|WG Grace and KS Ranjitsinhji walking side by side in 1899. Test cricket is our great heritage that must be preserved carefully.|
I don’t claim to be wiser than all the accomplished cricket administrators of the world or the great cricketers who have ventured into cricket administration. But I am surprised at the sloth of cricket administrators, and their apathy towards Test cricket which is inarguably the highest form of the game and from which stems every subsequent format. The administrators have been quick to truncate the game into One-dayers and Twenty20 to suit the times, but they have paid mere lip service to Test cricket which is timeless, and a charm very much its own.
I also do not wish to indulge in one-upmanship, turn around and say I told you so. But back in 1990, I wrote in my first book ‘Test Cricket: End of the Road?’ about the issues that are still being bandied about in cricketing circles. After the manuscript of this book was gone through by the publishers Rupa & Co., their boss R.K. Mehra told me that it should carry a foreword by either Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi or Sunil Gavaskar. I approached Tiger Pataudi in Delhi. He read the manuscript but declined to pen a foreword. Apparently, my book did not meet his standards. Rupa & Co. then sent the manuscript to Gavaskar but he too refused. Gavaskar was clearly irked by a chapter in the book about the Lord’s Test of 1990 when he and his former India teammate Bishan Singh Bedi, the then manager of the Test side, had had an acrimonious exchange through the media. Be that as it may, for Pataudi and Gavaskar were Indian captains and folk heroes, and I just a school, college and club cricketer - albeit with a fair amount of allround talent - and young first-time author. That though did not mean that I had no insight into the game, and certainly I had no less passion for the sport.
Those were the days when there was a debate whether Test cricket was dying and One-day cricket was the way forward. Wills, in fact, made a video on this anchored by none other than Tiger Pataudi. In the video Pataudi remarked whether One-day cricket was the future of the game. It was in this backdrop that I wrote my first book. I argued that Test cricket would not die but there were some changes required. Nearly three decades on, Test cricket continues to be played. Since then newer countries have earned Test status, two of which are making their respective debuts this year. It is, in fact, One-day cricket that is under threat from Twenty20, and indeed there are already talks about 100 balls a side and even ten over a side games.
So whither Test cricket? The traditional Ashes series between England and Australia continue to draw crowds at the grounds. In other countries, especially India, spectators are seen at the stadiums when the cricket is interesting. Obviously, times have changed. Earlier there were less forms of entertainment, there was no live telecast, and a Test match came to one’s city once every year or two. So people thronged at the venues. Crowds may have thinned at the grounds but there are still millions watching on television. And the nature of Test cricket is such that it allows companies to advertise liberally at reasonable rates. The problem really, as I mentioned earlier, is apathy of the administrators, and lack of proper marketing of Test cricket.
Clearly, this concept of rolling championship and ranking system is not working. I never thought it would. Who cares whether Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal is no. 1 in tennis at a particular time. But everyone wants to know who won Wimbledon, US Open, French Open, Australian Open….. and everyone wants to watch these tournaments.
Test cricket needs a long duration championship. A triangular tournament between England, Australia and South Africa was tried more than a century ago in 1912, and it was not a success. More recently in the 1990s an Asian championship was attempted but made no headway. I am convinced that Test cricket needs four-year championships between two One-day World Cups, not two-year ones as scheduled by the International Cricket Council (ICC) after the 2019 World Cup. When there are twelve Test-playing nations, why are only nine going to participate in the Test championship? And why are these nine teams going to play three series at home and three series away in this two-year period? If we have all twelve teams participating in a four-year championship, they can easily play each other home and away in this time. The series can be of two, three, four or five Tests, as decided mutually by the respective boards. An interesting points system can be devised. Top batsmen, bowlers, allrounders, wicketkeepers and fielders will emerge over these four years, which is a reasonable period to decide such things. We will have a champion Test team at the end of four years. Why, isn’t there a champion One-day team every four years? Isn’t a soccer World Cup held every four years? Aren’t the Olympics held every four years? Why should a long game like Test cricket be confined to two years? The logic of ICC confounds me. A saying in Hindi goes thus: “der aaye durust aaye” (they came late but arrived in fine fettle). Here they came very late but not in good shape at all. There is no need for a final either. How can ONE Test match decide the fate of such a prestigious championship?
Again, as I wrote above, I presented these views in my book ‘Test Cricket: End of the Road?’, and also in an article in 2014 on one of my blogs. A link to it is given herewith:
I sent a copy of it to the ICC. They acknowledged receiving it with the comment that ICC would consider it.
I also wrote about day-night Test matches and the need to do away with the toss in ‘Test Cricket: End of the Road?’. Of course, day-night Test matches should be played whenever and where the respective boards deem fit. Naturally, there will be more spectators at the stadiums, and television viewership will grow, especially in home series.
There is no need for the toss. The option of batting or fielding first should be with the visiting captain. The same ritual of the two captains and the match referee striding to the middle should be followed. There, after looking at the pitch, the visiting skipper could inform his opposite number about his preference, and they can exchange the list of teams as now. This will ensure that pitches are not doctored to suit the home side, and will be more sporting. It will lead to good cricket and a more level field (no pun intended!).
Test cricket will not just disappear. It is our heritage, a way of life. More books have been written on Test cricket, than on all other sports combined. It has more stories, tales and legends, as also intricacies, than any other sport. It has evolved over the last 141 years to what it is now. How we preserve it is up to us. More care is needed than is being shown. This is time for much more introspection.
Test Cricket – End of the Road?
Published in India by Rupa & Co., 1992