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Test cricket cannot flourish in the shadow of the T20 format

Non-traditional Test playing nations have little incentive to play the longest format when T20 is more lucrative, accessible and popular

Ian Chappell
Ian Chappell
The two squads pose with the trophy, Afghanistan vs Zimbabwe, 2nd Test, Abu Dhabi, 5th day, March 14, 2021

Afghanistan have played just six matches since achieving Test status in 2017, all one-offs except for a two-Test series against Zimbabwe this year  •  Abu Dhabi Cricket

There's a T20 World Cup to be played in the UAE and then, after some spirited negotiations, hopefully a credible Ashes series in Australia.
The difficult negotiations over the Ashes series were mostly brought about by the Covid pandemic, but more and more the T20 format is casting a dark shadow over Test cricket. T20 tournaments involving countries require only days to complete and therefore are far easier to negotiate in the current chaotic climate than a long Test series.
Because of the short time-span involved, T20 is a game better suited than Test matches to countries that are not traditionally cricket-playing nations. Hence the involvement of tyros like Oman and Papua New Guinea in the upcoming T20 tournament.
The T20 format is also more lucrative and popular when compared with Test cricket in countries other than Australia and England. Considering most administrators are myopic when it comes to matters other than the bottom line, this is a critical point in any planning for the game's future.
The cost of the infrastructure required to produce Test players is prohibitive to non-traditional cricket countries. On the other hand there's a good chance they can run a T20 competition and actually attract fans - which will provide an income stream.
Even if a non-traditional country does not have their own T20 competition, their better players have an opportunity to earn a living by playing in overseas tournaments.
All of these factors point to future Test series being mostly played among the traditional cricket countries. It's hard to see the long form of the game prospering in the latest Test-playing nations, Ireland and Afghanistan. They don't have a first-class infrastructure capable of supporting a player development system of any great depth. There's also an inclination among the older Test-playing nations to avoid contests against these newer teams where possible, as they are generally a costly proposition.
It's a bleak picture for Test cricket, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic-created chaos.
A draft system could be introduced, whereby the weaker Test teams can acquire outstanding players from other countries to boost their competitiveness
A quick glance at the Test history of the two latest recruits adds to the gloomy picture. Both Afghanistan and Ireland were elevated to Test status in 2017. Since then, they've played six and three matches respectively. India have played one Test with Afghanistan and England a solitary game against Ireland. Australia - following the postponement of their scheduled Test against Afghanistan - are still yet to play either of the new entrants.
Australia's treatment of young Test-playing countries is not great - just ask New Zealand - and that won't improve, now that winter tours are unlikely to happen. In July 2003, Australia played two Tests against Bangladesh at home; one in Darwin and the other in Cairns. This was before the IPL and myriad other T20 franchise competitions had popped up like daisies in spring. Not only is the crowded schedule a disincentive for traditional Test-playing countries to schedule matches against the tyros, there's also the players' health to be considered.
Players are now - as they should be - less reluctant to speak out and act on mental health issues. This is going to be critical in future planning.
Not only do administrators need to give serious thought to what for too long has been an absurdly congested schedule but hitting the right balance between financial needs and player welfare will also require some creative thinking.
That could mean introducing a draft system whereby the weaker Test teams can acquire outstanding players from other countries to boost their competitiveness. This could be a way for talented players from outside of the Test-playing nations to experience the thrill of the longer game. The current imbalance between the strong and weak Test-playing countries is another hindrance in promoting the five-day game.
Creating a balance between the financial rewards of T20 and the need to fully test players in longer contests is a big challenge. The question is, do the administrators have a duty of care to talented kids of the future so they have the opportunity to experience the thrill of Test cricket?

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is a columnist