January 12, 2014

How to make Test tours more competitive

Increase the size of tour squads, or create teams of Associate and U-19 cricketers to play warm-ups

Chappell: I'm in favour of a World Test Championship

In the last couple of years there has been a spate of series between top-ranked teams where one side - previously a strong unit - hasn't won a match.

In eight such series involving India, Australia, England, South Africa and Pakistan, the only team to achieve success away from home has been South Africa. In the recently completed Australian whitewash of England, Kevin Pietersen was of the opinion that it's hard to play back-to-back series against the same team but even more difficult if you're the touring side in the return contest.

This may partly explain the English debacle, but in all six of the other cases they didn't involve back-to-back series against the same side. Perhaps a better explanation for the disintegration of good sides is the structure of modern tours.

Not only are there very few lead-in games for the touring side, but also, once a series starts, there's little or no opportunity for out-of-form players to reverse the trend. Previously the touring team would play a number of first-class games to acclimatise and find form under unfamiliar conditions. Then in between Tests there'd be opportunities for out-of-form and squad players to get some match practice against first-class teams. This was the ideal way to either regain form or put your name forward for inclusion in the next Test team.

The current scheduling doesn't accommodate either out-of-form players or those outside the Test XI. It reminds me of World Series Cricket, which was the toughest environment I played in. One match you'd play against the ferocious West Indies pace quartet, and if you failed, the next assignment was against a World XI attack, which was almost as talented. That sequence continued until an out-of-form player must have felt like he was at the bottom of a well with no step ladder and no way out.

Current international players must experience similar feelings when they are either struggling for runs or wickets. Consequently, once one side gets on top early in a series, it's almost impossible for even good cricketers to reverse that trend.

The game is fortunate that most of these pummellings have been administered by the home side. Therefore the fans have either turned up in droves or watched in big numbers on television. However, a continuation of this trend won't do much for the competitive balance of Test cricket, and this needs to be considered if the game is going to prosper.

There has been no indication for more than a decade that common sense will be applied to producing a logical international itinerary. Therefore some lateral thinking is required to overcome the massive flaw in the current structure of Test tours.

One way to overcome the problem would be for the touring party to be increased so that most of the surplus players could be involved in matches running concurrently with the Test programme. In order to avoid a cost blowout this would mean reducing the number of support staff in a touring party, which would be a good result in itself.

Such an itinerary would also provide opportunities for the hosts to choose their best young players to give them international experience. That would be an ideal way of gauging who among them is on the verge of international selection. However, this would disrupt the local first-class competition and wouldn't be popular with the associations.

Another solution might be to draw a team from the top young talent among the Associate nations, bolstered by a few strong Under-19 players from the major nations, to form a travelling party to play the tourists while the Tests are played.

The administrators say they need to schedule a lot of cricket to provide money to run the game. This sort of investment, designed to produce elite players from a wider pool of countries, makes more sense than providing surplus jobs for officials.

Whatever method is adopted, something needs to be done to balance these contests because too many one-sided series will eventually detract from Test cricket. If ever a World Test Championship is played, it'll quickly lose credibility if the touring sides are at a distinct disadvantage.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator for Channel 9, and a columnist

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jay on January 15, 2014, 1:24 GMT

    Ian - Think laterally? Seriously? On scheduling just before the Ashes, Chappelli loudly complained: "Australia's pointless tour to India could lead to selection blunders"! Well, the results prove just the opposite: That ODI tour's timing was spot on, helping CA selectors pick key match-ready players - Johnson, Haddin, Watson, Bailey & Faulkner!! Mitchell was Man-of-the-series: he turned 'from outcast to beast' (per an astute observer) because of his rebirth in IPL. His MI team-mate Tendulkar predicted "Johnson could prove an Ashes menace"! Sachin was right while Ian was raising "The Watson and Johnson question marks"? Ian was wrong on both! Haddin at 36 was superb (Ian questioned Brad's age); Bailey debuted at 31 to hold on as No. 6 batsman (where Ian saw no "potential"). Add Rogers at 36 as No. 1 opener. OMG, whither Chappelli's half-baked "use-by-dates" theory? Ian always talks about "common sense" as if all else is "nonsense". Elementary my dear Chappell: Think introspectively!!

  • Sakeb on January 14, 2014, 21:56 GMT

    The thing that we may be missing (I didn't read all the comments) is right there. It's not likely that the ICC or the participating boards will suddenly start adding to tours against the tide of commercial considerations. But a close-enough-for-government-work alternative is to have the ODIs and T20s before the Tests in each tour. I know there are caveats like Test specialists being left out. But for the rest, if they play the ODIs before the Tests they will have knowledge of the opponents and their conditions (maybe not what a pitch is like on the fifth day, but enough to know what they may be looking at in terms of technical adaptations, etc.). It hardly seems fair for touring teams to be asked to jump into new conditions while playing the hardest format. And about the Test specialists, they are specialists for a reason. Instead of trying to invent the wheel all over again, let's try giving the current one some tweaks

  • Paul on January 14, 2014, 1:14 GMT

    One way of making Test cricket more competitive is creating a more equitable future tours programme, one that doesn't deliver outrageous favours to England, Australia and India by presenting them with regular four or five Test series' and a generally greater number of Tests each calendar year...while condemning South Africa, Pakistan, et al. to joke two or three Test series' and inordinately long breaks between series'. The ICC has much to answer for but being the feeble lapdog organisation it is, I certainly won't be holding my breath.

  • Rod on January 14, 2014, 1:12 GMT

    (continued) I do think the idea of taking an A team along with the main team has promise--as long as the coordination was better than in the last Ashes series. Get those in the main team who aren't selected for the test playing for the A team. The problem here is who they would be allowed to play. Another approach, which works for Australia in England, is to get a load of their reserves playing in the county championship, but this doesn't seem possible anywhere other than England.

  • Rod on January 14, 2014, 1:09 GMT

    The problems seem to be (1) a tendency for home sides to doctor pitches to their own advantage and (2) a lack of playing opportunities for the touring team during the compressed tours that are now so common. The first could be partially solved by getting rid of the toss and allowing the touring team to decide whether to bat or field first. That would be problematic because the concept of the toss is so ingrained. Also, while it might deter groundsmen from preparing pitches intended to braek up as the game went on, it would do nothing to prevent spinning tracks int he subcontinents or fats tracks in Australia. As for the second problem, it stems from the unwillingness of modern cricketers to spend months abroad playing against a load of first-class sides as they used to do in the sixties, and a type of gamesmanship on the part of the home side to provide top-level opposition. England and Australia have both been guilty of this in the recent Ashes. (to be continued)

  • Steve on January 14, 2014, 0:56 GMT

    OMG!!! after all this time I finally agree with something Ian has said!!! Mind you, When England played a warm up match this summer, Carberry and Cook batted themselves for two days when it might have been prudent to retire and give the rest of the team a hit.

  • victoria on January 13, 2014, 16:31 GMT

    Cont'd: Ian, in addition, I think that ICC needs to have a serious " Save-All-Formats" of Cricket (SAF) meeting with the franchise holders of the various lucrative T/20 tournaments, to seek their indulgence in creating criteria to be implemented across the board for the selection of cricketers to play in these rich tournaments. Eg:, I think that all the players must be encouraged to play all three formats. Hence, one of the criteria by which a batsman may be selected for any T/20 tournament outside his country should be that he has an avge in first class cricket of 40 or more; 35 in ODIs and 30 in T/20s; and is a member of at least one of his 3 national teams. I'm asking, "what message are we sending in cricket when Maxwell is bought for $1m and Ricky Pontin, one of the greatest batsmen of All Time is not paid even half of that - knowing that Pontin is a much better batsman than Maxwell'? Why not make it possible for tickets to test matches operate like a lottery to win cash prizes?

  • victoria on January 13, 2014, 15:16 GMT

    Ian, I too share your concern regarding the recent trend of lack of competitiveness from touring teams away from home - a case of teams only winning in their own backyards. I also endorse most of your recommendations, but I would like to add a few of my own: ICC I understand has representation from all of the major cricketing jurisdictions. Hence, I think the ICC needs to make a ruling that, "Every host country must ensure that the test match touring team plays a minimum of 3 first class warm up matches, to last no fewer than 4 days each, before the series begins; so that the touring team becomes properly acclimatised to play the best cricket to satisfy the paying public who SACRIFICE time to watch these matches". They may further rule that the host is also obligated to fit one member each from the reserves of the touring team, into one of the local teams each playing in the local first class competition; which should be organised to meet this commitment. Cont'd

  • Android on January 13, 2014, 13:52 GMT

    D.Leander... I have a suggestion for the ICC. what about the next Ashes series move it to the West Indies or to the sub continent and that's how we are going to see who's is who in the ashes. my point is both of these teams are like "home made bread" meaning the can only proform at home.. Bring something new to the test arena. what about the next ashes series going something like this ( the first two test in India, the next two in Sir Lanka, and the final test in Bangladesh or Dubai. I think that would give test cricket some momentum going again. Please if my idea come through please can I have a all inclusive complementary for myself and my wife. Thanks for reading my suggestion!!