Could following football’s lead be key in saving Test cricket?
The recent news that South Africa selected a weakened squad for their upcoming Test series against New Zealand has been the catalyst for a flood of commentary about the demise of Test cricket.
Coming largely from players, most of the conversation has been driven by emotional reactions rather than providing practical answers, except to pay the players more.
Seeking a solution we can look at what other sports around the world have done to manage the conflict between clubs and country.
Soccer, or football as the rest of the world calls it, has been successfully managing club and country football for as long as anyone can remember. It has done this through three principles: dedicated windows for international matches, consistency in scheduling and meaningful matches.
How can this be applied to cricket? Firstly, no one would argue that the most meaningful international matches are Test cricket and the World Cups. International one-day cricket matches stopped being meaningful more than a decade ago and international T20 matches have never really taken off outside of World Cups.
World Cups, either one-day international or T20, are held three out of every four years, with the Champions Trophy on the other year. This results in a meaningful international limited-overs tournament every year. Unlike in football, these events occur at different times every year due to the varying dates of cricket seasons around the globe.
Ideally there would be a dedicated window every year for international limited overs tournaments to provide consistency for fans, similar to football World Cups and continental championships.
The players tell us that every Test match is meaningful, but playing 3-4 Test series of 10-12 matches each year as we have over the past 40 years takes a considerable chunk of the cricket calendar. What if this was reduced to 2-3 series of 6-10 matches? With the Test cricket championship decided at Lord’s every two years, there would still be 5-6 series every two years to provide a meaningful number of qualification matches.
So how do we schedule these meaningful matches around the domestic T20 leagues that have already largely established themselves with consistent schedules each year? The major leagues have settled into the following times of year:
• Big Bash (Australia) and Super Smash (New Zealand) – mid December to late January
• SA20 (South Africa) – early January to early February
• Pakistan Super League – mid February to late March
• Indian Premier League – late March to end May
• The Hundred (England) – August
• Lanka Premier League (Sri Lanka) – August
• Caribbean Premier League – mid August to late September
With the exception of the Pakistan Super League, the domestic T20 leagues take place in three distinct time blocks: the southern leagues from mid December to mid February, the IPL during April and May and the England, West Indies and Sri Lanka leagues between August and September. These three windows take six months from the calendar, leaving six months for international cricket.
World Cups are generally held in either February-March or October-November with the exception of in England, where it’s held in the middle of the year. The duration of ODI World Cups is typically 6-7 weeks while the duration of Twenty20 world cups is shorter at 2-3 weeks. These windows therefore need to be two months for an ODI World Cup and one month for a T20 World Cup with an additional week or two for practice matches.
A schedule that could meet the earlier defined principles of dedicated windows for international matches, consistency in scheduling and meaningful matches would be as follows:
• January to mid February (6 weeks) – T20 leagues (Australia, South Africa, Pakistan & New Zealand)
• Mid February to March (6 weeks) – Test matches
• April to May (8 weeks) – T20 leagues (Indian Premier League)
• June (2 to 6 weeks) – Test World Championship or the England World Cups
• July – Test matches, with England matches extending into June or August as needed
• Aug to mid September (6 weeks) – T20 leagues (England, West Indies and Sri Lanka)
• October to mid November (6 weeks) – World Cups
• Mid November to end December – Test matches, with the Sydney Test extending into January
Will this result in players playing more than 100 Test matches throughout their careers? Probably not, but a Test career of 60-70 meaningful matches at consistent times throughout the year with opportunities for players to expand their earnings within the domestic T20 leagues would be a great outcome for players, fans and administrators.
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