What a Test match! What a series! While the cricket was not always at its best; can Australia ever be written off? South Africa and its inability to win at home against meaningful opposition means that an already exciting Test match calendar was turned even more so by this Test result.
Australia goes into their series against New Zealand and India with ranking points on their minds. In Pat Cummins, Australia have the right spice to seduce India later in the Australian summer and with England facing a string of Test matches in the subcontinent, I suspect their reign at the top will be short-lived and Australia can string together a few Test match wins and, maybe, I am getting carried away.
India versus Australia will now be an exciting prospect. The winner, by the end of the next year, may be eyeing the No 1 slot again.
Australia and South Africa have just played a fantastically-competitive and gripping Test series that was at least one Test too short. Yet one can safely deduce that in the short run, this is not going to get the fans back to watching the format. At the same time, people who jump up and down calling matches like these as “advertisements for Test cricket”; should stop doing so because Test cricket’s promise has never been as flimsy as a tight finish. If Test cricket’s market strategy were nail biting finishes, then T20 cricket will kill Test cricket every day of the week.
The problems of Test cricket, like the problems of the newspaper industry in the developed world, are not so much as complex as they are real. At the very core is the inability of both to attract new customers on their own. Both are left in an unenviable position where they have to depend on third parties to get customers; third parties who have no allegiance to the products beyond making money distributing them. For the newspapers it is the Googles, Apples and Amazons of the world, and for Test cricket…..hmm. Actually Test cricket has no strategy to attract new customers.
Cricket administrators have sold everything they could to Television executives and the executives in turn have focused all their energies in enticing new fans using new formats that promise to deliver a-thrill-a-minute and far greater frequencies of tight finishes, than Test cricket can ever deliver. The tragedy of Test cricket is not that beyond certain markets, it will eventually die. The tragedy is that no attempt has been made to prevent that possibility.
Test cricket’s selling point is not the tight finishes; rather it has a much healthier proposition.
Tradition, endurance, long tours, bilateral rivalries, draws, defensive batting, defensive fields and even sometimes predictability; this is what Test cricket is about. Tight finishes, while they certainly add to the excitement are not prerequisites by any means for a great Test match or a Test series. The tragedy of Test cricket is not that there aren’t enough games that can serve as “advertisements”; rather that no one is willing to say that we do not want to build a future where there is no Test cricket. American baseball has made it very clear. The umpire is an essential ingredient of the game; a character that will not be compromised. An umpire is allowed to impose his personality on the game. He is allowed to be as much a performer as the players. All decisions to use technology are evaluated in light of this fundamental principal. Test cricket, which on the surface seems far more principled than baseball, unfortunately is unwilling to take a similar stance; neither for its own umpires nor for itself.
On the surface it is convenient to think that Test cricket will eventually die. However, just as men (and women) become older they tend to become more discerning, conservative, republican and wiser (could not help myself) there is reason to hope that Test cricket will keep its existing fans; presumably discerning, conservative, republican and wiser; for a far more long time than we want to think. And if census records are any indicator; there are likely to be more old people in the future than the younger ones. People are living longer. Surely there is someone willing to bet that one day, Test cricket fans will outnumber circus cricket fans. As fans begin to appreciate the nuances of the game and as these very fans start living longer; Test cricket will be eventually back in business. Slapstick comedy is not for every age group. As we grow wiser we need substance; while still holding an appetite for an occasional visit to the circus.
Where administrators and players whose opinions matter are falling short is in their greed for television dollars they are losing the future. The most cricket can benefit with the current ‘circus cricket’ approach is perhaps an “Emmy Award” or two for the best reality show on television. Then the television executives will find something new to offer to even newer customers and they are not bound by the traditions of a great game. Once again if lessons are to be learned from American sports, for decades now,16 games per team is all it takes for the NFL to grow year over year and still be the world’s richest league. Why then does cricket require so many meaningless matches?
It is cricket’s custodians (not television executives) who need to in-source the core function of any business; which is to find customers and act on the knowledge that even if our opinion does not count; like Harsha Bhogle likes to point out so flippantly; it will simply not go away for a long-long time.
Test cricket is in trouble, if viewed only through the narrow lens of business executives and journalists whose interests have been conflicted by greed. The Indian Premier League (IPL) is not more exciting just because contracted commentators say so. I will still watch Test cricket, I will live long and I also know that as today’s T20 fans mature they will appreciate Test cricket more, and they will live even longer than I will.
All said and done, Test cricket is a proven and sustainable product. The 60-over game is dead, so is the 55-over game; the 50-over game is seeing dwindling audiences already and T20 is still not even a decade old but the lifecycle of new formats is getting ever smaller at a much faster pace. At some point in our lives we all get conservative, start appreciating things we had no capacity of appreciating when we were younger and the sooner Test cricket understands that there are customers out there who are ready to be hooked, the better its chances for survival.
(Golandaaz is a blogger @ Opinions on Cricket and likes to see the humorous side of the game, like the spoof above. He often sketches cricketers in black and white. You can follow Golandaaz his blog on twitter @oponcr and facebookOpinions on Cricket)