

A format of the game that's charm rests heavily on playing long series of games under different conditions wasn't being blessed with a finale of three games on probable neutral territory. Rather, it threatened to be laboured with another unloved initiative that noone would take seriously as being decisive, and would make a mockery of the title of world champion.

Haigh is equally quick to make accusations of hypocrisy at the ICC members who voted with their wallets, while apparently piously supporting the longer form. While representatives of the full members did speak out in favour of test cricket, both his cited examples were from the major test nations - India and South Africa. Not surprisingly, two of the boards likely to get a berth in the test championship. And, likewise, two boards less constrained by financial difficulties.

When the test championship format was first proposed by Martin Crowe it was intended to have eight teams, playing an extra round. That was too much for the ICC, taking, as it would, more than a month, so the 5th through 8th teams were cut. Their upside to supporting the test championship: none. In fact, of the thirteen members of the ICC executive, three are completely excluded from test cricket, but (at least by its original intention) the main financial beneficiaries of the Champions Trophy, four had no chance of qualifying for the final, and two (financially, particularly weak members) would have considered themselves a poor chance at best.

The proposed test championship mirrored perfectly test cricket itself: exclusive to the detriment of its weaker members, and in a feat of the greatest irony, providing context for the four members who actually need none in their match-ups. Good riddance, to be frank.

Test cricket might be threatened, but to the extent it is, it is not T20 doing the threatening, but the actions of the members apparently most supportive of the form. Sportsmen are driven by status. They want to be paid what they feel they deserve, given the pay of comparable players. In a world where financially weak members can't match what the market offers for their best players, but the financially successful boards can shower riches on second rate cricketers, it is a grave injustice not to let cricketers from poor countries achieve better pay. But there is a second aspect to status seeking, and that is to perform on the highest stage, to draw plaudits from the public and fellow players, to be compared favourably with greats from past and present. Test cricket remains the avenue by which that status must be achieved. But access to it is being steadily eroded, and that, more than anything, hurts test cricket.

Cricket is slowly globalising, the game spreading gradually, with as many players outside the test nations now as play in any individual non-subcontinental nation. Greats players of the future will increasingly emerge from outside test cricket's current boundaries, and they'll continue to be produced in the smaller test nations - even though, by and large, the biggest, strongest teams will remain what they are now: India, England, Australia and South Africa.

Yet, in the very near future, it will be T20 with the largest, most inclusive world championship, T20 that offers the highest pay, and the best opportunities for professional advancement. Unless it quickly changes, test cricket will offer no, or only a small world championship, will continue to be barred to the vast minority of playing nations, will continue to offer to its weaker full members short series seen as warmups at best, and inconveniences to be avoided at worst. If test cricket is to be the pinnacle of the sport it must be the pinnacle of achievement for all its players, not only those in England, Australia and India. And test cricket is not; it was, perhaps 20 years ago, but it is not now.

There is a widely held belief that test cricket might, soon, be reduced only to "those teams that care for it", meaning those same three, if not those two. This is true, but back to front, test cricket is slowly being eroded back to those three teams, in the pursuit of profit that only playing your fellow rich nations can bring. When there are at least a dozen nations worth of cricketers who would saw off their right arm to play test cricket in the sort of tournament I outlined here, that is not the inevitable result of change, it is wilful destruction.

Cricket - Articles 31st October, 2011 23:47:21   [#] 


The true threat to test cricket is inequality
I don't see much hope for a genuine wide-ranging test championship as you proposed on the other page. It would take revolutionary change in how the ICC executive is set up to give it any hope. The Aussies and the Indians are in cahoots to play each other as often as possible for obvious reasons and the devil take the hindmost. What can be done?
Lolly  6th November, 2011 07:44:44  

The true threat to test cricket is inequality
Lolly, I suspect you are right, though I am not without hope. I suspect the comments of the English FA prior to the 1938 World Cup are relevant here:

"the national associations of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland have quite enough to do in their own International Championship which seems to me a far better World Championship than the one to be staged in Rome"

Which was right, but they were on the wrong side of progress, and the world cup succeeded despite them. For nations outside the big-3 playing a lot of low-rent test series with no context is unsustainable, they can't compete with successful domestic T20 leagues if it comes to that (and I suspect it is and will). Hence, my hope is that the teams below will get together and try and make something of test cricket, even if the big-3 opt out for the first few editions for financial greed.
Russ  13th November, 2011 16:11:50  

The true threat to test cricket is inequality
Really good read again Russ.
Ben Stinga  9th December, 2011 11:10:36