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Test cricket

February 7, 2014

Is Test cricket good for cricket?

Sundhar S

AB de Villiers plays a pull, South Africa v India, 1st Test, Johannesburg, 5th day, December 22, 2013
AB de Villiers plays a Test match in front of empty stands. Quite a different story when he plays in the IPL © AFP

I am a huge cricket fanatic. I play and watch cricket, and closely follow all developments related to the game. In my 18 years following the game, I have lived through the various phases the game has passed through before reaching its current state.

Test cricket, I agree, is the ultimate test for a player's skills, and it is very unique. But there are some glaring issues in Test cricket which will force a prospective investor to think twice before investing. Why has Test cricket declined in its audience appeal? Why has the standard of Test cricket reduced considerably in the last decade? Why has Test cricket inducted just two nations (Bangladesh and Zimbabwe) in the last 25 years?

There are two questions we never ask ourselves. Does Test cricket deserve all these painstaking efforts to revitalize the game? If we do away with, or at least sideline Test cricket for a while, will cricket benefit from it?

Yes and yes. The inconvenient truth that both the answers are 'yes' is the reason behind this mess called the new ICC revamp proposal.

Test cricket consumes a huge amount of money for very little returns. The fact is that only three countries in the entire world operate with a profit margin playing Test cricket. It's appalling to see the SLC applying for a $8 million interest-free loan, while its players fetch millions in the IPL.

Besides incurring huge losses when their teams play Tests, the smaller boards are also deprived of the invaluable 'player time' that they can invest elsewhere. Take AB de Villiers for example. He spends roughly half his on-field time for South Africa playing Test cricket. But the impact he has over generation of money when he plays Test cricket is much lesser than when he plays shorter formats. Around 50,000 spectators come to watch him play for his home team in the IPL, which is perhaps comparable to the total number of spectators who come to witness him in action over the duration of a couple of home Tests.

In pure business sense, his talent is being 'wasted', for want of a more apt term. It is a befuddling situation for almost all the players from outside the 'Big Three' - Dale Steyn, Chris Gayle, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and everyone else.

Now the question arises: how can their playing days be better utilised? A practical solution is T20 cricket. My suggestion is to widen the scope and appeal of the Champions League T20, and spread it to various markets around the world. Every board must have a stake in the tournament, with at least three teams participating from each country. The teams can be split into groups of four, and each team will play a home and away fixture with each of the other teams. A share of revenues from each of those fixtures will be split among the hosting cricket boards.

This can help the tournament in two ways. Firstly, it will appeal to all cricket-playing countries at once, thus generating an enthusiasm equivalent to an ICC event. Secondly, it will get global attention for the unfamiliar teams from smaller leagues like CPL. For instance, if the fate of Mumbai Indians hinges on a game between the Hawksbills and the Dolphins, surely the cricket community will take notice.

Another suggestion is to make the ICC events more appealing and inclusive. A match between South Africa and West Indies will catch more eye-balls if played in an ICC event instead of a bilateral series. Hence, a four-year period must have one 50-overs World Cup, two T20 World Cups and one Champions Trophy. Each event will have to go on for about a month, gradually building up to the grand finale.

By reducing the total Test matches of each country to a maximum of four or five a year, the calendar can be set in order. Two months of IPL, two months of Champions League T20 and one month of an ICC event. All cash-cow tournaments guaranteed of making profits.

Most of the influential decisions taken in the world are controversial; more so in regard to sports. Test cricket is a resilient sport. It will survive through periodic tours between the Big Three. Test cricket isn't fragile. At the moment, cricket as a whole is fragile. In trying too hard to protect Test cricket, we are losing the whole sport. It's time to let go; to make a compromise. We have to wake up to the fact that Test cricket and T20 cannot compete with each other. That will only polarise the fans, and create a bigger divide.

In dire times, you'll ask your rich friend for help rather than your best friend. Well, for cricket, that day has come.

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Sundhar is a mechanical engineer and a sports fanatic, who is particularly passionate about cricket and F1.

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Comments have now been closed for this article

Posted by ESPN on (February 9, 2014, 21:41 GMT)

@theviyanthan Spot on! Test cricket needs a better structure beyond the bilateral series.

Posted by Anil on (February 9, 2014, 8:18 GMT)

I think test cricket still forms the basic building blocks of cricket, without which the edifice will simply crumble. Cricket was never a rich fact, if anything, it is post 1991 that cricket has become a relatively wealthy sport. The advent of T20s has helped in making more money, and if that subsidized cricket in some countries, so be it. Killing test cricket is definitely not the answer. T20 should be the tool to attract new audiences and spread the game, but NOT at the expense of test cricket

Posted by suru on (February 8, 2014, 8:03 GMT)

i m saying this many times, people dont like test cricket. Make 50 over matches more competative. Shortest format is

Posted by Dummy4 on (February 8, 2014, 5:08 GMT)

Compromise? Playing 4 tests a year and 200 T20 games is a compromise? Please. Spare me.

T20, and I refuse to put the word 'cricket' after that because its just entertainment, has a spot in the game. Yes, its great for kids, and gives players who aren't good enough to play the long form of the game a platform to showcase how well they can edge the ball and seems to bring a serious cash flow to the game, but that's it. It has a spot, but it is NOT the sport.

It's not the fault of Test Match cricket fans that your average player doesn't have the patience to apply themselves to Test Cricket. Don't punish cricket supporters because the average joe is 'entertained' by hit and giggle T20.

Posted by Harman on (February 8, 2014, 0:49 GMT)

you know all these people that say indians are crazy about cricket, doesn't seem like they are that crazy about cricket at all. it's entertainment they're after.

so why don't you guys just get your entertainment from other places and leave cricket alone? btw, i am indian and i am crazy about cricket. i get my mindless entertainment from other sources and not from watching top edges fly for sixes in small grounds on flat decks in meaningless games.

Posted by Ramesh on (February 7, 2014, 18:18 GMT)

Appreciate the bold premise. Makes sense in a " To save the village, we had to destroy" manner. Test cricket may survive for long as a niche sport; But T20 leagues do not quite give all nuances of cricket.As Martin Crowe has said, 40 overs cricket may be?

Posted by Sundhar on (February 7, 2014, 18:18 GMT)

And I wanna ask these people, do you honestly say that the current Test series between India and NZ is attracting equal attention as the just concluded ODI series? Just look the the stadium during the ODI series and today's play. One has to admit that the BCCI is what it is now only because they have embraced T20 very quickly. 15 years ago, BCCI and CSA were on the same page. Now they have woken up to the fact. Why can't CSA be smart and do the same? Why patronize Test cricket so much so that your very survival is under threat?

Posted by Sundhar on (February 7, 2014, 18:09 GMT)

I am the writer. I have to clarify certain points made by some of the people here. By lack of audience appeal, I did not only mean the lack of spectators in the stadium, but also the dwindling interest among TV viewers. If SLC could secure a hefty broadcast deal for its Test matches, they won't be in this state now. CSA has openly admitted that their survival depends largely on the television deals from series against the Big Three, particularly India. My point is, when you have world class players like AB De, Steyn, Amla, etc, why do you have to beg these top nations for survival? Why not effectively utilise their talents to woo these deals by being open to playing more limited overs cricket? Certainly I will pay to watch these players play more in CLT20 and ICC events and so do many more people around the world, but the same cannot be said when they play a bilateral Test series with, say, Sri Lanka or West Indies.

Posted by Ravi on (February 7, 2014, 15:35 GMT)

I don't agree with this writer at all! Revenue does not come from spectators on the ground! Nowadays it comes mostly from TV rights and ads which are usually contracted out long before the series begins! If the number of viewers was the only source of revenue cricket is not profitable for anyone including India! The money generated by actual spectators on the ground is a tiny fraction of the total! Test cricket is actually thriving now, there is renewed interest, they no longer end in tame draws! look at the interest generated by the Ashes, the India-SA and India-NZ series!

Posted by Aswin on (February 7, 2014, 14:38 GMT)

people need to stop coming up with such gimmicks. Cricketers are supposed to entertain, but do not make it a circus of sixes and outs. Instead, international cricket needs to be scheduled in the right way, with matches being contracted to give recovery time to players and increase a sense of anticipation.

Posted by Android on (February 7, 2014, 14:16 GMT)

There is a reason test cricket is called the heart of cricket. You stop playing tests and pretty soon you ll have spectators bored of just t20. No one enjoys sixes 75% of the time they watch cricket. Test cricket is what prevents cricket from turning into baseball. We can't lose the classic or else cricket will soon lose its shape and beauty. Test cricket is the base upon which ODI and T20 cricket stands. Take out the base and the building will eventually crumble. Batsmen will not be judged on their defense but rather their attacking ability. While I understand the writer wishes to decrease the number of tests a years, that will surely not help. For eg you have seperate squads for each format, when the test squad watches the t20 guys earn more and get more playing opportunities, eventually you ll have nearly no one playing test cricket.

Posted by Dummy4 on (February 7, 2014, 11:02 GMT)

What test cricket lacks is context. An Oz or a Pom wouldn't call Ashes boring. Not even me a Sri Lankan would call it boring. There exist a rivalry between this two teams backed up by a long history of feud in the field, hence we have a context. To make test stable ICC should introduce incentives in the form of Multi National Test tournaments. For instance a year can be allocated for a tournament featuring three top test teams. For instance Australia, South Africa and England can play a test against one another in the space of a year at home and away. The top two teams can be made to battle it out in the final at a Neutral venue. If spin is the nemesis for England and Australia, provided that they both enter the final, they can be made to play the final at Galle, which would both be fun and grueling. Hence, we can have some context which would force us to follow test cricket.

Posted by Harman on (February 7, 2014, 10:51 GMT)

1. Test cricket is struggling because of a lack of relevance and significance. It needs to be played in a league like format, in a 2-3 year cycle in a tiered format to ensure that every game counts.

2. Cricket boards are struggling in part due to incompetence and corruption. Giving more money to such boards isn't going to fix their financial situation.

3. You say, "if the fate of Mumbai Indians hinges on a game between the Hawksbills and the Dolphins, surely the cricket community will take notice." No, the 'cricket community' will not take notice. It is only the Mumbai fanbase (and perhaps some of other the Indian community) that'll take notice.

Lastly, cricket is one of the few (if not only) sports that can be played successfully in multiple formats. Please, enough with the calls to make it one-dimensional.

Posted by Dummy4 on (February 7, 2014, 10:43 GMT)

Surely not the best of ideas. The people care about IPL because it is short and once a year. Who would care if there's such cricket all the year around. the priority should be to make test cricket more appealing maybe daynight tests would help or any other ways where there will be better ball and bat competition (for subcontinents). Its not test cricket is not growing, I watch them regularly though I am from an associate nation and I know many such here. The only problem I find is the timing. No one is gonig to the game regularly for 5 days leaving work or school. Maybe ICC should think about it

Posted by Ben on (February 7, 2014, 10:27 GMT)

If sport is about all about entertainment, making money and popularity, why not get rid of the cricket altogether and use the wicket as a stage for pop acts and dancing girls. The players (or ex-players) could be used to wander the outfield throwing free gifts at the tens of thousands of spectators. Kerrching - profits and entertainment all round!

Alternatively we could play sport for the sake of playing sport and the inherent interest, intrigue and beauty that accompanies it. And at it's pinnacle in cricket is a test match.

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