April 13, 2012

Tests are not the only cricket

True, the five-day version is the highest form, but to treat the shorter variants as an abomination is misguided

The latest edition of the Wisden Cricketers' Almanack makes a plea to world cricket that needs to be made - Test cricket needs to be strengthened and nurtured - but interestingly it continues to look at India through the prism of a western sort of work ethic and sensibility. I'm delighted with the theme that the editor, Lawrence Booth, one of cricket's finest young journalists, uses ("India, your sport needs you"), for the market leader must lay down the priorities. But Lawrence, I fear, wants India to show the way in a manner in which England might. But more of that by and by.

Clearly India has to play the role of the statesman in nurturing product quality, but it is just as true in the corporate world that market leaders place great emphasis on profitability. The great institutions of the world are able to find the right mix; their product quality doesn't drop, nor do their margins. In sport you can translate that to having very high W/L and P/L ratios - winning more matches than you lose and making a lot of money while doing so. (The idea of making money should eventually be to nurture and strengthen the sport, but this is only a small article...) And as I have often argued, the P/L ratio seems to be valued far more than the W/L one in India.

Inevitably when we talk of nurturing, we talk about Test cricket. It bothers me a little that to some, anything other than Test cricket is an abomination, is unworthy of existence and must necessarily be looked down on, in the manner in which other castes were in India's old caste system: that Test cricket must be the Brahmin, T20 the Shudra, and 50-overs cricket somewhere in between.

For Test cricket to remain the mightiest form of the game, it must become self-sufficient. It cannot be on the dole from T20, or 50-overs cricket, and yet despise those forms. For that to happen, it must establish a commercial connection with the follower. For art and wine to survive, there must be enough people buying art and wine; there must be a commercial involvement between the producer and the consumer. Apart from England and, to a lesser extent, Australia, I am not sure that kind of involvement exists. All of us love Test cricket dearly - we've had an excellent Test match this week in Barbados - but not many of us buy a ticket to go to the ground; or watch it on television, thereby allowing channels to sell advertising on it; or buy merchandise. We follow the match on the internet, blog about it, tweet, and write essays, but none of these makes it financially stronger.

England is a bit different because it is the last real bastion of Test cricket, and that is where Lawrence, and other passionate lovers of the game, get their DNA from. England has this amazing structure where people pay unbelievable prices to watch Test cricket and buy enough decoders from Sky, to enable fewer commercials to be aired. Television in England is a subscription-driven model: people pay to watch what they like.

On the subcontinent, we are different. Maybe because of the great need to merely exist, we are very price-conscious; we do not mind putting up with things as long as they don't cost too much. Hence the unbelievable amount of advertising on television. But also, our entertainment is escapist, most visibly manifest in our cinema (also now the staple of opening ceremonies at cricket tournaments!), which is loud, ostentatious and generally a spectacle. T20 cricket, while possessed of its own skills, most closely approximates that.

India and China are not just emerging consumer powers, they are also cultures that are completely different from the rather more homogeneous ones of America and Europe. As India needs to understand its larger role in world matters (for the purposes of this article, read world cricket), so too does the rest of the world need to understand that another vibrant and deeply different culture exists. Neither can weigh the other in the scales it weighs itself in.

Test cricket will survive, but, I fear, not on its own. T20 will be the inducement, it will draw in many more consumers, and the challenge will then be to retain them and hope they enjoy the many wonderful flavours of Test cricket. But within the larger world of cricket, every country must lay down its priorities. India's choices may not please everybody, but then each must create its own commercial ecosystem.

The bigger challenge in world cricket is not whether Test cricket must be played or T20, it is whether or not everyone can understand the different cultures within our tiny world.

Harsha Bhogle commentates on the IPL and other cricket, and is a television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jay on April 16, 2012, 3:52 GMT

    (Cont) Much as I love Test cricket (I grew up with it), I've come to enjoy ODIs & T20s as well. In this context, Rahul Dravid's erudite insights (delivered in his recent Bradman Oration) are spot on: Cricket must accommodate and balance all 3 formats. Overscheduling must be avoided. The fan must be respected. It's not all about money & power. T20/IPL has opened doors for many local (& foreign) players to earn a livelihood. Furthermore, T20/IPL has become the golden goose that provides most of the funding for the changed "portfolio" of Tests/ODIs/T20/Domestic. Cricket administrators in India have their work cut out: to manage this "portfolio" of products profitably and successfully, while giving the cricketing public the best consumer experience. The Test connoisseurs get to enjoy fine wine. The T20 fans get an affordable family package. A little bit of both for the ODI public. The mainstream cricket-lovers (like myself) get to eat the cake and keep it too. Don't forget the icing!

  • Jay on April 16, 2012, 3:48 GMT

    (Cont) In another context, US college sports can provide a useful benchmark for cricket to look at. Great academic universities - like Stanford, Michigan, Duke & more - manage their "portfolio" of sports in virtually a self-sufficient & autonomous manner. Interestingly, profits are generated primarily by just two revenue-producing sports: American football & basketball. They in turn fund the entire athletic budget to support 20+ other different sports - baseball, hockey, soccer, tennis, swimming, track, gymnastics, etc - for both men and women. Money is the biggest factor, with the fans foremost in mind. Money is also wisely spent & distributed to attract top talent in other sports with athletic scholarships. Some of these athletes advance to become Olympians and professional/national stars in their respective sports. That's why these great institutions give new meaning to managing a "portfolio" of vastly different products (sports) profitably (P/L) and successfully (W/L). (TBC)

  • Jay on April 16, 2012, 3:45 GMT

    Harsha - Let's get first things first: Market forces will dictate the future direction of cricket. It's big business. It's big-time sports entertainment. Money is the common denominator in international sports (even in Olympics) as it is in multinational business. All that as given, Harsha is right: each country "must create its own commercial ecosystem" to keep cricket viable in the long run. In the auto business, for instance, major carmakers (Toyota, GM) deploy country-specific business strategies. For India, their "portfolio" of products is focused more on affordable small cars - as opposed to higher-end vehicles in their home markets (Japan, USA) - because of different consumer preferences, market conditions & federal regulations. Call it "culture" if you will. Why then is England complaining about T20? They created it, but made a big mess of it via Sir Stanford. Humiliated? India instead has turned T20 into a big commercial success via IPL. Jealousy? Just ask KP! (TBC)

  • karthik on April 16, 2012, 1:45 GMT

    @RandyOZ. Yes, u r rite. Also plz add that, Eng & Aus shud restrict them frm playing only in their home grounds. Coz. V all know Eng(4-1) & Aus(4-0) recent record in subcontinent. Poor Aus, they can ONLY draw against "minnows" NZ in their home ground too. Very poor.

  • Dummy4 on April 15, 2012, 2:55 GMT

    The Image attached says everything, no need for long comments and showing how much you love the game. In this busy life especially in India how can you expect a man to watch a match for 5 days. I am one of those guys who believes that tests should be limited to academic level. That is players for T20 and One days should be choosed from performance tests at domestic or international level with tests being the primary format at domestic level. In that way we will have quality players at highest level of these shorter formats and also Test cricket would be alive.

  • Nick on April 14, 2012, 23:26 GMT

    T20 and ODI are not taken seriously unless it is a world cup. You can see that in selection policies where players are rotated, given a few games here or there for experience, etc. Eg. Pete Forrest in Australia clearly doesn't deserve ODI selection, but the selectors picked him for ODIs to try to groom him for tests. A misguided effort, but this doesn't happen in tests

  • King on April 14, 2012, 20:07 GMT

    The problem with T20 for me is that the outcomes of the games seem less dependent on skill and more dependent on luck. And unlike the 50 over game...there are less opportunities to fight back from a poor start. T20 batting is entertaining but there are no opportunities to play the long innings that people remember decades later. And when batsman are constantly trying to hit the ball, wickets feel cheaper too, thereby making great bowling spells less noteworthy.

  • Milind on April 14, 2012, 16:59 GMT

    IMHO, Tests are "the" cricket, if not the only cricket!

  • Dummy4 on April 14, 2012, 16:09 GMT

    An important point in favor of T20 is that it can help sell cricket to newer countries, and that is a very important point too. What cricket desperately needs is not more money, but more countries participating and enjoying cricket !

  • Dummy4 on April 14, 2012, 15:21 GMT

    The big problem with Twenty20 cricket and more specifically the IPL is that it takes players away from international cricket and in particular lesser teams, when it needs them most. I would be very confident in saying that IF no T20 franchise used a player who may at the same time be playing for his country, that the whole business of T20 cricket, be it the IPL, the Big Bash, or any other league would actually be seen in a very popular light. When it's all said and done, T20 cicket is very good for the players, the finances of the game and for the viewing public that enjoy limited overs style cricket...... My simple answer would be this. That for a Twenty20 team franchise in any country to hire a cricketer, that cricketer must first be contracted to the board of his home country, who should have first call on that player. If the availability of international stars drops then it's up to the IPL to find a way, not impose suffering on beleagured fans of West Indian cricket.

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