January 05th 2024: International Cricket Council: The conventional form of the game – ‘Test Cricket’ – needs to be injected with some turbo-fuel to exist. The time has come for every Test-playing cricket country and especially the International Cricket Council (ICC) to see the signs on the wall. The commercial success of the limited-overs version of the game has put Test cricket into the back-burner, with a possibility of it going into extinction.
The T20 and the recently-introduced T10 and The Hundreds, all franchise-based cricket leagues around the world, are rapidly changing the very core and DNA of the game. With so many of them mushrooming to capture the popularity that has emerged with its success amongst cricket-loving fans and followers, the days to play the serious version of the sport have dwindled expeditiously.
The title of a book written on the history of Indian cricket by Richard Cashman comes to mind, “Patrons, Players and the Crowd”. The three most important ingredients in the success of any sport. The Limited-overs cricket has brought in favourable excitement from the crowd as well as the fans. The version is ideally suited to the fast-moving result-oriented world that we presently live in. The Patrons are the sponsors who have come into the cricket arena due to the millions of eyeballs that the shorter version has generated.
Rich franchise business owners and corporates through multi-media opportunities are finding innovative ways to capture the maximum advantage that this cricket boom has created. The most important ingredient is the players. The financial gains that have emerged for the cricketers have finally brought about serious value and richness into their lives.
Cricket for them has a new meaning whereby one could, if relatively successful, give them financial security for their old age and years to come. Cricket, therefore, for each one of them has become a career to pursue and not one that lived on mere passion in the days gone by. This is what Test cricket will need to compete against to survive.
The game plan to make that happen is pretty difficult. However, it needs a huge effort to do so. The cricket administrators have a tough task ahead of them. Although the ICC has introduced the ‘World Test Championship’, it has still not brought the element of being a champion. The reason is that the Championship does not involve all the Test-playing sides playing against each other. The two-year cycle to complete the tournament does not give leeway and time for this to happen.
The ICC needs to rework their model and bring about a change that brings seriousness and importance to a very good initiative that they have undertaken to revive Test cricket.
A good example of how much importance is given to being the champion of Test cricket was in the behavior and reaction that emerged from the Indian cricket captain, Rohit Sharma, and the players. The team lost the World Test Championship to Australia and then the ODI World Cup’23 to them as well. The loss in the former tournament was taken without a major worry or concern.
However, the failure to win the latter had Rohit Sharma and some of his players in a state of depression and despair. They felt they had let their nation down by not winning the cup, a concern that they never showcased after their defeat in the World Test Championship. Indian cricket celebrates the World Cup victories of 1983 and 2011. However, milestones of some of the phenomenal performances of individuals and teams series wins, are just pages lost in Indian cricket history.
One way in which to differentiate as well as incentivise to play Test cricket could be to recognise only Test players as international cricketers. The T20 and the ODIs are making International cricketers look like a fast-producing manufacturing outfit. This has just diffused the status of a Test cricketer and the importance of playing it. The Test cap needs to have the supreme value to make it into something that one strives for. South Africa has been at the centre of criticism recently for selecting a side of several uncapped players to tour New Zealand for their two-match Test series. The reason is that their senior and established players are involved with the T20 SA league and the Indian IPL. This truly reflects how serious the South African Board is, as regards the World Test Championship!
India playing a two-match Test series against South Africa was also a cause for concern. With India winning the second Test match, in a game that ended in less than two days, is most concerning for the health of Test cricket. A three-match series would at least have given one of the sides a chance to be the winner. A drawn series is just what can cause the downfall of interest in the minds of the cricket-loving followers.
Several past legends of the game are now airing their views and concerns about the existence of Test cricket. The game will die if a lackadaisical attitude is taken by the cricket boards around the world. Turbo-fuel needs to be injected in to bring Test cricket to life once again or else we will keep seeing Test matches finishing in less than 2 days. After all one needs patience, skill and technique in abundance to play Test cricket successfully and not by playing 360-degree shots around the ground.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former India cricketer. The views expressed are personal)