April 20, 2014

Test cricket needs fewer teams, not more

Having the top Associate team play the lowest-ranked Test side without the threat of relegation shows how votes mean more to the ICC than results

The ICC's recent announcement that it is providing a pathway to Test cricket for Associate nations almost - I stress, almost - made me forget the dysfunctional nature of the administration. For a fleeting moment I shelved my concerns about the Big Three power grab and the ICC's incoming president currently being barred by the Indian Supreme Court (pending a corruption inquiry) from holding the same position with the BCCI.

Surely the ICC's main priority is to address the flaws in Test cricket rather than add to them by introducing new teams. Not that the ICC announcement actually stated there will be any additions from among the Associates, but it made it abundantly clear there won't be any subtractions from the current ten member nations.

Wouldn't want to upset the balance of power in the boardroom voting, would we? Certainly not just for the sake of addressing what ails Test cricket.

The ICC's ill-conceived plan is to have the winner of the ICC Intercontinental Cup, a first-class tournament between Associate nations, play the lowest-ranked Test team in a series of five-day first-class matches held every four years, starting in 2018, two at home and two away.

This might seem to be a dream come true for the stronger Associate nations like Ireland, but the fine print acts like a cold shower. No Full Member, beaten by an Associate nation in one of these challenges, can be relegated. So if Ireland or Afghanistan or another strong Associate nation was to beat Zimbabwe or Bangladesh, or, heaven forbid, West Indies, it doesn't necessarily mean that Associate gets to play Test cricket.

That's reassuring, considering Test cricket is already in a state of competitive imbalance. There are four sides who rate as "strong" - South Africa, India, Australia and England. However, all four have flaws. India haven't won a match of any consequence away from home recently; England have dramatically slipped from strong to teetering on the brink of moderate; Australia have improved but are only months removed from 4-0 and 3-0 overseas thrashings; and South Africa could be in for a tough time following the retirements of stalwart allrounder Jacques Kallis and a strong leader, Graeme Smith.

Sri Lanka rank just outside that group but they struggle to produce quick bowlers and Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jaywardene, who form the spine of their batting, are edging ever closer to retirement. Pakistan continue to produce talented young cricketers but with no games at home this will become ever harder to replicate, and they already frustrate with their consistent inconsistency.

New Zealand fight like hell under a brave captain, Brendon McCullum, and they now possess a decent attack, but they have such a small player pool it's always a battle to match it with the superpowers.

Then we come to the saddest tale of all - West Indies. They have been a basket case for more than a decade and cricket desperately needs them to be strong, because playing well, they are a big draw card.

And Bangladesh and Zimbabwe as Test nations make for a misnomer that could only be dreamt up by a body more interested in votes than victory on the field.

Associate nations being elevated to Test level should be about them attaining a consistently high standard of play against strong opposition and developing a solid, dependable production line of players. It shouldn't be about one of them getting lucky with a talented group of players in one four-year period.

The ICC needs to be wary in its assessments, judging by the progress of Ireland's best players. It's not like the transfer to England's colours has seen Eoin Morgan, Ed Joyce or Boyd Rankin actually take Test cricket by storm.

And anyway, looking to add more Test nations when you already have two who shouldn't be playing and another team that needs serious help is ludicrous.

I don't think Ireland or Afghanistan or Netherlands or any other Associate nation should be playing Test cricket. However, neither should Bangladesh or Zimbabwe. To prosper, Test cricket needs to have more competitive balance not less.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on April 25, 2014, 12:34 GMT

    Does Ian Chappell want cricket to be a global sport, or just a curiosity played by a few former British colonies and virtually unknown in the rest of the world? Because if his proposals were to be implemented, it would send the game towards the latter status for a long time. Excluding teams from Test cricket would be an easy way of dismantling any expansion it might have made over the last few decades.

    Ireland and Afghanistan should be given Test status as soon as possible, with other teams added when their results merit it. Stipulate a minimum number of times teams must play each other - say two Tests at home and two away over a 5-6 year period - but allow them to arrange further series as they wish. So the lower teams would probably spend most of the time playing each other, but still get an occasional series against top teams - a tier system in effect, but one which only reduces the number of matches between teams of different tiers, rather than eliminating them completely.

  • rahul on April 23, 2014, 6:19 GMT

    I am really disappointed by chappells take on test cricket .what we can make out of chappells take here is like making test cricket only for the privileged teams like the big three. and making other teams play the slam bang cricket.Its in fact good if teams like Ireland play test Cricket and even defeat West Indies..I don't know what he meant by saying Heaven Forbid if west indies get defeated by Ireland.Huh.i am really sorry for Ian chappell.He seems to be living in a fools paradise.If test cricket needs to survive and even Grow it needs to be played in maximum countries.Its not that only Australia Can play test cricket.We dont need persons like Chappell who by having such thinking are actually doing trying to destroy test cricket rather than doing any good for the ultimate game,The TEST CRICKET.

  • Shikhar on April 22, 2014, 21:18 GMT

    I really wish something akin to "THE ASHES" were at stake every time a ball was bowled in a Test match. That's what'll save Test cricket. And even bring it into the limelight, which is where it deserves to be !

    Each and every Test match and/or Test series should matter to the players & public, like the Ashes do to crowds in England and Australia. We don't need a Test Championship in 2017 or 2020 ... we need it NOW !

    I can't see why the No.1 ranked team in the world, can't be awarded the title of Test-Champions right away, with rightful contenders issuing challenges, much like it happens in Boxing. The title goes to whoever wins.And other teams play each other to earn shots at the title. (Home advantage to higher ranked teams or title-holders).

  • Anup on April 22, 2014, 6:57 GMT

    Test cricket needs to be split into 3 divisions, each consisting 5 teams. Promotion and relegation should happen over a 2 year cycle. Tier 1 teams should play 3 home & 3 away test against each team of their tier, thereby playing 12 tests a year. Tier 2 and Tier 3 teams should play 2 home & 2 away tests against teams of their respective tiers, thereby playing 8 tests a year. 4th and 5th team in Tier 1 should be relegated thereby granting promotion to 6th and 7th ranked team. 10th ranked team(i.e. last in Tier 2) should be relegated to Tier 3 and winner of Tier 3 would get promotion. This will ensure fair chance for every team to play against best teams. Moreover, there will be no dead rubbers.

  • Philip on April 22, 2014, 5:45 GMT

    McGorium is right to say that there is an unhealthy obsession with statistics in cricket and that may lead to an opinion that Test cricket has to be elitist in the extreme so that old records are not undercut by worthless new ones. Sport is full of mis-matches. Every football league has a side at the top, pretty much undefeated, and a side at the bottom, pretty much winless. It happens and people accept it. Maybe a 5-Test series between Bangladesh and Ireland would be a bad idea, but surely a one-off Test or 2-Test series would be appropriate (even Aus v SA is no longer a 5-Test event). There's Zimbabwe too. SL, WI, NZ and Pakistan could follow, once the newcomer's gained more experience. The game doesn't need a two-tier system. It already has one of sorts. Australia rarely play Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, but regularly turn out against India and England. If Ireland was to gain Test status, it would growing the game. That should be the aim - not shrinking it.

  • Bludging on April 21, 2014, 23:47 GMT

    As usual Ian Chappell is 100 percent spot on.

    It is all well and good having all comers playing 'test' cricket but the reality is nobody is prepared to watch them play, particularly in the nations where test cricket is still watched in large numbers and does make money. Besides that, the players themselves from the top nations do not want to be out there conducting coaching clinics for average cricketers who are only there due to cricket politics.

    Really test cricket needs to be trimmed back to a top 6 nations, have a play off for that 6th spot every four or so years from the rest.

  • ESPN on April 21, 2014, 23:31 GMT

    I think associate teams like Ireland and Afghanistan deserve their chance in test cricket. Perhaps a promotion relegation system could be employed every 4 years. How to do it is the question. Established test playing counties will not easily give up their status and that is the problem

  • Dummy4 on April 21, 2014, 23:27 GMT

    Ian Chapple has a point. Solution however more likely to be a two division set up with minimum 12 teams and relegation promotion on a two yearly championship. For a change Test matches that mean something!

  • Arun on April 21, 2014, 23:08 GMT

    I believe fans, cricketers, and administrators have an unhealthy obsession with statistics. I don't see any other reason for the test club to exist. To me, it appears to be an attempt to not dilute records of former greats by allowing the weaker teams into the club. If Ireland wishes to play Bangladesh in a 5-day game, there's no reason for it not to be called a test. There's some expense on ICC's side, like providing umpires, match refs etc. but surely that's not the reason. Market forces will always decide the number of tests played between teams; this has always been the way. Nobody complained when England were routinely thrashed home and away in the late 90's and early 2000s (ashes, but also other tours). The big 3 will always have more tours between themselves, because there's only so many loss-making tours that can be done. But if Ire wish to play Ban, they ought to be able to, and refer to it as an international test. The financial losses are their own.

  • Dummy4 on April 21, 2014, 22:29 GMT

    A test match between two evenly matched associate teams would be more interesting than the one sided contests we have been seeing of late between full member teams. May be they could play tests with each other and the best team could play against the weaker full members. Why should full members not be relegated for playing badly ?