Hey England. Hey Australia. Hey South Africa. Hey New Zealand. Hey Pakistan. Hey West Indies. Hey 72% of international cricketers. You want a two-division structure for test cricket? Well tough luck. We’re the mighty BCCI and we do what we want. You can stuff your plan to save test cricket and shove it where the sun don’t shine.
Today is a very depressing day for international test cricket. Even though the majority of test cricketing nations and the overwhelming majority of players realise that test cricket is in peril, and that a two-division structure might have added context and interest to the longer form, the BCCI have effectively vetoed the idea at the ICC chief executives meeting in Dubai. Their only supporters were the notoriously inept Sri Lankan board, and a Bangladeshi board who have single-handedly failed to make their national team competitive for several years under the existing structure.
Although most accept that the two-division plan wasn’t perfect, and that it might have been a risk for lower ranked teams, it’s significant that the West Indies backed the proposal. This suggests that the idea had real merit and the dangers were somewhat exaggerated – after all, the Windies were one of the teams in danger of a supposed irrelevant existence in division two.
I think we can all assume from this result – as if we didn’t know it before – that the ICC isn’t really a democracy. It doesn’t matter how many countries are in favour of a particular proposal; what really matters is what India want. They hold all the power and can effectively shelve any proposal by threatening to withdraw from lucrative tours.
In opposing two divisions, the new, and seemingly extremely belligerent BCCI president Anurag Thakur, claimed that the proposal would damage test cricket rather than help it. His specific reasons for reaching this conclusion were as disingenuous as it gets:
The BCCI is against the two-tier Test system because the smaller countries will lose out and the BCCI wants to take care of them … it is necessary to protect their interests. In the two-tier system they will lose out on a lot, including revenue and the opportunity to play against top teams. We don’t want that to happen. We want to work in the best interests of world cricket and that is why our team plays against all the countries.
If that’s the case, Mr Thakur, why are you so vehemently opposed to pooling TV money and distributing it equitably amongst these smaller nations? You’d have to be incredibly naive to perceive the BCCI as some kind of cuddly uncle unselfishly ‘caring’ for cricket’s vulnerable children.
What’s more, the BCCI’s stance doesn’t take into account the financial pressures South Africa are under – they would have received longer series against the best nations and a subsequent increase in revenue – or the aspirations of Ireland and Afghanistan who would have been granted test status had the two division plan gone through. It seems that Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are the only smaller nations that count.
At least the BCB president Nizamuddin Chowdhury admitted that he only voted in his particular country’s interests: “We are delighted we could convince other members of the negative impact it would have on Bangladesh cricket.” But what about the interests of test cricket in general? And it’s not like Bangladesh have improved much over a lengthy period of time while playing the stronger test teams. All they ever do is get thrashed.
So what does all this mean? Basically we’re back to square one. Test cricket is dying and little is being done to resolve matters. The BCCI have also poo-pooed any prospect of a World Test Championship. Instead we’re left with the vague hope of some kind of playoff between the top ranked teams every now and again. Meanwhile, the BCCI are considering the implementation of a second IPL to be played in September. Yeah, that’ll help.
This whole situation is incredibly frustrating. The BCCI seem like a giant roadblock bent on promoting limited overs cricket at the expense of tradition and preventing equality in funding. Not only have they made their opposition to pooling television money very clear, they’re also putting pressure on the seemingly progressive ICC president, Shashank Manohar, for failing to serve his nation’s interests. Here’s a quick heads up Mr Thakur: it’s the ICC’s job to serve world cricket’s interests, not India’s.
Although the BCCI have spent some time trying to boost crowds at test matches in certain cities, perhaps worried that empty seats will cost them sponsorship money, I remain entirely cynical that they care about test cricket. I also resent their posturing as a moral bastion, ostensibly opposing the two-division system because they’re worried about poor little Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
I think most people think the reality is somewhat different – especially in a week when they’ve cried foul that the 2017 Champions Trophy in England has been allocated a far bigger budget than the World T20 in India earlier this year. Call me a cynic, but the World T20 was so disorganised that no amount of money would’ve improved it.
As I’ve said before, the two-division format was far from perfect. For starters, Australia’s recent defeat in Sri Lanka wouldn’t have happened because the countries might have been in different divisions. However, with a World Test Championship proving difficult to schedule, test cricket is fast running out of options.
Instead of worrying whether consigning Bangladesh or Sri Lanka to division two would make their problems worse, why not be more optimistic? It’s quite possible it might force their respective boards to get their houses in order.
I’ll leave you with the wise words of South Africa’s captain AB De Villiers, a man who knows a thing or two about the issues facing test cricket and the threat lucrative T20 tournaments present to the game:
We (South Africa) have already raised our intensity and urgency just knowing that a Test league might happen. There’s nothing like the pressure and adrenaline that comes with knowing you need to win matches. It’s time for all international matches to have more meaning.
Instead the BCCI have opted for more tediously one-sided series, in which batsmen and bowlers massage their averages while everyone quickly loses interest. If test cricket wants to evolve, and it wants to survive, the best way to do that is to raise standards. Two divisions would have done that. Surely that’s better than doing sod all?