January 18, 2014

Two-tier Test system, my foot

It's not right to abandon teams like New Zealand and West Indies who have given their all to prop up the game over the years

Talk of a two-tier system for Test cricket is shallow. To confine West Indies and New Zealand to the outhouse is disrespectful and ignores the great history that has built up over a century or more. Did we hear of a two-tier system when Australia were drowning in the mid-1980s? Or when England were being smashed by West Indies in Test after Test, series after series? Or when India weren't even in the top four during the same decade?

South Africa are excused, for they were deep in isolation, yet when they came back in 1991, did we suggest they try out in the second division first? During the '80s, West Indies totally dominated, while New Zealand were unbeaten at home for 12 long years, as well as winning away in England and Australia. For that, they command respect, through thick and thin.

And yet, we hear from the likes of even Rahul Dravid, that a two-tier system is a good idea. With respect to Rahul, what is good about it?

This doesn't feel right. It's not right to abandon upstanding nations, countries that have given their all to prop up the game, to cast them adrift. It is so disappointing that the ICC has failed again to find the right formula for showcasing Test cricket and crowning a champion on a regular basis.

The very least they can do is arrange for the top two teams to play and allow someone to raise the mace. Someone. The problem for those languishing in fifth place and below is that those bottom teams will never get back the points they need, over at least two, probably three, years to contest for a place in a final, leaving the same teams to compete for the title. This is not what a competition is about.

Competition in sport is normally held annually, or in the case of the traditional Ryder Cup, every two years. Following a normal competition, in the off season, teams can regroup and come again, trying to find the recipe for the crowning glory at season's end. The winning team tries to recapture that winning way and repeat their success. Of course there are no off seasons in cricket. It's so ridiculously complicated, especially with three formats to juggle, that a team can hardly catch its breath before it's asked to go on another meaningless tour, or play another fruitless series of one-dayers.

There are eight very proud cricketing nations that have earned kudos and respect the world over for their longevity and endeavour, over the course of the game's history. I don't include Bangladesh, with respect, as they haven't played enough, nor won enough since their introduction. Nor Zimbabwe, with their political interference and lack of resources. The eight major teams deserve the chance to bounce back from difficult times. Who knows, maybe England are about to enter a period of sheer hell. Will they be abandoned the way that folk are talking about demoting New Zealand and West Indies?

Sport is mostly cyclical, despite the long period that both West Indies and New Zealand have been down and out. Instead they need support and encouragement, not a kick in the proverbial. Talk of promotion and relegation is bizarre given there are only eight teams that have ever played Test cricket with any degree of success.

If Ireland, Afghanistan and others are to be encouraged to play Test cricket one day, they should start by playing first-class cricket against the likes of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. Surely this is the prerequisite to stepping into the cauldron of the elite. Bangladesh have made the mistake of not playing enough first-class cricket to prepare their players. And lately New Zealand and West Indies have too often focused on the shorter forms, either internationally or domestically, ignoring their Test priorities and losing their mojo in the process. The solution is to remove the pointless T20 internationals, and the repetitive one-dayers; I can guarantee, their Test form will improve.

Why can't the four Test series that invariably take place every November to February between the top eight teams count as the quarter-finals of a competition, culminating in two semis and a grand final?

If it's not done, then Test cricket will die. The big four will survive and even flourish, however the others will wilt away and be gone for good as new generations learn a different way. A way that is not cricket, only a caricature of it. What is a sport, or format of it, when only four or five teams can play it?

Why has the World Test Championship failed to gain traction? Television and financial revenue first come to mind. It's mighty expensive to televise Tests, let alone get folk to come along in a cash-strapped world. Only the Ashes Tests truly fill grounds and generate good revenue. Why? Because the history of the series demands it. That's why a Test competition needs to happen. There won't be a perfect remedy here. Everyone needs to be flexible and open-minded and allow Test cricket a chance to show it can crown a champion regularly.

Here are some questions I need to ask. Why can't the four Test series that invariably take place every November to February between the top eight teams count as the quarter-finals of a competition that culminates in two semis and a grand final? Why can't those with the better ranking go through to the semis or the final, if the game is drawn? Why can't it be mixed up with the top four playing away against the four lower-placed teams (knowing they have a higher ranking and need to be beaten outright to not go through) to create a true challenge and encourage unpredictability? Isn't this what will captivate the watching audience? Is it not worth a go, and as it unfolds, can't adjustments be made as the purpose becomes clearer?

Shall we just sit idly by doing nothing, or start disrespecting teams by placing them in a back paddock, abandoned, to slowly but surely die as the funds and enthusiasm dry up? This is all becoming a playground where the bully boys decide the punishment. It's sickening.

Let's pay dues to all those who have served the game well. Let's include them in all that we do. Let's keep it simple and meaningful. Let's protect the very format that exudes, clarifies, portrays, recognises and exemplifies the true nature of cricket. And let's grow it over time.

The Test Cricket Open, an eight-team knockout competition staged annually or every two years, deserves a run, including those long-standing nations that have served the game so well.

Martin Crowe, one of the leading batsmen of the late '80s, played 77 Tests for New Zealand

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Android on January 25, 2014, 20:52 GMT

    More natios playing tests will improve the variety of opponents for teams even those at the bottom can schedule matches with more teams. We need Ireland Afghanistan and USA to fall in one day. Cricket World cup should host 20 teams 4 groups of 5 and allow developing teams to play. Kenya, Netherlands etc.

  • Android on January 25, 2014, 20:49 GMT

    problem with relegation and promotion system in cricket is the timeit is played over. Any team promoted will simply be knocked down in 2 years. teams need at least 10 years to build up knowledge skills and development structures. Sri Lanka took a while and so did Bangladesh. Ireland and Afghanistan should be promoted to test flight cricket. Lower teams and top teams must be scheduled to play each other and to fit smaller teams in between big tours.

  • Dummy4 on January 22, 2014, 18:47 GMT

    may be it should look like this 10 upper tier (test) 10 lower tier(first class) a) with all upper tier teams subject to relegation to first class in case of being no 9 and 10 after every two years b) with all lower tier teams subject to promotion to test arena in case of being no 1 and 2 after every two years

  • Simon on January 22, 2014, 3:23 GMT

    With national sporting competitions there are equalisation measures implemented when inequity appears between teams. From a hard headed point of view the terminally weak get the flick and the weaker get measurable assistance and funding to implement improvement. A more equal TOTAL competition is a more profitable competition.

    All talk of tiers, etc is an indictment on the ICC. Of course all the 'interested parties' ignore the elephant in the room - Indian led ICC happy for revenue to centre on Indian cricket. It's time for a coup and restructure of the ICC to ensure distribution for competitive members. What's the point of saying here's membership - good luck paying for a 250 day international travel schedule and building stadia adequate for our 'product'! Get the game's revenue working for the game to strengthen the struggling countries and forget about divisive tiers.

  • ESPN on January 21, 2014, 15:15 GMT

    We already have an unofficial 2 tier system. Some teams hardly play each other while most series are 2 tests or at best 3 tests.

  • Dummy4 on January 21, 2014, 8:37 GMT

    Agree with Martin Crowe here; I think if the objective is to encourage other nations to get into test status, it is good to have a system of including them as the second tier, but for sure, the current 8 teams should not be relegated from the first level.

  • Tejas on January 21, 2014, 8:35 GMT

    Why to be wary when there is chance of coming back, suppose if NZ is relegated then they have very good chance to be on top in the tier2 and again come back to tier1 in next season. Here Season I consider is 1 year season, where each team will play max 2 tests at home and away basis and each test should be of 4 days only. Everything will improve here. I know its bad for West Indies but if they top in 2nd tier then they have chance to play in tier 1

  • Tim on January 20, 2014, 22:10 GMT

    I like the idea of a two tiered system so long as all the teams still play each other. For example, you have 9 teams You have 3 groups of three. Have one top team in each group say England, Pakistan, Zim. Then you have Aus, Sr Lanka, Ban, then SA, India, NZ. Just as an EXAMPLE. Try and make all the groups balanced that way you mix the teams from different tiers of power. That way all the lower ranked teams get to play higher ranked ones and learn from the experience. Then the teams with the most points from each group play each other in a three test series. You can't segregate the groups at all. Otherwise cricket will die in those nations in the second tier. I swear if ICC consolidate power with SA, IND and ENG and a two tiered segregated system of tests comes in I will quit watching and supporting this game. Hell lets include USA, Ireland and China. Why not?

  • Sriram on January 20, 2014, 15:23 GMT

    2 Tier will make sure we don't have anymore 'FAREWELL' series and even if one is arranged, it will be evenly contensted. The recent two farewell series for two greats was nothing but a mockery of Test cricket. Two unequal sides dominated by the Big brother on both occassions. I'm all for 2 tier coz SERIOUSLY how many watch or how many such games generate revenue!! Doesn't football do that? or even the successful EPL? Lets keep sentiments and emotions aside, a Two tier can easily be adjusted every year or every two years. Having said that I dismiss the thought of no relegation for Ind, Eng and Aus..for that right should be solely only with BCCI

  • Scott on January 20, 2014, 5:20 GMT

    Martin Crowe lamenting over the destruction of test cricket and highlighting it as something brought about by the introduction of T20 is close to the definition of irony - he all but invented T20 cricket (Cricket Max anyone?).

    In saying that, I guess he can be forgiven - Einstein wasn't the biggest fan of the A-Bomb either.

    What I think this proves is that Crowe is somewhat of a visionary and a cricket scholar. Perhaps we should all listen to him on this one too?

    The Test Cricket Open Championship? Yes please!