August 23, 2013

Test cricket needs strong local economies

We cannot ignore the fact that in most top cricket-playing countries Test cricket needs T20, and not the other way round

Rahul Dravid's eloquent plea for Test cricket - his words have the same grace as his shots - needs to be taken seriously, as does his thesis that T20 needs Test cricket. And he makes an old-fashioned plea for not putting profits from television rights above the greater need to develop the sport. It is interesting, too, that it comes at a time when the game's parents have been obsessing over whether a heat spot on a bat is good for the game.

You would expect Dravid to say what he does, and to be fair to him, the manner in which he thought about and played his cricket is consistent with what he advocates. But I can see those that run the game tut-tutting about romantics not making good businessmen.

Of those who earn money from the game, the ICC is doing fairly well. So are India, England and Australia, and there aren't alarm bells ringing in the accountants' offices in South Africa either. But of the others, Sri Lanka are broke, so, by their admission, are Pakistan. New Zealand are very honest about the state of their finances, and West Indies aren't exactly rolling in wealth. And there is some debate over whether Zimbabwe Cricket is broke or has been broken into.

That means a majority of cricket's constituents are either struggling to stay afloat or are waiting for the next payout from the ICC, which derives its own income from television rights and attendant benefits. Like with the world of economics that Dravid so charmingly alludes to, cricket is split between the haves and the have-nots.

The haves don't mind playing Test cricket, because their lucrative television deals cover that. But outside of the top four, there are virtually no television deals, so they must offer the markets what they crave. And what the markets want in these countries is fast food, not fine dining. These countries, to be able to afford to play home Tests, must generate revenue from what the market demands. And while the market makes the right noises about Test cricket, it does so like people who support social causes; it rarely extends beyond words and into actual support. So to that extent, Test cricket, at least in these countries, needs T20 and not the other way around.

But, of course, the world cannot be governed by profit alone. Governments must build roads, provide health care, and education and through that, provide opportunity to citizens. Can world cricket, a very uneasy alliance, perform that task?

The financial gap between the haves and the have-nots will eventually translate into similar gaps on the playing field

In an ideal world they should, and Dravid's assertion that some nations must cede some power to allow the ICC to get stronger is perhaps based on that romantic thought. If the ICC has the power, it can, hopefully, keep Test cricket alive, keep the "trunk" strong, and allow traditional skills to flourish, and to be fair, the grants are meant to do just that. But to survive, Test cricket needs strong local economies too and for reasons that are political (Pakistan, Zimbabwe) or economic (New Zealand, West Indies, Sri Lanka), these are virtually non-existent.

It is inevitable then that the financial gap between the haves and the have-nots will eventually translate into similar gaps on the playing field. The Spanish football league, for example, is really about two teams and assorted others. Real Madrid and Barcelona do their own television deals and force the other teams to exist as perpetual also-rans. The story is not dissimilar in every other genre.

We are seeing it in Test cricket already, in Dravid's fear that the less some countries play Test cricket, the greater the gap between them and those that play more. Can the ICC then fund Test cricket in these countries? Can each of the big four make a contribution, like members of a housing society do for maintenance, so that they can cover the cost of organising Test matches in other countries? Is it feasible?

Where Dravid is on home ground is in his assertion that in the playing of the game, T20 will need Test cricket. India, where the IPL is now six years old, is a good laboratory to test that hypothesis. Players who don't have a base in four-day cricket have tended to become one-season wonders. When you are a one-trick pony you get found out. Bowlers who can only bowl six different balls and not one ball well enough six times if needed get clattered around very fast. Batsmen who merely plant their foot out of the line to make way for the slog are too inconsistent. The fact that no one is watching the Ranji Trophy or the Sheffield Shield or the County Championship doesn't mean they aren't valuable.

Eventually the survival of Test cricket, or its sustenance in countries beyond the four financially healthy ones, will depend not as much on those who play it but those who watch. Test cricket needs brand ambassadors and Rahul Dravid is a good one.

Harsha Bhogle is a television presenter, writer and commentator. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • vikram on August 25, 2013, 1:07 GMT

    If this is the situation of Test Cricket then ICC must divide teams into 2 groups allowing 1st with more matches and 2nd with significantly less matches. Also ICC should ensure the 2nd group should also gets enough exposure by playing a no. of Multination series like a team from 1st group against all teams from 2nd group. That will create a good hype also and a good motivation for teams to come into 1st group. Further no. of ODI should also be reduced as per most players are demanding...Surely with higher incentives 1st group teams can play more tests than present and 2nd group can play more odi/t20 to have good cricket economy first...altogether this all is already happening today albeit slowly and without hullabaloo...

  • Dummy4 on August 24, 2013, 20:43 GMT

    I respect Rahul Dravid a lot, but he still needs to get real. Cricket today is not a game, it is an inductry. Industry only delivers what the market wants. If there are enough people paying for a product, someone will definitely make & deliver. If a demand for Test Cricket exists, it will continue. Else - just forget it. For all those who want to watch Test Cricket - buy tickets & watch at the ground. If it is not possible to commute to the ground, buy a TV Subscription to have a TV Channel OR a Web-site to telecast / webcast the game. & buy at a price that allows whoever is taking the trouble to deliver to you, covering their costs & leaving something with them as a return for the trouble they are taking. If you are unwilling to pay them to give you something you want, you have no right to demand it from them.

  • Vinod on August 24, 2013, 17:25 GMT

    The problem with modern day cricket i, it is becoming too predictable. The 30 yard rule, power plays may be good idea for one-day cricket. However for T20 cricket, these rules are killing the game and taking the excitement away. In my humble opinion, T20 should be played like test cricket, where for the 20 overs there should be no 30 yard rule. All the test match rules should be applied. Then I think T20 can become more competitive and we can get some exciting players. Otherwise very soon, cricket will lose more spectators. Keep the rules simple, and make it more competitive.

  • Jayaesh on August 24, 2013, 12:25 GMT

    @getsetgopk,only people who like to watch the paint dry can watch test cricket being played on flat and slow pitches which neither helps the batters nor bowlers , you see defensive cricket all along , batters plodding and leaving all the time,bowlers just going through the chores and most importantly no result in sight...

    I watch all India matches,A tours,u-19 matches across all formats, it is Weekend time now and i will be watching some La Liga and Bundesliga matches.Football is a truly global and beutiful game .Atleast there you don't get lectures about tradition ,purity and what is real or terms like fine dining and junk food , pyjama cricket,circus etc. Football is all embracing and without any snobbery..

  • Varnendra on August 24, 2013, 11:56 GMT

    England is killing test cricket; see the way they play it in the Ashes? Players like Cook, Trott and some others should never have allowed to play in tests.

  • Raja on August 24, 2013, 10:34 GMT

    @m23khan - What is the population of just those 4 countries you mentioned ?

  • gurinder on August 24, 2013, 8:48 GMT

    one of the best articles on this website. harsha is a management graduate and knows his facts.a billion people watch ipl , few thousand watch test matches. u do the maths where money is coming from. bcci is richest cricket board in the whole world due to mainly ipl and odis that india play and watched by indians around the good old days people used to play timeless tests,why not try now? because no one will watch it. i will watch t20 match for sure.people who donot change with changing times are left behind, let embrace this change and see cricket grow into more countries like uae and afghanistan.

  • Senthil on August 24, 2013, 8:39 GMT

    Everyone in support of Test cricket need not feel cheated or belittled by Harsha saying T20 is the money earner and it can be used effectively enough to feed Test cricket. No matter how great the nuances and the "real" nature of Test cricket, it has not spread enough to be a global sport. Within cricket, Tests have no chance of being the weapon with which to globalize or even expand cricket's reach and popularity. When aeroplanes came, indeed fewer people preferred ships for international travel. When e mail came, the telegraph died. Test cricket will also die a natural death, because we as people have changed. It is indeed a case of majority dictating reality for the minority, but that's reality.

  • Ramya on August 24, 2013, 7:25 GMT

    It is clear - the longer format is for technically sound players and the shorter formats for exciting entertainers. Test cricket breeds quality while T20 brings in money. Test cricket is traditional while T20 is ultra modern.....

    Nice words Harsha, rightly said, Test cricket needs support from the big guns.

    Suggestions: 1. To balance both test cricket & money, the top 4 test playing nations, tour 2-3 countries that lag in the bottom half at least once every two yrs to play test cricket. This can bring in funds, make teams more competitive & may not pinch the boards too much against them sponsoring teams whose economies aren't doing that well.

    2. Another suggestion is the top 4 playing in neutral venues i.e. in countries that need to generate revenue. This ensures that the public get to see competitive cricket that can lure in crowds.

    3. Richer boards can sponsor the ordinary ones when they play tests against each other....

  • ARJUN on August 24, 2013, 6:44 GMT

    Respect the game of cricket not only tests. Test cricket is all about defending and survival. ODI is my favourite you need all the skill in odi. T20 is entertainment i love watch it .in ipl a lots of poor players become wealthy and its gud for them. you need t20 for sure.I LOVE CRICKET NOT ONLY LITTLE BORING TESTS.

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