Mon | Dec 11, 2017

Tony Becca | Cricket moving on, at last

Published:Sunday | November 12, 2017 | 12:00 AM
West Indies' Kemar Roach (second right) celebrates taking the wicket of England's Dawid Malan on the second day of the third Test match between England and the West Indies at Lord's cricket ground last September.

The bosses of cricket have finally agreed to move the game into modern times, and regardless of all the fancy talk about moving the great game forward, that move is obviously a belated attempt to save Test cricket.

Years and years after it first saw the light of day, and a couple of years after the motion was aired, the International Cricket Council (ICC) has decided, finally, I hope, that come 2019, at the end of the next World Cup, there will be a Test Championship and an ODI League.

Simply put, the Test Championship will pit the top nine teams together. Each team will play six series in two years, three at home and three away. Each series will last for a minimum of two matches, points will be awarded, and the top two will play off for the championship.

The ODI League will see the 13 teams in 2020-21 playing eight series, each leading to the 2023 World Cup, and, thereafter, the winners of the World Cricket League Championship will replace the 13th team.

The details are still to be worked out, but the decision, taken in Auckland recently, seems to be binding, and the hope is that it is so.

It remains a hope for the simple reason that there have been many suggestions, including a two-tier system, over recent years.

Cricket, for too long, has been controlled by a special few, regardless of who has been the head of ICC. For too long, teams play other teams who they like to play or who it suits them to play; for too long, the business of the cricket has been administered like a family business; and for too long, the playing field has not been level.

India, for example, were allowed to do whatever they liked to do. For years, for example, they simply refused to use the DRS referral system. To them, it made no sense, until recently.

There are two kinds of people in this world, however: there are those who are big and appear a law on to themselves and those who are small, those who are rich, and those who are poor and the laws of nature tell us that those who are big will, or should, always win.

Sport, however, sometimes has a different take on that. Sport sometimes, like the story of David and Goliath, favours the underdog.

There are a few questions that need to be answered, however. Why nine teams for the Test Championship? Is there some magic in that number, or is it an attempt to protect one of the West Indies, Bangladesh, or Zimbabwe?

How will the points system be computed? With nine teams playing six series of two and up to five matches each, it seems that some teams will not play each other in the two-year span, and that will make the points system unfair, confusing, and will lead to problems.

In other competitions, the points system is fair, and the playing field is level. In league competitions, every team should play each other. That makes the points system fair and easy to understand.

 

PROMISE OF GLAMOUR

 

The good thing about the Test Championship, however, is that like every other international sport, it gives the cricket world something to look forward to and something to play for at the end of the day.

There is a promise of glamour and of excitement at the end.

In the old days, or the present days, Test cricket was played, or is played, from one year to another year, with England playing Australia, the West Indies playing India, and so on, with nothing like a climax at the end.

In the next three years, the teams will play with an eye on championship honours.

The ICC members have patted themselves on the back for what is, hopefully, a far-reaching move, and quite rightly so.

Back in the nineteenth century when cricket was first played, it was, like every sport, played for enjoyment and entertainment. As the years passed, however, it became an international contest, it became a measure of a country's progress, and for many, it became, apart from providing entertainment, an avenue to make money.

That is the breeding ground of the Test Championship.

With the T20 version of the game moving like wildfire, taking away some of the best players and threatening the existence of Test cricket, the ICC members, and others, have been trying to save Test cricket to make it more attractive so that it can survive.

In a bid to protect Test cricket, the version that they believe brings out the best of cricket, they thought about a two-tier Test system. They, however, and for whatever reason, decided against it.

 

ALL ABOUT ENTERTAINMENT

 

The T20 version, however, is all about entertainment and money, for the promoters and for the players, and as the players have repeatedly said, it may have been better to have found a "window" for all three versions of the game - for T20, ODI, and Test cricket - so that everybody could play everything, or what they want to play, or whichever can play.

The peculiarities of cricket, including the weather and the length of Test cricket, make it almost impossible to do, however.

Despite the much talked-about importance of Test cricket in the general scheme of things, in spite of its appeal to the purists and the satisfaction it gives to some, Test cricket is creaking along. Except for a few contests, it can hardly pay its way, and teams like the West Indies, New Zealand, and Zimbabwe are struggling to host Test matches.

In fact, most of the teams seem to be struggling to host any form of cricket, including, based on the evidence of its club cricket, its first-class tournament, and its last CPL tournament, the West Indies.

Although the T20 fad seems to be costing more than it is making, especially outside of India and now Australia, and although the players may be happier than the owners of the franchises, Test cricket is suffering, and the Test Championship may be just what the doctor ordered for its survival.