Test cricket April 25, 2012

An idea whose time may come?

I wouldn't mind seeing games of five-day cricket between two teams whose selections were not limited by national boundaries

Yesterday, like many other sports fans, I tuned in to watch Barcelona take on Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League. (Thanks to my work schedule, I watched the game on replay, studiously avoiding reading the scores; this meant staying off my Twitter feed!) As I watched the game, I was reminded yet again of, how, despite being an unabashed fan of nation-based Test cricket, I wouldn't mind seeing games of five-day cricket between two teams whose selections were not limited by national boundaries.

World XI squads are not just a parlor game exercise, of course. Many of them have actually taken the field: in World Series Cricket, the 1971-72 Australia versus World XI encounters, the 1987 MCC versus World XI game at Lord's, and of course the ICC-organized Super Series Test in 2005/2006. (This last 'Test' continues to rankle statisticians by its official status.) The 1971-72 series produced some great individual performances - most notably the 254 by Garfield Sobers that Don Bradman reckoned among the best he had ever seen, and an incredible 8-29 by Dennis Lillee; World Series Cricket also produced some very high-quality cricket, though it is not clear how much of this was produced by the World XI as opposed to the 'national' teams playing. The ICC Super Series Test, unfortunately, was universally derided as a dud.

What seems clear from these experiments is that World XIs brought together for one-off, 'exhibition' encounters tend not to do so well (with some notable exceptions of course). But a multinational outfit given some time to gell could start developing those intangible qualities that ensure the success of a group of individuals. And thus far, the pattern in world cricket has been to pit Nation versus World XI as opposed to Multinational Outfit #1 versus Multinational Outfit #2. Perhaps a series of these encounters could produce some high-quality five-day cricket that would pit the world's best players against each other in an extended examination of their skills.

But where in today's world of cricket would such an opportunity arise? Well, we do have some multinational outfits playing cricket today in many different competitions: English county cricket, the Big Bash, the IPL, and so on. Each of these, unfortunately, is subject to various residency constraints and quotas that restrict the number of overseas players that can play for 'local' teams.

One solution might be for the new entrants on the scene--the franchises of the IPL and the Big Bash for instance--to consider diversifying their wares. Non-stop, back-to-back T20s might become monotonous; how about a few Super Tests with residency requirements relaxed so that we could have World XIs--not the best in each case, but diverse assemblages of players drawn from all over the world without regard to whether they were drawn from ICC Full or Associate Members?

Yes, I agree, this does sound a little crazy. In this world of cricket, yes. But consider, if you will, the following: the ICC is just a world league whose 'member franchises' have to follow very strict residency requirements. There is little to no movement across teams; if you are a Test level player but your 'national team' already has its eleven selected, you are done for. A league that didn't have such strict residency requirements, that allowed movement between rosters, might be able to find this kind of player an opportunity to play. And it might be able to provide high quality cricket in the format so beloved of many cricket fans.

Of course, it is unlikely that IPL or Big Bash franchises will consider Super Tests. But perhaps more ambitious franchises, casting their eyes over the way cricket is organized today, might consider taking this challenge on. Stranger things have happened in the world of sport.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here