Gayle not surprised by lack of interest in Tests
Chris Gayle may not have been preparing to dance on the grave of Test cricket, as was the case in England earlier this year, but neither was he moved to defend it. Speaking on the eve of the first Test against Australia - a match that is expected to draw a relatively meagre 40,000 spectators over the five days - Gayle said the recent decline in attendance figures showed many supporters concurred with his infamous assertion that he "wouldn't be so sad" if Test cricket were to perish.
"If you look at what's happening now, it's no secret," Gayle said. "At the same time we're always going to be committed to whatever cricket we play. I can't say 'Test cricket is going to die' and it just happens like that. It's just how things have been progressing the last couple of months. Spectators haven't turned out. They're more drawn to the coloured clothing at this point in time."
Concern for cricket's traditional format is widespread, with dead pitches, an uneven distribution of playing talent and an increasingly time-poor society eroding the five-day game's supporter base. At present, India and Sri Lanka are contesting another batsman-dominated match in Kanpur (an alarming 2,306 runs have been scored over the first seven days of the series at a cost of 72.06 per wicket), Pakistan are conducting a "home" series to low turn-outs in New Zealand and Australia are preparing to play a West Indian side ranked 17-1 outsiders by local bookmakers.
Administrators hope a Test championship model from 2012 will help affix more context and meaning to the game, but with just 7% of recently surveyed Indian supporters counting the five-day game as their favourite format, Gayle is looking more prophet than profit-driven by the day.
His Australian counterpart, Ricky Ponting, spoke more sentimentally about the issues confronting Test cricket this week, and repeated his call for the world's groundsmen to prepare more sporting wickets to rekindle interest in the game. "Test cricket, when it was at its most exciting, was all about three or four fast bowlers and lots of bouncers being bowled and lots of hook shots being played," Ponting said.
"The hostility between bat and ball, I think, was the most attractive thing. Now a lot of wickets around the world are very, very similar. Scoring rates are very high, probably too high, and there's not that real tough contest between fast bowler and batsman."
Ineffective regional governance, and a general failure to adapt to the challenges posed by lucrative domestic Twenty20 leagues, are among the many issues facing Test teams at present, not least the West Indians. A damaging and protracted industrial dispute resulted in a third-string XI turning out for a home Test series against Bangaldesh in July, while Fidel Edwards, the Caribbean's most feared fast bowler, was ruled out of the tour of Australia after ignoring his board's medical advice and re-injuring himself at the Champions League Twenty20 tournament. His contract has been withheld by the WICB.
The Gabba Test will mark the first time Gayle has represented West Indies since the home limited-overs series against India in July, having missed the disastrous Bangladesh campaign and the ensuing Champions Trophy due to strike action. He will lead the Windies onto the Gabba on Thursday barely 24 hours after stepping off a flight from Jamaica - the second time this year he has arrived for a series on Test eve - but holds out hope that the tour of Australia will go some way towards mending relations within West Indies cricket.
"This is a situation that we look at as a rebuild," he said. "We're trying to get back together. A lot has happned the last couple of months. We're trying to put our best foot forward, go out as one unit and try to put the past behind us. We'll give Australia a good fight."
Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo