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April 25, 2012

Test cricket

An idea whose time may come?

Samir Chopra
A butler serves drinks to the World XI stars, Australia v World XI, Super Test, Sydney, 3rd Day, October 16, 2005
Another Super Test? But with no nations, please.  © Getty Images
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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

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Posted by Osadi Peiris on (April 30, 2012, 5:12 GMT)

Afro-Asia cup was the closest match to this concept. The international cricketing calender is quite hectic already, and there won't be much space for anything new. How about inventing a leasing policy where some of the stand-by players from the top tiered countries, get a chance to appear for counties which have lesser abundance of talent. >>> Proper rules could be devised to limit talent drain (e.g. payments not to exceed the evaluations of the Cricket Board of the originating country & ICC), as well as to safeguard the chances for local players (e.g. limiting the number of international players per side per fixture or the overall squad)

Posted by Alexander Czarnecki on (April 29, 2012, 23:08 GMT)

A combined Associate/Affiliate XI to play the test nations as earlier this year(Associate/Affiliate XI vs England) would be great.

Posted by Alan Harrison on (April 29, 2012, 21:44 GMT)

Slightly different point, but with the "supertest" recorded as an official test, there seems to me no justification for the 1970 England vs. World XI matches also to be regarded as tests, as they were billed at the time. There's also a case for regarding the 1971-2 and 1987 matches as test matches, on account of the quality of cricket, and when one considers that the first tests in 1876-7 were not so regarded at the time. Why can't Sobers' 254, Lillee's 8-29, Alan Jones only match for England, and Gavaskar's century and Marshall's excellent bowling at Lords in 1987 be regarded as part of their test records?

Posted by Anonymous on (April 29, 2012, 20:49 GMT)

Interesting idea... for TESTS it might be a little difficult and for me a little too 'well done'... I actually like the 'one nation' test teams... its.. lets just say 'pure'... BUT as far as T20 is concerned I say recruit all the 'stars' from around the world... divide them into (ten twelve fifteen twenty) teams (just like the soccer clubs in Europe) and start a lets say CRICKET ALLSTAR LEAGUE and have fun with it and make some money... and instead of the IPLs and BPLs and BIG BASHs... hold the league matches in different country each year and it can be assured by setting aside time for it in the ICC calender let the countries the ICC and the STAR players make some money... personally I have no use for the PLs or the BASHs where more than half players are unknown to me...

Posted by Samuel on (April 29, 2012, 14:04 GMT)

I agree about the idea of an Associates XI and said so when England played one before the Pakistan series! It would give them an opportunity to play first class cricket against high quality opposition, it can only be a good thing. They could also tour the world - for example, they could be in England for the Northern Hemisphere summer playing a warm up game with whichever two teams are touring, before travelling to the subcontinent in October and November, before maybe moving on to Australia or South Africa after Christmas, giving them experience in different conditions. They could also play cricket against the likes of the England Lions or Australia A to give them even more games.

Posted by jendelui on (April 29, 2012, 12:43 GMT)

I find this idea a really exciting prospect! And also, the idea suggested by mark for some sort of associate best Test XI series I think would be fantastic as well.

Posted by slartybartfast on (April 28, 2012, 23:24 GMT)

I can't really see the point. Team sport is all about local or national pride, so why would anyone care to support a random selection of players representing nobody?

Posted by boynamedsue on (April 28, 2012, 6:46 GMT)

I don't see the point of this. The reason IPL doesn't interest me is that there is no fun in watching a group of players temporarily competing under a flag of convenience for money and bragging rights. Do you think Kevin Pietersen feels any real affection or commitment towards the Goa Superbuffaloes or whoever it is he plays for?

These tests would be shows rather than real matches.

I would enjoy a championship which involved Asia, Africa, Europe and Americas, and Australasia taking each other on. But it won't happen.

Posted by Harvey on (April 27, 2012, 13:29 GMT)

What you don't explain is WHY you would like to see such a fixture take place. Isn't the international fixture list overcrowded enough already? What's more, how many people would actually want to watch such games? Most fans like to be able to identify with one of the teams, which is unlikely to happen with a random collection of players. A Combined Associate and Affiliate XI (with a more catchy name) would possibly be something to think about, but beyond that I see no feasibility or reason for such a scheme.

Posted by Ruben81 on (April 27, 2012, 11:54 GMT)

Or an asian xi to tour every 4 years to play test series against aus,eng & rsa,just like b&i lions does in rugby union.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He runs the blogs at samirchopra.com and Eye on Cricket. His book on the changing face of modern cricket, Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket has been published by HarperCollins. Before The Cordon, he blogged on The Pitch and Different Strokes on ESPNcricinfo. @EyeonthePitch

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