At any cricket Q&A session the most common question – after “what’s the best sledge you have ever heard?” – is “do you think Test cricket will survive?” My answer is always an unmitigated “Yes!” It is the original form of the game, the most unpredictable and, perhaps most importantly, the best players – those who can still do it, that is – want to be judged by it.
Test cricket is their benchmark. It gives them their status in the world. It is also the best form of the game to write and talk about, which is why such a wonderfully compelling and thought-provoking writer as Peter Roebuck invested so much time in covering it.
Roebuck’s tragic departure is a huge loss to the game he loved. He left us with the Test match story at a typically unbalanced stage. The dramatic match in Cape Town last week – during which 23 wickets fell in a day and Australia were bowled out for their lowest total since 1902, and which he covered – should have helped to rejuvenate the ailing ‘brand’ in uncertain territories.
But, once again with Test cricket, it is one step forward and then two back. A couple of days later the ICC announced the postponement of the World Test Championship – scheduled for 2013 – putting it back four years to accommodate a broadcaster’s wishes to retain another redundant one-day tournament, the Champions Trophy.
For Test cricket to maintain its supremacy it needs a focal point, just as the 50-over and 20-over formats have a World Cup. To be number one is what all sports teams – and their supporters – strive for. It places the focus on team rather than individual, and there are rather too many players in world cricket at present who think of their Test average as their share price and whose priority is to protect that value rather than devote themselves to the communal/national cause.
It is vital for Test cricket’s future credibility that there is a pinnacle to the step-by-step of individual Test series. The World Test Championship is the end game. Every show needs a finale. There are some rich characters on the Test match stage at present. By 2017 most, if not all, of them will be gone.
The reason there is doubt about Test cricket’s survival is dwindling audiences. But is it any wonder the public don’t turn up given how they are treated? Look at what happened on the second day of the current Test being played in Kolkata between India and West Indies.
There was a reasonable crowd in, but the players went off for bad light around lunch time. Bad light? There are four huge floodlight pylons looming over the great Eden Gardens ground, but the lights were not used. This is absolutely insane. Would this happen in any other sport? No. Would this even happen in other forms of cricket (like 50-over or Twenty20?) Absolutely not!
Then it was announced that play would begin at 8.30am the next day to compensate. That’s OK for the players and officials. Their wake-up call is about 6am anyway. But for the paying public? It is hard enough for the working Indian man or woman to fit Test cricket into their busy daily schedule anyway, without the hours of play being changed on a whim.
Test cricket is like a fine old building that still commands awe but for which no one (apart from the ECB) is prepared to spend proper time and money preserving. Well, consider this. If it is not properly invested in and cared for, then the ultimate form of international cricket will end up looking like Milton Keynes.