Last month, the ICC’s Cricket Committee (yes, that of Sivaramakrishnan fame) yet again pretended to make an effort to preserve Test cricket’s ”primacy’, this time by stating that full members will be required to play a minimum number of Test matches every year.
I felt optimistic when I came across the concerned article, and I expected the minimum number to be at least ten, if not more. As I read on, I quickly realised that it was nothing but more of the same old hypocrisy. According to the Committee’s recommendation, a full member would be required to play at least four Test matches every year. Yes you read it right, four Test matches. Which means at least sixteen Tests in a four-year cycle, which is one more than the number England played in 2012 alone.
An ICC statement regarding the meeting said: ‘The ICC Cricket Committee reiterated its support for the strategy of ensuring an optimum balance and a clear differentiation between the three formats of the game, and noted the need to ensure that Test cricket, in particular, was protected. Noting the examples during the year where Test matches had been postponed to make room for other formats of the game, the committee recommended that all Test playing members should be required to play a minimum number of Test matches over a four-year period in order to maintain their Test status.’
It is downright hypocritical to even think of feel-good phrases like ‘optimum balance’ and protection of Tests’ after this ridiculous suggestion. But lest we forget, it is the ICC at work after all. True cricket fans have heard it all before, eventually to experience disappointment and frustration. The proposal of asking for a minimum of four Tests is not just an excuse to further stack up the calendar with limited-overs cricket, but in fact is a decision that will sooner or later fast-track Test cricket’s demise, at least in a few nations.
From the events of this year, it does seem like nations such as Sri Lanka and West Indies are not particularly interested in playing Test cricket. This ‘bare minimum’ will further embolden them to shamelessly cull or curtail Test rubbers to accommodate an irrelevant bilateral ODI series, or worse still, another nondescript and shady T20 league. The West Indies have cancelled at least four home Tests this year, which leaves them with a total of only four Tests in 2013, two at home against Zimbabwe back in March, and two more on the scheduled New Zealand tour later in the year. As far is 2013 is concerned, Sri Lanka have played two against Bangladesh so far, and in all likelihood will play only two more – against Zimbabwe.
So the writing is clear – this regressive suggestion is actually aimed at pleasing certain cricket nations who are staging Test matches as if they are doing a favour on the fans. Admittedly, the SLC and the WICB are facing constant financial crunches and that having more limited-overs games would bring in more revenue. But limited-overs cricket has always co-existed peacefully with Tests for more than 40 years now, so why the sudden need to just scrap a full Test series time and again? Even in the 90’s, when ODI cricket was at its peak, there were a lot quality Test matches played every year and there were no such instances of sheer disrespect to the great 136 year-old format.
The culprit then has to be Twenty20. Every now and then, a T20 league is cropping up. The decisions to cancel the Sri Lankan and West Indian home Tests were in a way taken to accommodate the Sri Lankan Premier League and the Caribbean Premier League respectively. The boards have assured that the Test series are not cancelled, but only ‘postponed’. But what is the guarantee, especially if this four-Test joke is implemented? With the advent of big money in T20, cricket boards are under pressure to start leagues of their own and ensure that the players’ monetary demands are met. The biggest problem in cricket today is that a player earns twenty times more for a three-hour slog-fest (which may even be staged, who knows?) than he does for playing the real five-day game. It is human nature to forsake earning pittance for a five-day grind in favour of a life-changing pay-packet for doing precious little. Beauty and intricacy be damned, sleaze and sixes are the order of the day.
Due to the above-mentioned discrepancies in payment, the ICC are giving into the selfish demands of cricket boards over the world. It is a fact that very few people come to watch Tests in the West Indies and Sri Lanka, but has there been any effort to market Test cricket the right way? We see huge posters and advertisements whenever a new T20 league or an ICC World T20 comes to town. Have we ever seen similar advertisements to promote Test cricket? The answer is big ‘No’. Even in India and Australia, crowds for Test matches are steadily dwindling. In the process, the cricket fan is being made a fool of. And sadly, he is allowing himself to be made a fool of – for instance, often you will see an Indian fan preaching about Test cricket on an online cricket forum, while in reality he will rush to pay an exorbitant amount just to lay hands on an IPL ticket. He will still continue to be made a fool of, for it is quite possible that the concerned IPL game would be nothing but a stage-show. It seems like the hypocrisy of the ICC is spreading on to the supporters of the game.
It is indeed a gloomy situation for a true cricket fan when the so-called care-takers of the game are themselves hell-bent on ridding the game of its soul, and the four-Test-a-year hogwash merely confirms that. The lip service continues.
Thank God for the Ashes then. For someone craving for quality Test cricket this season, the back-to-back Anglo-Australian contests will not seem to be as much of an overkill as it is being made out to be.