How Test cricket can shake off five stages of grief to not only survive but soldier on for another 150 years
It’s easy to start descending into the five stages of grief if you believe all that’s being said about Test cricket’s potentially grisly demise looming on the horizon.
Cricket nuffies need to revolt against the T20 revolution.
The alternative is the Kubler-Ross model of dealing with the loss of a loved one that Test cricket fans seems to be in one stage or another at the moment – denial that the format is dying, anger about the ICC’s inaction, bargaining with whichever dubious financial devil can come to the rescue, depression that the T20 circus is getting all the spotlight or acceptance that all good things must come to an end.
Test cricket is three years away from its 150th anniversary and the great sporting cockroach that it is, don’t rule out the prospect that it will not only survive the current gloomy forecasts but be around long after the doomsayers have met their own mortal doom.
Make no mistake, the current cluster of calamity that’s mounting against Test cricket is the greatest threat to its existence.
T20 is making pretty much all of the coin for the ICC and it’s raking in numbers that couldn’t have been dreamt about just a couple of decades ago in a time before the IPL.
Cricket’s administrators can save the traditional format if public pressure is such that the fans vote with their feet at games and eyeballs on their TV screens.
But T20 is also entering a crucial stage of its exponential explosion.
It won’t quite be boom or bust but the current rate of T20 leagues popping up in heartland cricket nations and new frontiers is not sustainable.
Like video stores in the 1980s and dotcom businesses before the turn of the century, they will cannibalise each other to the point where only a few will remain standing.
The IPL will continue to be the main feast but some of the other pale imitations will have a small shelf life or never be relevant beyond their own borders.
Popularity is not everything. Baywatch held the title of being the most watched TV show on the planet in its heyday. That didn’t make it the best.
Or as 1990s philosopher Wayne Campbell theorised (while playing ice hockey, another sport with limited geographic reach): “Led Zeppelin didn’t write tunes that every one liked. They left that to the Bee Gees.”
Test cricket wasn’t even known as Test cricket when it first got underway in 1877 and Australia, England and South Africa (12 years later) were the only countries participating in this very British Empire peculiar pastime for half a century.
The Caribbean outposts of the Commonwealth were merged to form the West Indies in 1928 with New Zealand and India earning their stripes soon afterwards.
Even with the addition of Pakistan in 1952, it meant that Test cricket had no more than seven nations for more than its first 100 years of competition.
Over the past four decades, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and six years ago Ireland and Afghanistan were granted Test status, mostly with limited success.
Sri Lanka’s rise to a team that can beat anyone on their day and South Africa’s readmission from the apartheid boycott in the early 1990s have been the only truly substantive additions to Test cricket in modern times.
An all-time great like former Australian captain Allan Border played against five teams for the vast majority of his Test career with a handful of games against Sri Lanka and South Africa (at the very end) added to the mix.
As a side note to the current drama surrounding South Africa selecting a B-grade Test squad to tour New Zealand, how galling must it be for the players who missed out on international careers due to their government’s racist policies over the course more than 20 years.
The current glass half empty viewpoint on Test cricket’s future is that teams outside of the Big Three of Australia, India and England will not be competitive because they can’t afford the running costs associated with the five-day format.
It’s true, unless drastic changes are made to cricket’s uneven distribution of wealth, the Neglected Nine of the 12 Test-playing nations will struggle to compete.
But the fact is many of these countries have never been consistently able to give the top-ranked nations a run for their money (on the field, that is) in the longest format.
It’s much easier to jag wins in T20s or even in a 50-over fixture but the testing nature of the red-ball contest separates the wheat from the chaff.
Looking at the glass half full, the likes of New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Pakistan will continue to punch above their weight in Tests even if they are regularly hampered by players being unavailable due to white-ball commitments.
The decision to rest Shaheen Shah Afridi from Pakistan’s line-up in Sydney was weak as pea soup on many fronts but the tourists again put up a strong showing and would have likely upset the Aussies if not for their day-three batting collapse.
Sri Lanka nearly made the last World Test Championship final and the Black Caps won the first one.
South Africa claim they will do their best to put their best team on the park in future Tests and that this upcoming farce was purely the result of the calendar clash with their T20 league.
If it’s their way of letting other countries know not to schedule any tours during this upcoming calendar slot, then it’s fair to say the message has been received loud and clear across the cricketing globe.
The ICC executives clearly think that cricket can cope with the logjam of formats and competitions – they’ve signed up to add the Olympic Games to their crowded calendar in 2028.
If T20 is the fast food of cricket, then Test cricket can surely remain on the menu as the satisfying cuisine for true connoisseurs.
As has been the case for the past 147 years, there are enough of us nuffies out there to dine out on Test cricket.
It’s an acquired taste and not palatable for everybody but like all the classics, it has stood the test of time.