Test cricket and the bitter truth
It looks like television is going to cancel their date with the World Test Championship. We had our doubts after they stood us up the first time, but we allowed ourselves to believe that their excuse - they said they had to broadcast the annual South Atlantic dodo migration and didn't have enough cameras to cover both events - was genuine. But they've started making evasive noises again. It seems they're getting cold feet and it can only be a matter of time before that phone call that leaves us crying into our pillows.
So it's time we faced up to reality. We must put down our plate of Alastair Cook's no-frills mince pies and glasses of Team Australia champagne-flavoured cordial, shake off our fevered daydreams in which American teenagers beg their parents to turn over from the Superbowl to catch the closing overs of the Sri Lanka v Bangladesh World League playoff Test, and properly address ourselves to the herd of elephants in the Long Room.
The World Test Championship may be cancelled because TV companies don't want to broadcast it. Let us pause for a moment to consider that. The same media that was prepared to take a chance on Fred: The Show, My Tattoo Addiction, Battle Toads, Jersey Shore, Sarah Palin's Alaska, Cop Rock, My Mother The Car, Homeboys from Outer Space and The Lumberjack World Championships is turning up its nose at the prospect of a Test cricket championship.
And why? Because nobody wants to watch Test cricket. I'll say that again, only louder. NOBODY WANTS TO WATCH TEST CRICKET!
That is, perhaps, a slight exaggeration. Some people want to watch Test cricket, obviously. But most of those people are English or Australian, and the prospect of a dystopian Test calendar based around three Ashes series a year is the kind of thing that George Orwell would have left out of 1984 on the grounds that it was just too depressing.
If you don't believe that nobody wants to watch Test cricket, I give you Exhibit A: the first Test in Johannesburg. This was a clash between the best Test teams in the world, and of what did the day one audience comprise? Three elderly men, a braai tender on his lunch break, and a couple of confused wildebeest that had got lost on their way to a watering hole.
Time for those who want to save Test cricket to sip the bitter espresso of truth from the styrofoam cup of reality. Television doesn't care about Test cricket because not enough people watch Test cricket. To expect television companies to sign up for a Test championship that may have smaller viewing figures than the morning session of the Parliamentary Committee on Paperclip Quality Standardisation is pure fantasy.
If we want to change this reality, then we have to find ways to persuade people that it's worth investing a week of their life in a Test match. If crowds and viewing figures increase, then advertisers and television companies will follow like polar bears catching the scent of an abandoned kindergarten full of baby seals.
So we should be trying to make Test cricket as entertaining as possible and spreading the word about this format to every corner of the globe. We should be, but we aren't. Instead, every time a new idea is suggested, someone finds a reason to object. Day-night Tests won't work. Pink balls look silly. Coloured clothes are vulgar. Names on the backs of shirts would cause WG Grace to turn in his grave. Music? An earlier start? Floodlights? How ghastly.
And instead of encouraging everyone from Pacific Islanders to Alaskan Inuits to watch Test cricket, we have boards like the ECB declaring that people watching Test cricket on the internet are the greatest threat to the modern game. I disagree, Giles. As Oscar Wilde would almost certainly have put it, the only thing worse than people watching Test cricket illegally is people not watching Test cricket at all.
Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets here