Mark Nicholas
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Former Hampshire batsman; host of Channel Nine's cricket coverage

Save our game before it's too late

To let ruthless commerce direct the fate of cricket's future is to sign a death warrant for a way of life

Mark Nicholas

March 7, 2013

Comments: 51 | Text size: A | A

Shane Watson reads to children from a local school,  World T20 2012, Colombo, September 27, 2012
Test cricket needs to catch the kids young © ICC/Getty
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"I woke up this morning
I could barely breathe
Just an empty impression
In the bed where you used to be
Empty sky, empty sky."
- Bruce Springsteen

No crowd to speak of in Dunedin, or in Pretoria a week or so ago. Nobody in Tasmania for Sri Lanka's visit just before Christmas, and not many in Nagpur when England were carving up Dhoni's disciples. We must face it, Test cricket has become a television spectacle in most parts of the world. Empty grounds are the symptom of a game that may be terminally ill. The generations that fell in love with it are going or gone.

For a reason lost on those who care, the ruling bodies of the game cannot see this, or they choose to ignore it. During the past five years there has been more international cricket played than ever before. And there is the IPL too, along with other franchise-styled T20 tournaments that have encouraged the mercenary globetrotter to an unprecedented level. To pick one talented cricketer as an example, Kieron Pollard has played just two first-class matches for Trinidad and Tobago in four years. He is the franchise owner's dream but knows little of the application and concentration required to play the longer format with any substance.

Maybe this doesn't matter. Maybe the market of the future is satisfied by instant gratification. But I doubt it. Cricket is not a game that can thrive within the canvas of the lowest common denominator. The skills that are necessary to play over four and five days are the foundation of the enterprise that makes the short form so appealing. Of course there is innovation and progress but not without a framework, and a reference to the fund of knowledge and virtues that have made Test cricket an important part of our civilisation. True lovers understand the depth and the rhythm. They take pleasure in patience and quiet. They rejoice in periods so compelling that runs - the currency of the short form - are sometimes irrelevant. They study history and they read word upon word of prose that has a language and spirit of its own.

There is more than a sport at stake here. To let ruthless commerce direct the fate of cricket's future is to sign a death warrant for a way of life. Guardians listen up. It is in your power to take action before it is too late.

First, play Test matches exclusively in major centres, where access is straightforward and the most people are at hand. Drop ticket prices for adults to the price of a movie in the poorer countries and of the theatre in the more prosperous. Invite everyone still at school age for free. Nobody under the age of 18 should be paying to watch a game that is in our gift to give. Promote, promote, promote, and thus educate, across all media platforms. The message is that Test cricket is a long slow burn but that it washes over you, consuming the senses. There is glamour in the certainty of seeing the best players and desirability in nationalism. Divide the countries into two leagues of six, adding any of Holland, Ireland, Afghanistan, UAE to the echelon and, if required, allowing them a quota of two foreign players for ballast. Promotion and relegation is a thrill in itself. Play day-night matches in the hot, dry countries, where the balance between bat and ball in not unfairly tilted by the dew. Sell tickets for "the night session" separately.

Do something about the painfully slow over rates, which have become a turn-off, with penalties of runs, and then aim at 100 overs per day. This might lead to 400-over matches over four days instead of 450 over five, which leads to wastage. Get rid of those endless drinks breaks by leaving water or "ade" at the boundary edge.

 
 
Of course there is innovation and progress but not without a framework, and a reference to the fund of knowledge and virtues that have made Test cricket an important part of our civilisation. True lovers understand the depth and the rhythm. They take pleasure in patience and quiet
 

Put Test cricket back on free-to-air television. The culture for it is diminished by a lack of awareness. Appointment to view works for the converted but not for those unaware of the preacher man. Ensure that government-funded schools play the game, whatever it costs. It is here, in the heartlands, that the messages must be heard. In Britain, the Chance to Shine programme does wonderful work to keep the game afloat amongst the young, but try telling those kids that Test cricket is the real deal. Hardly. The only way to get to them is through the world they inhabit. Television, telephones, social-media pages and the internet at large. Yes, the Test match grounds of England often sell out but look at the demographic and the numbers. The grounds are small, the population is big. Only three grounds in Britain seat more than 20,000 people and none more than 30,000. Then count the kids among those numbers on one hand.

Finally, rethink 50-over cricket, either by ditching it or using it smarter. Until you play one-day cricket, or T20, you can have no idea what it takes out of you. This is the format that is sucking the oxygen from the lungs of the overworked elite. Worse still, it cramps the schedule. T20 is a winner and set to stay, though overkill is already a concern and needs addressing.

Fifty-over cricket should become a first course, an entree, an antipasto. It should be the first thing on everyone's lips after a layoff and should be taken to the small towns, the country, to the outposts where the game does not usually go. It should be stripped back to a purer form - limitless overs for bowlers perhaps, as there are for batsmen, and fewer fielding restrictions and Powerplays. And never should there be more than three matches in a series. Give the game that brought cricket into the 20th century a last chance to seduce us by making it important again through place and structure. Presently it is compromised by the T20 phenomenon and often featured as an add-on to a series, whereupon it dies, along with the months of summer.

Empty seats are not a distant or trifling concern, they are the zeitgeist. We live in an age of public conscience about the environment and constant reminders of the sort of footprint we should leave for those who follow. The ICC - and by that we mean the boards of all the member nations of the global cricket community - have the power to do something about their cricket footprint. We implore them to divert from financial ambition and to pay attention to a legacy. And we urge them not to delay.

Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by   on (March 9, 2013, 23:41 GMT)

Here in New Zealand test cricket crowds have never really been anything like the boxing day test match in melbourne. Generally days one, two and three fall on weekdays. A lot of people are working and can't get to the match. Day four is on a saturday once again true cricket fans are either playing cricket themselves and can't get to the game. Plus why would you go to the cricket and pay for overpriced drinks and food when watching it at home on tv you can enjoy a beverage or two without it hitting you hard in the back pocket. I agree dropping the ticket prices for both tests and odi's, you will get the public down. I don't think test cricket is dying. It is still the pinnacle and the true test of how good you are.

Posted by Atul on (March 9, 2013, 18:31 GMT)

While I agree with all of Mark's points as usual, I would like to point out that the Hyderabad test had far better attendance than is being portrayed here. The second day was almost full. The first and the third were not bad either - about 60-70% full.

Posted by   on (March 9, 2013, 15:15 GMT)

Mark you have a point!! Evey-body across all cricketing diaspora(those who understand the game and its intricacies) share the similar sentiment! And it's not the first time I have come across concerns like this! But then it is not well received!! It fall to deaf years and like you rightly pointed out in your article"ruthless commerce is directing the fate of its future" Let us hope good sense prevails and something is done before it's too late!

Posted by GoCric on (March 9, 2013, 2:28 GMT)

Its getting a little old with people constantly placing the perceived ills of Cricket at the doorstep of the BCCI. Test cricket is the ultimate test but the world changes and cricket has to change with it. The BCCI did not invent 20/20 in fact they were always against playing 20/20 when it was first conceived of by the ECB and CA. Now that the BCCI has found a way to commercialize it with the IPL everyone is up in arms against them. Although I also think that test cricket is the ultimate test of a cricketer, the sport however will not survive in this era without 20/20 and certainly will not expand to other countries without it. However one way to bring crowds back is to cut back on the number of matches being played. There is way too much cricket played today by all countries and I would certainly blame all the boards including the BCCI for that.

Posted by __PK on (March 8, 2013, 22:29 GMT)

Test cricket is like opera, museums, art galleries. It's important to have them, but almost noone goes to them. Perhaps the art gallery parallel is where the author got the inspiriation for 2013's most confused and, frankly, patronising metaphor - "thrive within the canvas of the lowest common denominator". How many times do you hear people rejoicing over the place cricket in the hearts of hundreds of millions of ordinary Indians? How can that not be the lowest common denominator? Sorry, this whole article smacks of a man trying to appeal to the 15 other people world-wide who agree with him to defend something he's invested his whole life in. The last line "We urge them not to delay." Sorry, is he writing this with the help of a vast legion of assistants? If not, then try a little humility and say "I urge them."

Posted by bjg62 on (March 8, 2013, 13:41 GMT)

One point I definitely agree with is that the T20 and 50 over ODI should be played prior to a Test series (as they were a long time ago). I recall the massive anticipation that used to precede an Ashes series in England when the one-day games were being played. It only seemed to whet the appetite for the Test series. These days, with the ODI & T20 played at the completion of the Test series, it almost always seems to be anticlimactic for the players involved.

Posted by Manik23 on (March 8, 2013, 13:26 GMT)

I think we need to change both 50/50 and 20/20 and make them one game - make 32 (or 28) overs standard (50/50 is too long, 20/20 is too short). Allow four bowlers to bowl 8 (or 7) overs each (so hopefully only good bowlers are used, not part-timers). Make grounds bigger (mishits don't go for six etc.), make more bowler friendly rules, e.g. ditch free-hits, allow more bouncers, be lenient with marginal leg-side/no balls, allow no runs after balls have hit stumps (when throwing) and only one powerplay, e.g. 1-10 overs (powerplay rules are too complicated now). Limit number of games played in one tour, seven is too much, three of shorter forms and three of longer forms. For tests, 4 days (hundred overs, have final day fall on Sundays or holidays, other than traditional ones such as boxing day etc.). Only eight teams in first tier at first instance. BD and Zim play A-teams and once get good results promote them. (Lets accept we can't globalize test cricket, use short form for that.)

Posted by baskar_guha on (March 8, 2013, 10:04 GMT)

I firmly believe that T20 which is essentially bat vs bat on a lifeless pitch where the bowlers are all but neutered will become a side show but not before it kills ODIs. Test cricket which is bat vs ball on a changing pitch has that much more drama built into it which is what makes it enduring. If the PGA can make 4-day golf tournaments so popular, the ICC can do the same for tests. The fact that they haven't is entirely due to their lack of common vision and common purpose beyond how to make more money this year.

Posted by zenboomerang on (March 8, 2013, 9:36 GMT)

One of Mark's better articles - pay TV in Oz has a 35% market, so 65% of the population doesn't get to see what they have monopolised... 2 years ago you could watch Oz v NZ Rosebowl series on ABC TV (free to air) but that has disappeared now - so how are women/girls supposed to follow their peers?... Also the ABC radio used to broadcast Shield & Ryobi matches regularly across Oz during the week, but it has now all but disappeared... If the general public cannot get easy access to cricket, then it is going to die through lack of interest...

Posted by venkatesh018 on (March 8, 2013, 3:40 GMT)

For those who swear by the diktats of the markets, why aren't they reducing ODIs in tour schedules even after a substantial drop has been seen in their ratings after the success of IPL. It is the ODIs that have to give way in the International calendar and not Tests for which great interest still exists as can be seen from the wonderful response in the stadium ticket sales and in the TV ratings for this current Ind vs Aus series(India's tour of S Africa I hear has a 7 match ODI series). This should clearly indicate where the priorities lie for BCCI and CSA . Nothing can be done for Test cricket when those who are the guardians of the game neglect it the most.

Posted by   on (March 8, 2013, 2:11 GMT)

T20 is what brought me to cricket and i think t20 is helping alot of people to cricket that didnt use to watch it.Before i only used to watch world cup matches and only if pakistan was playing.But t20 made me a regular viewer.After that i strated watching one days and after that test.So i think all 3 formats are important.They test players in different skills thats why all teams now have 3 different teams for 3 formats.What u need to do to make test cricket more famous is that make the teams play in coloured kit.Make the tests day and night with 2 tickets per day.1 for night 1 for day.Have more overs per day so the game ends within 4 or 5 days and doesnt get draw.Cut the drinks and tea breaks just have 1 break in the middle.I think the test world cup in 2017 will also help in reviving test cricket.Plus if u listen to ppl who dont like other sports like football they complain they dont have time to watch 5 days long or 7 hours long games

Posted by Natx on (March 8, 2013, 1:41 GMT)

If you want to bring the crowd back to the stadiums for test cricket, plan them during the holiday weekends and the rest as evening cricket. Cut a day off to make it 4 days and 100 overs, with a team not to exceed an innings per day. That way we have 400 overs of test match over 4 days and all producing meaningful results. That will also prevent teams scoring 1000 runs (remember Srilanka?) just for the heck of it and the other team doesn't even has a remote chance to make it competitive. Define such boundaries and not make it open ended. With the current format, if a team wants to bat all 5 days, it can! Who wants one sided matches or meaningless runathons? If that is the case, no one will go to grounds and instead turn on the tv once every few hours or get the scores on mobile and move on. We want results and players that "test" the skills within a given boundary and showcase them to audience. Not to play for 5 full days and score 400. Fix the system than blaming audience.

Posted by Soso_killer on (March 8, 2013, 1:38 GMT)

Cpt.Meanster i'm sorry but you have no idea what you are talking about mate. Test cricket is the ultimate form of the game. It requires skills far superior to that of the slog fest. called T20. Watching a fast bowler run in with 3 slips and a gully with the red cherry in his hands still excites me to this day. I've watched so many 6's being hit in T20, but they've never brought that joy.

Posted by   on (March 8, 2013, 0:29 GMT)

I am glad someone spoke up on Cricinfo. The ICC must take a firm stand on the BCCI, who are dictating terms, right now. It shoul be the other way: ICC dictates what the BCCI does. They need to set an example and stand up to save cricket from going the NFL way.

Posted by   on (March 8, 2013, 0:27 GMT)

Spectator pricing is a killer. A couple of seasons ago I paid 75 pounds to get into the Kennington Oval. Play was washed out by lunchtime and I lost my money. The next day I watched an extended version of play for free on tele. We need to encourage the spectators to come back to cricket by making it more affordable

Posted by Ropsh on (March 8, 2013, 0:05 GMT)

Nah; money, like greed, for want of a better phrase, is good.

Posted by Number1CricketFan on (March 7, 2013, 23:57 GMT)

A brilliant article. Well Said Mr Nicholas, could not agree with you more. Test cricket is the pinnacle of our beautiful game.

Posted by the_informant on (March 7, 2013, 23:57 GMT)

I was reading an article the other day about test cricket and revenue in which it was mentioned that up to 30% of scheduled test match time does not get played. This is a huge problem with regards to advertising revenue, crowd revenue, catering etc. Imagine being employed to work 5 days and your employer coming to you on Wednesday afternoon or Thursday morning saying they didn't have any work for you for the rest of the week and couldn't pay you for it. Something would have to give. Four-day tests, Thurs-Sun, play times: 1pm - 9pm, affordable ticketing and discounted tickets for the final twilight session would be a start.

Posted by DwightR on (March 7, 2013, 22:52 GMT)

Test cricket had its moment and set the foundation up for the future...which is now..unfortunetly Test cricket is a game for the retired or umemployed as noone else in this fast paced world has 5 days and 40hrs available to watch it. Cricket needs to accept change..if they did that maybe we wouldnt be one of the oldest sports in the world that has only 10 nations playing..but T20 is the game for today, its attracts younger audience, female viewers, tv ratings, ticket sales and the energy and passion of the cricketers themselves. It also is the best vehicle to finally globalize the game and get it into the olympics. the ICC needs to accept this and reorganzie according...I wish they had implemented the reccomendations of the woolf report but they wont. give the IPL a larger window and make it the level of an NFL/NBA/EPL etc allow it to build a brand and it will give international fixtures more meaning.

Posted by   on (March 7, 2013, 22:37 GMT)

Much as I support the general thoughts in this post, it coming from a Channel 9 commentator is rather hypocritical. The commercial interests of this television station has had a major influence on Australian cricket ever since the 'me first' days of Packer. There was no altruism there. For years we have had to put up with Benaud/Lawry etc telling us how it all should be done. The low points were the game in which Tim Paine's finger was broken - a pointless commercial exercise - and the viewer MOM debacle. I have no doubt that the team supports test cricket, but the control that they have had as a commercial entity has been unhealthy.

Posted by jimmy787 on (March 7, 2013, 22:31 GMT)

I completely agree with Mark's sentiments - currently test cricket is in a dire condition, but it doesn't have to be that way. Cricket will lose something if test cricket dies out. I also agree that it needs to be re-vamped, and through various channels in a concerted effort - not just the odd gimmick here and there. For starters, the structure itself needs to change (introduce day night matches, as well as 4 days instead of 5). But even that's not enough.The 2 tier system is a great idea because it will renew interest in the teams in the second tier as well as the top tier. Thirdly, the tickets have to be cheaper in places like the subcontinent and test cricket needs more free to air coverage. The main thing is to recognise the present situation that test cricket finds itself in, and implement sound strategies to improve it through various channels (media, ICC, playing regulations). I honestly believe that a multi pronged approach will definitely improve the state of test cricket.

Posted by McGorium on (March 7, 2013, 22:07 GMT)

It's all very romantic and all, but this cricket version of Jerry McGuire's "mission statement" ignores the fundamental stakeholder: the players. There was no money in cricket during the test era, and there still probably wouldn't be (perhaps with the exception of England and Aus), had it not been for ODI's, and recently, T20. Players got paid a pittance, retired at 30 with the job experience of a recent college graduate; that is if they ever graduated in the first place. For the first time --certainly in the subcontinent-- a cricketer who didn't make it into the test squad could still make enough money to last him a couple of decades of post-retirement life. Mark's proposals of cutting admission fees, free-to-air cricket channels, reducing the number of ODI's etc. means less revenue, les pay, lesser promotion, poorer ground facilities, etc. If tests have to grow, they've to make more money, not less. If they can't, they'll have to scale back and live off T20/ODI's subsidy.

Posted by stalefresh on (March 7, 2013, 22:04 GMT)

Just look at any 90's footage of any test match played anywhere in India with any opposition - the result will be a full house. What has gone wrong? Many things as Mark points out. What is the solution? Many things that Mark points out. I can however confirm one thing, commerce is here to stay and the only way to use it as an advantage for test cricket is to make sure Test players are at the pinnacle of salary grades for playing test cricket. If administrators are smart, they will use riches from T20 and apply it towards Test cricket. It will take some skill but it can be done. There is no doubt in my mind that Hashim Amla, or Steyn, or Cook, or Pujara and others should be the highest paid cricketrs whether they plan T20 or not. If that can happen - everything will change automatically. Wishful thinking.. eh?

Posted by MontrealCricketStore on (March 7, 2013, 21:43 GMT)

I love test cricket, but unfortunately it has to go. No one has time to follow a 5 day game. ODI needs to be shorter. And T20 has to be the main format of Cricket. 3 hours of pure entertainment and fun if you are playing. This is the only way to make this game popular in the non test playing nations. Also some rules must be simplified, for example try explaining the LBW to someone in north america who has never played/watched cricket in his life, in one sentence. Imagine this explanation "if a batsman blocks the ball going on the wickets other that his bat he is given out LBW". isn't that simple, everyone can understand this. Now try to explain the real LBW that we all know. A lot of rules need to be simplified. Right now the game of cricket is too complicated.

Posted by Nerk on (March 7, 2013, 20:46 GMT)

Maybe test matches are dying out. Which would kill cricket. The fact is people remember test cricket more than other forms. I remember my first day of test cricket. It was nothing special. 3rd day at the SCG, SA vs Aus, Kallis and Prince spent the morning blocking. But I remember it all. I went to a 20/20 - Thunder vs one of the Melbourne teams. All I remember is throwing a beach ball around the crowd, Gayle hitting some runs but the Thunder losing. Which could be any Thunders game, to be honest. 20/20 on its own will get boring very quickly. There is not much to remember from each game, and if a team loses early wickets they've basically lost. Not so in test cricket, where people remember it. 20/20 is fun, but test cricket is an experience.

Posted by IndiaNumeroUno on (March 7, 2013, 20:30 GMT)

Seriously?! ask yourself.. who has the time (especially in this financial environment) to give up 5 full days of productive work to watch paint dry? The problem will be more acute in countries where there is no benefit culture i.e people are responsible for finding and sticking to their jobs and not be dependent upon the government to subsidise/fund their lifestyle.

Posted by S.Alis on (March 7, 2013, 19:33 GMT)

I'm following ESPNCricinfo for quite a while now & i'm not sure whether to call test cricket dying or getting more popular with recent trends.

Of-course there is not much attendance in the grounds and should be a concern for the administrators but wht i've seen is that when a test match is being played. There is just so much going on around here and on social media. I remember when Pakistan clean washed England in UAE and at the same time SA bowled out AUS on 47 runs. And there was like huge buzz around. Test cricket was dominating twitter and it still does when there is good match. And it feels completely different when an ODI and T20 match (except for the bigger events) is going-on or maybe i'm oblivious about it. Also considering how everyone give importance to No1 test team. India had it and then ENG and now SA is being so much talked about. Again maybe i'm oblivious but i can't see that type of hype around No1 ODI/T20 teams. I think test cricket is still hold it's upper position.

Posted by Cpt.Meanster on (March 7, 2013, 19:24 GMT)

Keep praying and pleading Mark. Test cricket will soon be HISTORY !! There is no life in that format. Youngsters nowadays don't have the time or patience for such a sluggish and lethargic sport spanning over 5 days and 30 hours. Quick and decisive results is what MOST people want, including me. While I can understand the history and tradition of test cricket, I don't think it has done ANYTHING good for the sport of cricket from a global perspective. Only a handful of nations play the format excluding and depriving the rest of the world. T20 cricket on the other hand is the ONLY format that can be enjoyed and understood by an alien population. From a distance, it resembles baseball and the duration of the format also matches the length of baseball games. Test cricket has everything going against it, especially in Asia. No packed grounds, not much interest or hype, even the players don't care about it any more. Test cricket is like a sour medicine forced down the throat of a child.

Posted by crindo77 on (March 7, 2013, 18:09 GMT)

100 years of Test cricket and we can't even get more than 10 countries to play. Some legacy. Or hang on, is that how its supposed to be? How come Irish cricket is still in such a mess? At least BCCI and PCB gave BCB a leg up. All that ECB seem interested in doing is pinching Irish players. Charity begins at home. How do you sustain interest in a shrinking sport? Sitting in a steady drizzle or gale force wind or the subcontinent sun and waiting patiently for a wicket or a cover drive- sounds like an acquired taste, and so it is. Fact is Test cricket has a dedicated following; you cant convince people to come to Tests by abolishing drinks breaks, or improving over rates or by " result" pitches. Fact is, fewer Tests since the 90s have been drawn, although attendances have been steadily falling all the time. it is not abnormal if people dont have time to come to the stadium to watch cricket on 5 weekdays, they still do on WEs. Its not time to PANIC. Its time to accept and move on.

Posted by   on (March 7, 2013, 17:38 GMT)

Real sadness..the breed that likes Test cricket is dying out..so the understanding is disappearing also. Unfortunately we will be left with squared up batsmen, mishits going for six, lollipop bowlers preferred to lion fast bowlers...shallow, artificial stuff. Sadness.

Posted by RSBali on (March 7, 2013, 16:55 GMT)

Test cricket is liked by only few former test players (Gavaskar, Shastri, Ian Chappel, Holding, Botham etc) who work as commentors. The fans like 20/20. If ICC does not see the writing on the wall (empty stadiums, lack of test skill in new players etc etc) they may loose control over the game. Cricket has to change with time else get extinct.

Posted by inswing on (March 7, 2013, 16:22 GMT)

Although I personally like Test cricket, I think it is going to be extinct eventually. Could be 20 years or 30 years, but it will fall out of favor. It was designed when the pace of life was much much slower, ample time available to play and to watch. Especially wealthy people who didn't have to work much themselves. Now, it is simply not a realistic option as a professional sport. Very few come to watch it in person, but the TV audience is small as well. Even the most avid fans have hard time watching more than 50% of a match, unless they are on vacation with nothing to do. Casual fans can watch no more than 20% of a match. ODIs, you can watch 80% the match, and T20s close to 90-100%. Waxing poetic can only help so much when you come up against the reality that it takes too much time.

Posted by   on (March 7, 2013, 16:19 GMT)

Superb Mr.Mark! I remember you quoted from a letter of mine in the Wisden Cricketer about 2 years ago about a similar issue when I called the ICC a bunch of muppets. In 1994, I was 15 and got excited about watching England play West Indies in the first ODI on SKY. Friends came over and we watched the whole game. I remember Atherton making 80 odd and England winning. The stadium was full, i.e. there was interest. Do you really think anyone now makes the same kind of effort to watch a ODI? No-one gives a damn. Lara got 375 in 1994, and the interest surrounding that was great. In 2004, when he got 400, no-one cared, just another high score! I love chickne kiev, that does not mean I want it every day of the week!

Posted by   on (March 7, 2013, 15:04 GMT)

Agree 100%. Cut down ODIs to 40 overs per side, played as close to 5 hours as poss, two matches per day - second under lights so every time zone can watch, and we get more teams without losing ad dollars. A bigger World Cup immediately taking half the time. No limits on bowlers so the best players play, not bits and piecers for meaningless middle overs. Cut down on lunch and drinks in ODIs and Tests. Top league of Test teams play each other home & away, bottom league plays each other home & away. When top plays bottom, the bottom always gets home advantage. Get those floodlights up. Get every game starting on a Thurs, finished if poss by end of Sunday. If a lot of time is lost to rain, then Monday comes into play. You'd think the BCCI could see the potential for ad dollars in a better marketed, more visible, more accessible, more flexible product.

Posted by bobmartin on (March 7, 2013, 15:03 GMT)

Free-to-air cricket ? Isn't it the TV revenue which is largely funding the game. ? Unfortunately test cricket is a game for the connoisseur and in todays societies there are fewer and fewer of those. Modern youth wants everything done at speed. Five days of test cricket is just not their thing.. The biggest single complaint I hear when I talk cricket to young folk is how boring the game is and who wants to watch a game for five days which ends with no result and sometimes, not even any action because of poor light or a sprinkling of rain. Football, rugby, and T20 are sports with a guaranteed result in a short time... hence their popularity. I honestly believe that test cricket is dying and as us oldies drift off to the Lords in the Sky.. there are very few coming along to take our place.

Posted by   on (March 7, 2013, 14:39 GMT)

I absolutely agree with you gentlemen ...would be great if prominent figure like you come foreword for the sake and fate of the game.

Posted by venkatesh018 on (March 7, 2013, 14:26 GMT)

Free admission to youngsters. Day-night Tests. Low priced tickets. Proper scheduling at Test match centres. Free-to-air telecasts. And the excellent idea of allowing two "foreign players" to play for weaker Test nations. I agree with all of Mr. Nicholas' suggestions. And will like to add another suggestion: Test cricket played on "result" pitches. I don't even mind Chennai like dust bowls if that is what is needed to keep Test cricket alive for the future generations.

Posted by mgzak on (March 7, 2013, 14:17 GMT)

Mark Nicholas has hit the nail on the absolute middle of its head!! We cannot affort to let TC die. Here in the WI, it pains me to see grounds with more administrators, players and security than the actual spectators. Recently at a regional 20/20 game between Trinidad & Tobago & Barbados at the QPCC in Trinidad, there was no seating accomadation left. We need to bring these crowds back to TC. When I was a schoolboy, schools got half day off for TC and we were allowed to go into the QPCC free. There was even a 'Schoolboy's Stand' which has been subsequently demolished and replaced with a modern stand that is empty for TC. We need to do away with ODIs and focus our marketing on TC. 20/20 does not need any help....though I must say that as a purist, I only watch it because of the lack of TC at the QPCC.

Posted by   on (March 7, 2013, 14:03 GMT)

Dear Mr Nicholas.

As a view to increasing cricket's audience. Do you think you could have a word with Channel 5 and ask them to bid for the rights to broadcast highlights of England's overseas tours on free-to-air TV in the UK?

Getting highlights of the World Cup and Ashes once every 4 years isn't really enough is it? I'd imagine it would be quite cheap and easy to do. Heck it beats another CSI repeat on 5USA or 5*. Don't you think?

Posted by   on (March 7, 2013, 13:55 GMT)

I agree with tfjones1978's proposal of Champions Cup & Plate system.

Posted by strokerkiwi on (March 7, 2013, 13:54 GMT)

Excellent article, and I agree on 90% of what you say. You are a passionate fellow eh. I've returned to the computer after a day out at the NZ v Eng test in Dunedin, and I can tell you; there is certainly a crowd to speak of!! The atmosphere is wonderful, and everyone is engrossed at what is happening down here. Uni Oval is a great venue. Grassy banks, tall trees surrounding, a handsome old stand. It's a great example of what a test venue should be like, and for the size of the city (roughly 110,000) having 4000 lucky people in there is a truly great feat.

Posted by   on (March 7, 2013, 13:29 GMT)

I agree with much of this, but at the same time I question the workability. I think things like free-to-air television and cheaper match tickets would be great. But I also think players like Kieron Pollard are acting quite reasonably. We wouldn't expect a Michelin-starred chef to be happy making Burger King money, so why do we think cricketers - particularly those from places such as the West Indies - will happily play for significantly less than they could get as freelancers? And into all that you drop ideas that, while well-meaning, will make it harder for Test cricket to make money and offer anything approaching a matching salary to big-name players.

Posted by kk777 on (March 7, 2013, 13:13 GMT)

@Mr. Nichols, I usually like your articles. Today too, I agree(as many would) about the notion of 'overkill' in cricket and free passes to under 18's. But there are some points where I would like to differ. First, playing tests in major centers will deteriorate it rather than elevating it. The success of Test cricket lies in marketing it in small centers as well(especially in India). People in small towns(like me) have more free time and can invest it in cricket(Tests) given good marketing and awareness. In India even small towns have a population large enough to fill a stand of 60,000 given a good pricing. Its elitism that's killing Test cricket. The connoisseurs of elite Art are ready to shell out anything but are the so called 'connoisseurs' of Test cricket ready to do the same. NO. So, Test Cricket should be penetrating the 'masses' rather than the other way round to survive. And also you don't need to demean other forms(T20 or ODI) to praise one form.I agree with @cricket_lover

Posted by   on (March 7, 2013, 12:35 GMT)

A great article. Thanks.

Posted by tfjones1978 on (March 7, 2013, 12:33 GMT)

Couldnt agree more. I think its time that cricket gets an overhaul. Firstly Test cricket. This needs two leagues being "Champions Cup" and the "Champions Plate" with each league running for 24 months and consisting of six teams playing four tests (2 home, 2 away) against each team. Thats 20 tests over 24 months with relegation & promotions. Secondly Series warmups. No international team should be playing matches against first class teams, but instead against countries. When playing a test series a team should first warm up against lower ranked teams (eg: Ashes warm ups against Ireland, Scotland or Holland over four days). Thirdly, ODI series. Every ODI should be as a qualifier for ODI World Cup played every four years or warm ups for those series. The World Cup should be ELITE with only EIGHT positions available. ALL countries should play (Year 1) regional and then (Years 2 & 3) League qualifiers for the top regional qualifiers. Fourthly, T20I. Similar to ODI but league based @ 2yrs.

Posted by ooper_cut on (March 7, 2013, 12:22 GMT)

The BCCI, whatever it wants to market, does an excellent job of it. This Ind Aus test series was marketed so well plus the fact that the home team is thrashing the Ozzies meant full grounds at both the venues. So, I guess marketing this pure format of the game with the help of stars of every nation through electronic, paper media would be a start before tinkering too much with the rules and conditions.

Posted by Romanticstud on (March 7, 2013, 11:57 GMT)

Test cricket is like art ... you have to look at it for a while before you can see all the facets of it ... so test cricket is for the connoisseur of the game ... like not all good things are appreciated by the multitudes ... I find that T20 cricket has tarnished the gist of what cricket is about ... Test Cricket in its true form has lots of twists and turns ... You might get a wicket that has bounce up front ... the pace artillery take wickets ... then suddenly the pitch flattens out ... batsmen come to the fore ... maybe a spinner may get some bounce early on and cause some problems ... then uneven bounce may come in and bowlers suddenly take wickets from the lack of bounce ... then maybe the rough develops and give a bit of bite to the spinners and the first team suddenly has the advantage ... or maybe they survive and create a lead and then the new ball bites into their advantage ... or the new ball just goes faster to the boundary ... and then the advantage is strengthened ...

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Mark NicholasClose
Mark Nicholas A prolific and stylish middle-order batsman for Hampshire, Mark Nicholas was unlucky never to have played for England, but after captaining his county to four major trophies he made his reputation as a presenter, commentator and columnist. Named the UK Sports Presenter of the Year in 2001 and 2005 by the Royal Television Society, he has commentated all over the world, from the World Cup in the West Indies to the Indian Premier League. He now hosts the cricket coverage for Channel Nine in Australia and Channel 5 in England.

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