'Restore Champions Trophy, restrict bilateral ODIs'
Nasser Hussain and Rahul Dravid, former England and India captains, have called for the restoration of the Champions Trophy and the severe restriction of bilateral limited-overs series to reinvigorate Test cricket. While Hussain believed the Champions Trophy, where the top eight teams clash, should replace the 50-over World Cup, Dravid felt cutting down on bilateral ODIs and Twenty20s would help accommodate more Tests.
Hussain and Dravid were speaking during a panel discussion on "The future of Test cricket in the modern age" at the ESPNcricinfo for Cricket event held at The Oval in London on Monday, part of a series of events to celebrate the website's 20th anniversary.
"A lot of five-match or seven-match one-day series don't seem to have a context about them," Dravid said. "The Champions Trophy had a context. Some of these meaningless bilateral one-day games, do they serve the purpose?"
Although Dravid wanted the World Cup to co-exist with the Champions Trophy and the scheduled World Test Championship starting 2017, he felt T20s should be largely restricted to franchise level. "I would play one-day cricket only as preparation for the 50-over World Cup and the Champions Trophy so you can remove a lot of one-day cricket teams are playing nowadays and fit in Test matches that are required," Dravid said. "Have a Test Championship that culminates into something once every two years. The World Twenty20 should be every two years. T20 cricket should be franchise cricket except for the major competitions."
If context was important for Dravid, contest was key for Hussain. Although he was skeptical whether countries like India might allow a clampdown on ODIs and T20s, Hussain agreed with Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain and the event moderator, that the lack of a contest needed to be addressed. "Restore the Champions Trophy and call it the World Cup," Hussain said.
But what to do with Associates such as Ireland and Netherlands who have been part of recent World Cups and added to the romance of the game with their own stories, Nicholas wondered. Hussain said only the best eight had the right to contest a World Cup. "You got to qualify to sit at that table. You got to be good enough and I'm not sure some sides are," Hussain said. "There might be one and they should get there through a play-off. Whoever is ranked eighth at a certain point should have a play-off with Ireland (or the Associate nation that comes through the World Cup Qualifiers) in a three-match ODI series or whatever and they will qualify if they are good."
The panel, which also had former England batsman Ed Smith and Richard Verow, commercial director at Sky Sports, agreed that administrators had got it wrong by allowing two-Test series. Two matches, Hussain argued, killed a contest rather than building one. "As we have seen throughout this Test series [The Ashes] and it happened a little bit with the England-New Zealand series, there is nothing worse than a two-match series. Because if a contest does develop between players like Broad v Clarke now, if you get that for just two Test matches, Clarke can just go away and smash someone else. So as things develop and you get to the fifth Test and are waking up in the morning, you know that he has gone against Stuart Broad first up and you know what is going to happen. So you need the contest."
Hussain was the only cricketer on the panel who felt that rumours of Test cricket dying due to the rise of T20 were "exaggerated". However, he did say there was no denying the lure of lucrative leagues like the IPL, which had the power to seduce both veterans as well as youngsters.
"If someone is offering me a couple of million to go and work for six weeks than stand around all year and work for a tenth of that, you are going to be very, very tempted as a young or old player," Hussain said. "So you are diluting both ends. At the end of your career if you are Kevin Pietersen and you are looking and you find a good deal, the IPL is there, as it was for the Warnes, Gilchrists and Haydens. So you are losing the top bit of the cake. At the bottom, youngsters are coming in (and thinking), 'shall I work my butt off, play for Essex down at Chelmsford on a nibbling one in April-May or should I go and play six weeks? Not everyone gets a million dollars in T20 but good cash will do really well so that someone might spot me.' So you are losing that (youth) as well."
Hussain felt it was crucial to succeed in the longer form of the game and playing the IPL could not teach you to perform in first-class cricket. He pointed to the pair of Owais Shah and Eoin Morgan, players popular in the IPL but who could not perform consistently on the county circuit. "Cricket is about rhythm of the game," Hussain said. "And a lot of these guys that go on the T20 treadmill lose the rhythm of the game and not many come back better first-class cricketers. You look at Shah, you look at Morgan, they don't suddenly come back and start smashing hundreds and double-hundreds for Essex, Middlesex because you lose the rhythm of batting. Test match cricket is what it is all about - the main course you look after."
The point of governance also came up for discussion and all felt the ICC needed to be empowered while being given more autonomy and liberty to perform its duties. "They (the ICC) worry far too much about small stuff," Hussain said. "They worry about markings on pads. 'Put tape on that. You have got too many Gray Nichols stickers on your pads.' People are running on and off the field willy-nilly and you can let them do that. Since 1978 we haven't had 15 overs an hour around the world. We are not doing anything about that. Just be strong with players."
Dravid said powerful member boards needed to "sacrifice" control to give the ICC freedom. "In an ideal scenario we want them to be stronger," Dravid said. "The ICC is the creation of the boards. The boards have to actually give it that power, that responsibility to be able to run the game. Some of the stronger and more powerful nations have to make a few sacrifices in terms of their power and control and hand over little bit of power to the ICC for it to be able to effectively run and monitor the game."
Hussain said the clear chasm between the top-tier and lower-tier nations was the "crux" of the whole debate surrounding Test cricket. "It is not about T20," Hussain said. "The gap is widening. There is no easy solution. But it is also unfair on some of these sides. I had an argument with the great Michael Holding about West Indies not playing (well) against the moving ball in England. He said which side does play the moving ball that well in April-May in England. Our boys will hate me for saying this, but send them to India or Sri Lanka for a five-Test series and that won't be easy. That is the issue. (Weaker countries) are at the mercy of sides like England and Australia. They don't have the cash so they are not sending their Under-19s on tours."
Smith said it was the duty of the richer countries to co-operate and help the weaker members. "It is crucial to Test cricket. If the games are good, if the product is good, we are a way towards solving the problem."
Hussain posed a question to the ICC. "Should they be looking at new markets, as in America and China, and trying to spend all their cash there, and having these ICC tournaments and trying to sell it to these people who don't really know the game or want to know the game? Or should they be looking at Bangladesh and Zimbabwe who are desperate to play the game, do well and get better and sit down, have a chat and ask them what can they do to help?"
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo