Saving the Test November 16, 2013

A flag for the five-dayer

A new book presents a passionate case for protecting the game's premier format, and an acknowledgement that all solutions begin and end with having a more responsible ICC

If there is a hero in this book of villainy, it is Bob Bowman, who has shown that it is possible not only to make unseemly stacks of money from sport but to invest the profits for the collective good. Indeed, much the best of Mike Jakeman's five "straightforward recommendations to reshape the environment to be more conducive to competitive, entertaining Test cricket" is "find cricket's Bob Bowman".

Bowman is one of those people you want to loathe but, in the end, can't help but admire. A prosperous investment banker at Goldman Sachs and state treasurer for Michigan before he turned 30, he went on to become chief financial officer for Sheraton Hotels then head honcho at its parent company, ITT. Leaving in search of a fresh challenge, he was soon snapped up to run what became Major League Baseball Advanced Media, an outfit jointly owned by the 30 major league clubs and better known, somewhat fittingly, by the acronym BAM - a suitably onomatopoeic description of its impact as a centralised web portal streaming live matches to baseball fans.

Jakeman sees BAM as a business plan worth copying, one that, if handled correctly and sensibly, could sustain and even inspire the lower orders at a time when Test cricket ranks a distant third on the list of priorities for administrators and public alike. That he cannot envisage the Full Members cooperating says much for the difference between domestic and international sport. It also sums up everything that is wrong with cricket right now.

Together with the forthcoming documentary by Sam Collins and Jarrod Kimber, this entirely welcome tome (though cri de coeur might be a better description) comprises a double-barrelled blast from aficionados who want to save Test cricket, even though conventional wisdom has it that they are all too young to have such heartfelt concerns for the well-being of the planet's finest trivial pursuit.

In some ways, it is tempting to tell them not to fret so. Imagine dying shortly after the 1975 World Cup final and being reborn now. The reaction to a swift update would surely run along the following lines: "You mean one-day games didn't kill off Tests? You mean they brought in day-nighters in DayGlo togs and that didn't do the trick? You mean they've survived all that and the 20-over slog! I suppose the next thing you'll tell me is that the dodo hibernated for a century but now everyone eats dodoburgers."

All the proportion in the world, though, should not blind us to the genuine nature of the threat now confronting the five-day game, as we are deftly and vividly reminded by Jakeman, who as a writer with the Economist Group has the advantage of both distance and expertise. While there is little new here, he has taken a timely snapshot of the modern game and all its foibles; timely, because we may well be nearing a tipping point.

Each chapter deals with a different component, a different area of concern: tours, formats, pitches, technology, fixers and broadcasters. Examples of administrative dithering and bone-headedness abound, from South Africa's swift about-turn on billing Tests with England as "icon" series, and hence being guaranteed five instalments, to the way T20 has made a mockery of the Future Tours Programme. As Jakeman reasons, there is no need to impose a two-tier Test schedule because that, more or less, is what we already have.

Much the biggest fly in the ointment, of course, is the ICC, surely the most disunited governing body in major international sport, its processes distorted by India's economic strength and bargaining power. Sadly, for all the author's passionate advocacy of the little guys and his all-round idealism, he cannot envisage any significant improvement without accepting the sensible but almost entirely rejected recommendations of the Woolf Report - but then he's hardly alone on that score.

There are small reasons to gripe. The grasp of history isn't all it could be - to attest that Test tours half a century ago took place "more or less when the weather looked decent" is a one-liner in search of factual basis. The absorbing contents also deserve a better cover and a more compelling title - because they deserve a wide audience.

This is an illuminating and important book, written in measured, erudite tones and enlivened by detours such as a terrific passage in which Keith Stackpole is compared, not unfavourably, with Virender Sehwag, both of whom the author cites as victims of "an unspoken piece of cricketing prejudice, which says that aggressive players are somehow more indebted to luck than those who grind out their runs".

Needless to add, this book deserves, above all, to be read by those we entrust with running our precious game. A good look in the mirror never hurt anyone.

Saving the Test
Mike Jakeman
Ockley Books
206 pages; £9.99

Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on November 17, 2013, 21:01 GMT

    A modification to Terry J's idea would be to have the top two teams in the top division- they could play two five Test series home and away in a year, and promotion/ relegation happens annually. Division two is teams 3-8, 10 Tests a year; division three teams 9-12, 6 games a year.

  • Zsam on November 17, 2013, 13:36 GMT

    Test series must have a larger context similar to the ODi WC. The closest is the Test championship played on a home and away basis, so every series counts and with the possibility of bonus points for beating higher ranked opponents and threats of relegation from top tier for the laggards. This will incentivize contests across the globe for players, administrators and most importantly fans. Bragging rights have always held at a premium.

  • A.J on November 17, 2013, 12:12 GMT

    50 years from now there will be one test played each year. That's just how it is and how it will be, but it will be the pinnacle and it will be popular. Historically, longer sport formats are outcompeted by the shorter ones fiscally. The future simply wont be any different. Enjoy them now, while they last...

  • Yuji on November 17, 2013, 12:10 GMT

    Test matches will be viable, only if players really feel that is the pinnacle of the sport. With the money in T20s and the 50-over World Cup being the main spectacle, it is hard to get that feeling. Not to mention the sad fact that outside the 10 full members, the other teams do not get a chance to experience the long format.

    Unless First Class matches are incorporated into the schedules of the many divisions of the WCL, Test Cricket will not grow. One important idea is to have Associate and Affiliate nations play FC matches against the top sides during tours and also allow the winner of the ICC Intercontinental Cup to play one-off Tests (not FC matches) against a few of the full members. That way, Tests will be important to everyone and not just the full members.

  • Mashuq on November 17, 2013, 10:11 GMT

    Sounds good to me, too, Terry. Loved Rob's turn of phrase: the planet's finest trivial pursuit! For me, it's been as close to a religious ritual as I could approach in my life of 60 yrs. That means I saw Stackpole get a century in a session!

  • Dummy4 on November 17, 2013, 7:55 GMT

    thats a mighty fine suggestion terry. yes the tier system wud b nice

  • John on November 17, 2013, 5:23 GMT

    I think in England tests will continue to be valued and well-attended.

    The worrying question is whether, in 15-20 years' time, England will have anyone to play against.

  • Dummy4 on November 17, 2013, 0:39 GMT

    Test cricket needs to be more meaningful. The best way of doing this is by bringing in Premier Tests as a new category. Premier tests would be the top six countries in the world that play each other for four tests each over two years. Meaning five series of four tests (two home, two away) over a 24 month period. The ICC could split previous test results so that only test matches between the "Premier Countries" (eg: top half) are counted for Premier Test history. The remaining test teams should play a second tier system with two qualifiers from Associate cricket. Every two years all tiers should have promotion & relegation.

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