Think Test cricket and you would instantly draw your mind back to the warm March day in Kolkata in 2001 when Vangipurapu Venkata Sai Laxman was forced to retire his birth name and accept the acronym as Very Very Special Laxman instead. Or you would race your thoughts towards the historical chase of 418 when the West Indian duo of Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shivnarine Chanderpaul helped their team record the highest chase in Test history. Maybe the 2-run deficit by Australia in Birmingham in the iconic Ashes series will bring a smile, with two teams unfolding a flurry of emotions in 2005. A distant image of Anil Kumble with a broken jaw might rush by or India’s victory at Perth in 2008 will help eradicate the hauling beltered out by the Kangaroos.
The change of the millennium brought with it unforeseen changes to the cricketing world as well. Pleasant, ugly, memorable. As people started flocking the stadiums in awe of Brian Lara or Shane Warne, a legacy soon swept over the sport. From Jacques Kallis to Sachin Tendulkar, Wasim Akram to Kumar Sangakkara, the competitions increased and so did the matches on offer.
Competitions felt like never before, with each series throwing up its own can of aggression and passion.
But as is the cruel norm, the gradual farewells became a regular happening. Legends retired, leaving behind teams in disarray and in need of changes. While interests fell, the number of games that were in play remained the same or even increased. Test series that were monotonous, long and meaningless gained ground and soon Test cricket was in deep waters, needing a drastic revival.
With the International Cricket Council (ICC) finally approving the initiation of the Test championship – an idea that was flouted by Clive Lloyd and Ali Bacher in 1997 – in attempts to correct the flagging attention being accorded to the longest format of the game, enthusiasts hope that the new modifications can renew the joys that Test cricket had been renowned for.
Do away with the meaningless series!
The format of the Test championship will work thus – nine teams will play six series against their rivals over a two year long period, starting from 2019. Three series will be played at home, with the other three being played away. Each series will have a minimum of two Tests, which can go up to five, in cases like the Ashes. The top-two teams, who will be decided by a point system that will be in play in each series, will fight it out for the title of the Test championship in 2021.
Not only will the meaningless Test series, which are played merely for logistics, find an eventual end (the cricket fanatics in India and Sri Lanka were heard heaving a sigh of relief!) but with each Test match carrying its own weightage towards the ultimate crown, the series shall pick up pace. Crowds will flock the stadiums in larger numbers, knowing well that each session and each hour will contribute to the final tally. Broadcasters, who have been anxious with the empty stadiums in Test cricket, will focus on other avenues as a Test competition will ensure a more aggressive play.
With captains rarely playing out for the tame draw even if they are in the driver’s seat, Test cricket shall see belligerent tactics and reduced defensive ploys as the sole aim will remain on garnering as many points in each game.
Three home and away series respectively ensures transparency as well. It has been a common trend to have a squad playing a full season at home which largely impacts the race of the Test mace given to the number one team at the end of the year. While one side continues demolishing opponents on home conditions, another team frets it out on tours abroad. The mace given then is marked on unfair grounds. With equal home and away games determining the Test champion, these doubts shall evaporate as well.
However, any reform comes with its own package of challenges. With each series bearing importance, the home associations can be guilty of tweaking pitches according to their strengths. While home advantage plays as big as a part in Test cricket, the presence of ICC-approved curators who will work in tandem with the local one will lead to a pitch that will be suited to the particular home team but in measure.
Whilst the point system will have to be carefully panned out by the ICC, with the amount of lead taken and the number of wickets grasped having its own marking, and the schedules will have to be in place, a Test championship offers an excited future ahead. Maybe, just maybe, South Africa’s curse of being champions runs only in the shorter formats and by 2021, we see the Proteans as World Test champions!
An ODI league with its own challenges
Not only did the ICC give the nod for a Test championship, but also set forth with the plans of an ODI league from 2020, which will be a direct qualification for the 2023 World Cup. In the first edition, the twelve Full Members will play four home and four away series, with each series comprising three ODI’s each. They will be joined in by an associate nation, determined by the ICC World Cricket League Championship. The associate nation that wins this Cricket League Championship will then enter the ODI league and will stand a chance at direct qualification for the World Cup, if they emerge triumphant.
The thinking behind the ODI league seems clouded for the time being. As each team can independently play its own bilateral series outside of the matches allocated in the ODI league, the ratings gained from the series can anyway help a team to qualify for the World Cup. What then is the use of a whole tournament that will pan out for three long years only to determine the qualifiers for the World Cup when the ratings accumulated in bilateral series can do just that?
Also, won’t it make it tougher for associate members to qualify for the World Cup as they will now have to defeat the higher-ranked teams for an entry? If ICC wants to promote the game in new countries, the ODI league seems in line to cripple just that.
However, steps have been taken to smother the crippling effects that cricket had started offering the audiences world over. With modifications and thoughtful analysis, the Test championship and the ODI league can both reform the way cricket is played, witnessed and viewed.