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The International Cricket Council is considering a two-tier system for Test cricket in a bid to make it more interesting. Nishad Pai Vaidya examines the hurdles before the implementation of the innovative system.
Would a two-tier system make Test cricket more interesting? In a bid to bring some life to the classical format, generating more interest and attracting viewers, the International Cricket Council (ICC) mulled a Test Championship; a tournament that was initially scheduled for 2013 and then pushed to 2017, before the plug was pulled out. Reports now suggest that the ICC is considering a two-tiered format wherein, teams at the bottom of the table can get relegated and those from a junior division can rise and rub shoulders with the bigger sides. The question is: Will it bring that life into Test cricket?
Test cricket does need an injection of life and it is quite unfortunate that the planned Championship in 2017 didn’t get the expected attention. Save England or even the Ashes contests Down Under, hardly does one get to see full-houses for a Test match. The only time one came close to a full house during a Test, even in the cricketing powerhouse of India, was during Sachin Tendulkar’s last game. Thus, if there is a bit more at stake than just the rubber, there may be something that brings the fans back and grips their attention.
The two-tier system would entail the teams in the lower half of the top league relegate to a lower division. While, it is believed that the major Test playing nations would be secure in this form, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, Test cricket’s youngest teams would be in a spot if they do not perform better. Thus, they may go down, with the likes of Ireland or even Afghanistan getting the opportunity to face India, Sri Lanka etc. In the process, they too would get Test status.
There are numerous hurdles in this regard though. Bangladesh and Zimbabwe do not play too many Tests in a calendar year, and judging them on that pedestal may be a bit unfair. It is well known that a team like Bangladesh does play more one-day cricket as that is more financially viable and can get the board profits. In fact, even the supposed richer boards aren’t too keen on Test cricket. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) have been quite open about their preference for one-day cricket through their actions.
If this system has to get through, then the teams have to play a certain number of Tests in a year. Even if that is imposed, would teams really heed to the directives? After all, numerous series’ have been replaced with inconsequential one-day encounters. For example, the tri-series in the Caribbean last year was fitted in place of a Test series between Sri Lanka and the West Indies. The BCCI has also shortened a few overseas visits and even Pakistan has requested Cricket Australia (CA) to cut a Test match from their itinerary. With all these things happening, the boards changing schedules at their own free will, can the ICC ensure the systems be put in place?
Even if one does expect this move to make Test cricket interesting, how can it bring in that blend of competition if the bigger teams are in the safe zone? Of course, you cannot jeopardize the fate of sides that have played Test cricket for decades. But, through all that, one may only see Bangladesh and Zimbabwe bearing the brunt and fighting for their lives. The audiences in the bigger Test playing nations may not take to the whole format as their sides would be safe and their encounters may be the ‘same old.’ Perhaps, it may get the Bangladesh and Zimbabwean fans interested.
At the same time, this could be a huge thing for teams in the lower divisions. Playing Test cricket is a dream for Ireland and Afghanistan. They would be eyeing that spot and try to raise the bar in the process. Even Bangladesh and Zimbabwe will be under pressure to perform and that may perhaps get the best out of them. But, in that bid, will it be right to hand Test status on a rotational basis to the lesser sides? A team has to rise through the ranks to don the whites and compete at the highest level. If only the lower rung sides keep shuffling in and out of Test cricket, it may not deliver results in the long run as the standards may not change.
Thus, before mulling on such a move, the ICC has to consider everything. This would of course be a subject to some intense debate at the executive board and everything may be weighed in. Test cricket needs something, but this may not be it!
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