At first I was incredulous. Then I was angry. Yesterday we were told that Sri Lanka’s tour of England will be decided by a points system – an idea I initially supported when it was floated a few weeks ago. Although I’m a purist at heart, I recognised that something needs to change. Test cricket is rapidly becoming an anachronism and I’m generally supportive of any experiment that might help. Andrew Strauss was even making the right noises about promoting test cricket. He still is.
However, when the points weighting was announced yesterday – on the eve of a test series when the big story is Alastair Cook’s attempt to become the youngest player to reach 10,000 test runs – I immediately became suspicious. Why announce it so late in the day? Is this an attempt to bury bad news?
When I saw the details of the ECB’s proposed system – four points for a test win and two points for both an ODIs and a T20 win – I was aghast. My jaw hit the floor. How on earth can a T20 – a game that constitutes a mere 40 overs of happy hitting – be worth half a test match? Test matches are played over 5 days and a possible 450 overs.
I now have huge reservations about this new system. Is it saving test cricket or actually devaluing it? I was initially supportive because I was led to believe that a test win would be worth 5 or 6 points, with an ODI two points and a T20 just one or two. Now we hear that three hours’ entertainment in the evening is going to be worth half as much as five whole days of intense ebb and flow, my whole perspective has changed.
Here’s what Strauss had to say about the new system, which he’s describing as a ‘Super Series’:
We know that Test cricket is being challenged around the world and I certainly feel a responsibility – I think everyone involved in the game should feel a responsibility – to make sure it remains relevant … We feel responsibility to ensure the international game develops and evolves and, central to that, is context and relevance for every game of cricket. We believe the Super Series will provide that context and relevance by connecting the formats and ensuring that every game counts for something more than just itself.
Call me an old cynic, but this sounds more like the ECB want ODIs and T20s at the fag-end of test series (the games few people in this country care about) to have more relevance, rather than test cricket. After all, Strauss has been banging on about taking limited overs cricket more seriously since we was appointed.
Is the new system championing test cricket by making each test worth twice that of a limited overs game, or are the ECB simply interested in creating a more thrilling finale to every tour – where the Super Series is ultimately decided by three hours of mayhem at The Oval (or the Rose Bowl in Sri Lanka’s case) in front of a raucous crowd? It this just a recipe to get more bums on seats?
What we need now is answers. I’ve given Strauss, Graves and Tom Harrison a relatively easy ride thus far. I’ve generally welcomed their attempts to reform cricket – after all, inertia is not an option. However, I want to know how and why they decided on the current points weighting. Is because Sri Lanka, who probably fancy their chances in the limited overs stuff but not the tests, forced their hand? Or was four points for a test win and two for a T20 what Strauss and Co wanted all along?
I’d like to hear your views on this. Have the ECB got this one wrong? Or do you think that 4 points for test and two for limited overs games is just about right considering the schedule for this tour: 3 tests, 5 ODIs and 1 T20? After all, there are a maximum of 12 points up for grabs in the tests and 12 in the limited overs games too.
Finally, what do you think is the motivation behind the Super Series concept? Is it a genuine response to the declining popularity of test cricket outside the UK and Australasia – the best we can hope for in an imperfect world – or is this just another gimmick designed to drive ticket sales and promote cricket in general, rather than test cricket specifically?