"When the interests of a game depend so heavily on one country that its qualification to the finishing stages of a high-profile tournament is a pre-condition in all but the fine print, it is in trouble" © Getty Images
“When the interests of a game depend so heavily on one country that its qualification to the finishing stages of a high-profile tournament is a pre-condition in all but the fine print, it is in trouble” © Getty Images

 

By Madan Mohan

 

Ever tasted the sinking feeling when the best laid plans fall flat? Well, you’re just about to watch the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) grand plans for Test cricket collapse in a spectacular fashion. The ICC’s much-awaited Test championship may be delayed until 2017 is what they say.  Instead, the tremendously exciting Champions Trophy will be resurrected in 2013.  From the grand idea of a timeless Test to seal the title of Test champion to playing bridesmaid for the Champions Trophy is one heck of a comedown.

 

The game’s apex body said, “The ICC Executive Board confirmed their preference to host an ICC Test Championship in 2013, but recognised the significant commercial challenge in trying to replace the Champions Trophy. Without the support and consent of the ICC’s broadcast partner, ESPN STAR Sports, the financial implications on the members and the development of the game would be significant.”

 

Indeed, its imperative to develop more ball-strikers slogging it over cow corner must under no circumstances be compromised, eh?

 

Hold on! It gets better, better than ever before. When asked if it was a concern for the Executive Board if the Championship format could entail India’s absence from it (only the top four would qualify for the Test championship), ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat said, “Not in the depth you might be thinking, but certainly it is a consideration. If anyone of the top teams, so to speak – in particular India- are in the top four, it does generate a lot more interest from a commercial partner’s perspective.”

 

You cannot expect cricket’s oh-so-politically correct officials to get any closer to the truth than that. People, when the interests of a game depend so heavily on one country that its qualification to the finishing stages of a high-profile tournament is a pre-condition in all but the fine print, it is in trouble. When that country already has two potentially money-spinning leagues, the game is in then greater trouble.

 

It is even more telling that of all tournaments, it is the Champions Trophy which may get precedence over the Test Championship. From inception, the tournament failed to generate the anticipated level of excitement and interest and was scarcely even a poor cousin of the World Cup. Without the tedium of pointless bilateral ODI fixtures, the Champions Trophy may have gained more importance and context but as it was, people simply didn’t need so much one day cricket. The 2009 edition did little to change this perception.

 

In spite of this, the broadcast partner as well as the ICC feels more comfortable, commercially, with a Champions Trophy as opposed to a Test championship. You can’t totally blame them. In truth, England vs South Africa is the only appetising match-up in Test cricket now, promising a battle royale between strong and evenly-matched sides. For the rest, you either have embarrassing tragic rewrites of Goliath vs David, or reluctant dogfights.  Having never seriously pursued the idea of a Test championship until that point of time when Test cricket is not in the best of health, the ICC has made it easier for it to develop cold feet and ‘reconsider’.

 

Still, why Champions Trophy? Why not another World Twenty20? Surely, we can’t get enough of those, right? Possibly, the ICC sees ODI cricket as the only commercially viable format over which it can still exert some control. Soon after India won the inaugural World Twenty20, the BCCI wasted no time in striking the fast salvo. By floating a league tournament that was at least initially a runaway success, the BCCI hijacked the shortest format and made it all its own. When you think Twenty20, you think IPL, not international cricket. International Twenty20 fixtures barely even register, never mind that the cricket is often better than in IPL. With Test cricket garnering anaemic support from those quarters that matter, ODI represents international cricket’s last stand in the battle against league cricket.  With the 2011 World Cup a rip-roaring commercial success and the BCCI’s leagues also running into rough weather, there is hope for the 50 over format. Test cricket? Ah!

 

Am I being too gloomy about it? Is there really no way in which overs limit cricket would at all make for entertaining, even compelling, and viewing? There may well be. Even yours truly found ODI cricket engrossing at least once in a while not so long ago though the here and now of ODIs and Twenty20s doesn’t exactly capture my imagination. However, this business of happy co-existence of all three formats is, I am afraid, just a wonderful dream.

 

The kind of dream that John Lennon sold us in the beautiful song, Imagine. If you don’t find his thoughts touching and, likewise, don’t find the idea of all three formats of cricket peacefully carving out their own space a great one, there’s something wrong with you. But don’t count on the words of Imagine ever coming true and don’t also be surprised if Test cricket gets increasingly relegated. Survival of the fittest is the law of the jungle and in the jungle that is the money world, the format with the largest purse shall win.

 

There is hope that England, which has fared better in Tests than in the other formats, may make efforts to keep it going but they would need support from the other boards. It takes two to tango and to expect the BCCI to rally around the cause of Test cricket is a rather big call.

 

When I took up the assignment of writing for this website, I would not have thought that action off the field would overshadow action on it. Yet, here I am chronicling potentially far- reaching developments as cricket goes through a turbulent phase. It is not particularly thrilling for the cricket fan part of me, but it’s very stimulating to write about. Just as how the sound of cash registers ringing is more stimulating than priceless sporting drama played out over the epic canvas of Test cricket.

 

(Madan Mohan, a 25-year old CA from Mumbai, is passionate about writing, music and cricket. Writing on cricket is like the icing on the cake).