A few days back, yet another Test series became a doubtful starter as the West Indian and Pakistani cricket boards failed to reach a decision on the scheduling of Pakistan’s two-Test tour to the Caribbean in July. Lamentably, this will be the second Test series in the Caribbean to be cancelled this year, with Sri Lanka already scrapping their two-Test rubber. Clearly, money talks and it is evident how Test cricket is repeatedly being shabbily treated by those who continue to pay only lip service to the prestigious 136-year old format of the game. Such incidents are a continuing trend ever since the IPL was conceptualised in 2008, with every possible country now coming up with T20 leagues of their own.
How much ever I dislike the nauseating IPL (due apologies to Ravi Shastri and the rest of his on-BCCI’s-payroll crew), the fact is that it is very popular, at least in India, and it is here to stay at least in the near future. The cricket might be sidelined in this sham of a Twenty20 league, but the fat pay packets to everyone involved – right from players to commentators to columnists – mean that everything else falls second. The truth is that the IPL team owners and ‘scouts’ are least interested in nurturing talent, the only thing they are after are the greenbacks on offer. But with such easy money available for seven weeks, it is little wonder why the players are making a beeline for the tournament, year after year. As a rule, cricketer’s earnings are much lower than other sports-persons, and as long as they are fit to hit around for 20-odd balls or roll their arm over for a couple of overs, the world’s best current and recently-retired stars will continue to get attracted by the league.
For the public, it is naturally the lure of an entertainment package and the chance to catch up on some action after work that are the factors behind the IPL’s mass appeal. They do not care that much for team loyalties (after all, teams get shuffled after every three years), they forget the scores the morning after, but it is pure enjoyment for them. Thus to be fair, it is filling up the seats in spite of all the flaws attached to it. The key is to shorten this tournament, for the sake of maintaining harmony in the international calendar. The current duration of almost two months is too much for even die-hard IPL supporters.
A compact, one-month tournament from the middle of April to the middle of May can be a feasible solution. 30 days of this circus will be more than enough, then back to serious cricket please. Ten teams in two groups can play eight games each plus the knockouts, which mean a total of 43 matches over the month’s course – I am sure it will keep everyone happy. Also, English cricketers will be able to play half the games at least and with generally no international cricket played during that period, other nations too can send their players.
The question then is what about the other T20 leagues, for they too would like to have the best players on board? Such leagues can be incorporated in the international seasons of respective countries. For instance, the first edition of the Caribbean T20 league will be played for almost one month in June-July this year. No harm in that if it will help the low-on-funds West Indian cricket board to strengthen its finances, but the sad part is that Test series are being blatantly called off. Sri Lanka and West Indies have been the biggest culprits in this regard, having called off at least four Test series between them in the past year or so. Also, the Champions League T20 is a flawed and unnecessary tournament which eats into the international calendar like a pest. There is already too much of T20 overkill across the world.
Thus, the need of the hour is to promote and market Test cricket with genuine passion. Session tickets should be uniformly introduced to make the timings more flexible for those who cannot watch an entire day’s play due to time constraints. The young audience should be encouraged to follow Test cricket, because it might be difficult for those hooked on to T20 to enjoy the beauty of Test cricket. Tests should be promoted and marketed well, just like T20 is promoted. 50 overs cricket needs to be phased out gradually, and perhaps the 2019 World Cup should be the last that we see of ODI cricket. Cricket can do better with two formats, Tests for the true connoisseurs and T20’s for those with a short attention span. Further, there is a need for incentives and better contracts to players for playing Tests – the biggest flaw of cricket is that a player earns many times less playing five eight-hour days than he does for throwing his bat around in a three-hour slog-fest.
It is true that the cricket boards get a lot of revenue from limited-overs cricket, and as long as Tests and T20’s co-exist peacefully, cricket can only gain. But at the moment, T20 is eating into Test cricket’s territory and the ICC is to be blamed for that, for their FTP is nothing but a joke.
The soothsayers had said that Test cricket is dying when 50-overs cricket was born. Today they are mulling over the possible death of 50 -overs cricket. Test cricket has survived for 136 long years – if the IPL sustains itself for even 36 years, then that will be an achievement it can be proud of.