Is Test cricket dying? (Spoiler: No.)
But before I explain, here’s a couple of short videos to watch. Firstly, Moeen Ali’s hat-trick ball to seal England’s Test victory over South Africa at The Oval on July 31:
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) July 31, 2017
Second, eighteen year-old Rashid Khan taking the first ever hat-trick of the Twenty20 Caribbean Premier League at Brian Lara Stadium, Trinidad on September 6:
— CPL T20 (@CPL) September 7, 2017
Which game had the bigger crowd and the better atmosphere, and which hat-trick do you think will be remembered in twenty years’ time, or even next year?
Test cricket is not dying, but in many ways it has failed to grow at the same rate as the sport’s newer versions, the one-day game and Twenty20. The Ashes, starting in Australia in November, are close to selling out, and most England Test tours are a major event for the Barmy Army.
Christmas and New Year Tests in Australia, regardless of the opponent, attract big crowds and massive TV ratings.
Day-night Test matches are increasingly becoming part of the mix. The first two at Adelaide in the past two years have attracted large crowds and healthy television audiences. England’s first day-night Test – against West Indies at Edgbaston in August – has also been seen as a success, despite the visitors losing two days early.
While the boards will continue to pursue the commercial imperatives of day-night Tests, there are still bugs to be sorted out, the biggest being that the players simply don’t like playing with a pink cricket ball in changing light conditions.
We are yet to see how the popularity of “pink ball” Tests withstands either a dull fifth-day draw or the frustrations of constant rain interruptions. Not once, in the four day-night Tests played in Australia and England to date, has a match extended into a Monday evening.
The biggest threats to the viability of Test cricket have arisen with the exponential growth in the number of matches played in the past three decades, in which period the number of Test teams has grown from seven to ten (and soon to twelve).
Traditional encounters like the Ashes or India’s home Tests remain popular, and indeed have grown in popularity with the extended reach of live television and the internet.
Other series have failed to deliver the same growth. It’s difficult to argue, for example, that the rivalry between South Africa and Bangladesh (who have just completed a lop-sided two match series) is dying off when it never existed in the first place.
But there needs to be a reason for being if Test cricket is to be more than just the cash cow of a handful of nations.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) board is meeting in New Zealand later this week and is set to approve a World Test Championship structure that would involve the nine leading Test teams playing each other in a two-year cycle beginning in 2019 with the top two meeting in a Final at Lord’s in 2021.
Exactly how this would function in the instance of India’s fixture with Pakistan is not clear, but it otherwise guarantees each team a minimum number of Tests, with competition points up for grabs in each series.
This would mean, for example, that Bangladesh would have split competition points with Australia in their recent 1-1 Test series, but would have taken none from their 0-2 loss to South Africa last week. Every Test would have some degree of broader context.
Test cricket deserves to survive, and will, alongside Twenty20 just as the marathon is as much a part of the athletics calendar as the 100 metres sprint. It will never be the major money-earner of the game, that is the role of Twenty20 these days.
But the advent of a functional world Test league, together with some smart scheduling including the occasional day-nighter, will reinforce the five-day game’s unique place in world sport.
(This article was first published on October 9 2017 by iSportconnect).