Thu | Dec 14, 2017

Tony Becca | Any hope for a Test Championship?

Published:Sunday | November 26, 2017 | 12:00 AM
England's cricket captain Joe Root (right) and his Australian counterpart Steven Smith, hold a replica Ashes trophy ahead of the start of the 5-Test series in Brisbane, Australia, Wednesday, November 22.

According to those who know, business, marketing or advertising is, most times, if not all the time, the key to success.

It is what sells, and it is what makes money. Money is what keeps one going, and to many people, having money, and plenty of it, is the real sign of success.

Recently, the ICC talked about staging a Test championship, and just recently, James Sutherland, the CEO of Australian cricket, said that Test cricket is plummeting, so much so that by the next 15 years, he doesn't know where it will be.

According to Sutherland, in India, as far as value is concerned, it takes five days of a Test match to equal three T20 matches, and only the Ashes series can be compared with the Indian Premier League.

And that is true right around the world. Making money, more than anything else, seems to be the order of the day.

When one considers the marketing and advertising, however, the notices of when matches will be played, who are playing and their stats, the giveaways, free shirts, caps, and banners, the music, flashing lights, and pretty dancing girls, nothing in cricket, in my over 60 years of association with the game, has ever been marketed or advertised as the IPL or any form of T20 cricket.

 

T20 CRICKET A BUSINESS

 

T20 cricket is a business, no doubt about that, and Test cricket is not. T20 cricket is basically for entertainment and for money, while Test cricket is simply an international competitive game.

T20 cricket is a coming together of some of the best cricketers that money can buy, while Test cricket is an international contest of one country's best against another country's best. On top of that, Test cricket is a stage on which the best of cricket is paraded.

Test and T20 cricket are, or should be, like golf and its long-ball challenge and its putting contests, or like football and its five-a-side contests.

T20 cricket should never be compared to Test cricket. It is like cheese to chalk as far as quality, if not money, is concerned.

Ask any cricketer and he will tell you, as FICA (the International Federation of Cricket Association) confirmed recently, that Test cricket is the challenge and the one to play, or the one he hopes one day to play.

Admittedly, he may also say, as AB de Villiers said recently, that he also loves T20 cricket because it is short, because he loves to play before a crowd, and because of the money.

While there is no doubt that T20 cricket and 50-over cricket, have enhanced the game, there is little doubt that had Test cricket got the attention of T20 cricket, it would still be number one today.

Despite its length, Test cricket's qualities, its greater skill, its drama, its excitement, and its twists and turns would all but guarantee that.

The International Cricket Council seems to support this view, and after talking and talking about how to save the Test match version of cricket, how to distribute the money from T20 cricket, and how it can make Test cricket more attractive, they have finally decided to act.

After talking about crowning a Test champion every two years, playing Test cricket in two divisions, and cutting Test matches to four days, the ICC has finally decided on a Test Championship.

Talk, however, is cheap. Money is the key to the whole thing. Test cricket, much to my regret, really seems to be dying, and it is being helped along to its grave by those interested in money alone, including, probably unknowingly, the ICC.

 

FIDDLED WITH TEST

 

The organisers have fiddled with the Test game to make it a bit more attractive to spectators. They have, for example, adjusted the wide deliveries in order to force bowlers to bowl more at the batsmen, and they have adjusted the boundaries to make it easier to reach them.

In the final analysis, however, the future of Test cricket will depend on the gates. People power will have its say, once it is marketed, or advertised, properly, or sufficiently.

Based on the ICC's behaviour some time ago when it went to Sri Lanka for the presentation of the original Test championship and its CEO, Dave Richardson, presented the Mace to Steve Smith, captain of Australia, during a private ceremony at the Earl's Regency Hotel in Kandy with no access to the public or the media, Test cricket may be really on its last hurrah.

"The Mace is a symbol of excellence and recognition of a side's outstanding achievement in the toughest form of the sport. Australia's winning performances have been exceptional and they thoroughly deserve to be awarded the Mace," said Richardson during the ceremony.

He also went on to say, "These are exciting times for Test cricket."

Yes, it was so exciting that the Mace, symbol of the Test Championship, was presented to the winners at a private function without members of the public and without the media.

Could this have happened to any other championship, to any other major championship - say the football World Cup, the rugby World Cup, Wimbledon tennis championship, the US Open tennis championship, the Masters golf championship, or even cricket's own World Cup or Twenty20 World Cup?

It is understood that the ICC's decision followed a request, a late request, by Sri Lanka to keep the function private and low key so as not to deflate their players before the Test series against Australia.

An ICC spokesman also said that "as this is a sponsor-related activity and unrelated to the forthcoming series (Sri Lanka and Australia), the ICC, in conjunction with the members and teams, decided to keep this presentation as a closed event".

The ICC must take the blame for that let-down. It hurt cricket, at least, Test cricket. The Mace has not been heard of since.

The ICC allowed, in its own words, one country to tell it, the so-called rulers of cricket, what to do, just as it has done for a long, long time now, including allowing India to do what they want to do, to play by their own rules anytime and anywhere, at home or abroad, and to allow the so-called "Big Three" - India, England, and Australia - to take over cricket, lock, stock, and barrel.

Thank God, that has come to an end!