It's time to restrict Test cricket to the countries with the infrastructure for it

A strong first-class system is the foundation of a healthy Test nation, and not every country can afford to invest heavily in one for relatively limited returns

Ian Chappell
Ian Chappell
Younger Test countries like Afghanistan and Ireland could have benefited from playing a second-tier competition before making a bid for Test status  •  PTI

Younger Test countries like Afghanistan and Ireland could have benefited from playing a second-tier competition before making a bid for Test status  •  PTI

As the Test season recommences, the format's two longest-serving teams are promoting the game in entirely different ways.
In Perth the Australian team indulged in the time-worn practice of grinding the opposition down with relentless run-scoring. Meanwhile in Rawalpindi, England sprinted to a mind-bending 506 on the first day of a record-setting run rampage.
This variety of effort came at a time when Test cricket - under siege by popular infatuation with T20 - needs all the help it can muster. The fact that England's record first-day Test score passed the previous one created by Australia in 1910 should dampen the enthusiasm of those who think helter-skelter run-getting is a recent phenomenon.
As England captain, Ben Stokes has done much to not only markedly lift his team's performance but also raise the profile of Test cricket. Stokes has decreed that England players bat freely, but he also has fans anticipating something akin to a T20 run rate in the five-day format. This massive change of approach has come at a time when Test cricket, like the 50-over game, is suffering at the hands of the junior format. Despite Stokes' highly commendable approach, the game still requires answers to some difficult queries.
There are two big questions that appear to be overlooked by those in charge: How many teams should be playing Tests? And why aren't administrators working with the players in a partnership to ensure the future of the game?
Test cricket is a tough but rewarding game and players deserve the opportunity to participate in the format if that is their choice. However, Tests are also steeped in culture and that requires the countries involved to have a strong first-class infrastructure. Not many teams have or can afford to build such infrastructure, as it costs money rather than bringing a return on investment. T20 leagues, which produce a healthy return, are much more acceptable to administrators.
Consequently, it makes no sense to reward Afghanistan and Ireland, two recent recipients of Test status, neither of whom have the grounds or the infrastructure to reasonably expect that status. Sadly, Test status is best confined to the eight nations who have had a long-standing culture of the format.
If there is still a desire to spread Test cricket's reach, some thought could be given to eventually including combination teams composed of interested players who represent non-Test status teams.
Teams should still have to fulfil infrastructure and financial requirements to qualify for Test status. This would require a second-tier competition, where teams that perform well could state their case for Test status qualification.
The whole cricket structure, especially the schedule, is in need of a thorough but positive inquisition with the game's future in view.
There is also the glaring matter of the lack of partnership between players and administrators. Surely it shouldn't be - as it is currently - a matter of the administrators deciding the programme without any input from international players. If the international programme evolved as a result of consideration from such a partnership, then it would be much more palatable than the abomination that is the current schedule. T20 leagues are popping up faster than weeds in summer and an already implausible programme is headed for an almighty implosion.
T20 leagues now clash with each other and star players are signing longer-term contracts with expanding IPL clubs. These contradictions mean there will be a growing problem of how to produce greater numbers of marketable cricketers. In the current environment some leagues won't be able to sign the limited number of star players available and this could eventually damage the ability to remain financially viable.
These are all matters that need urgent attention but the big one is to ensure the players have a voice in the game's future.
It's great that Stokes and the England team have raised the Test-match bar at a time when the game requires extensive promotion. However, alongside their sterling efforts, we also require the strong input of a quality partnership between the players and administrators.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is a columnist