As you’re reading this, England are probably slipping to their third consecutive ODI defeat against India. We want to know why – and we’re not on about our predictable fallibility against spin – we want to know why the hell we’re playing India in the first place? Haven’t we just played them in eleven matches at home? Sometimes we wonder whether cricket’s authorities simply pluck the names of countries, the date, and the type of cricket scheduled, out of a giant bowler hat.
Muttiah Muralitharan made a very good point yesterday. He said that test cricket only exists because of T20 and ODI matches. Of course, he’s wrong in one sense: test cricket existed long before limited overs affairs. If it wasn’t for test cricket, there would be no other international form of the game. However, what cannot be denied is that T20s and ODI’s bring in the money – without which, national cricket boards would go bust, and there would be no test cricket at all.
However, rather than talking down test cricket, and demanding more ODIs to help fund it (aren’t there enough already?) why not simply think of ways to make five day cricket more lucrative and more popular in countries where crowds are pitifully low? Pitches that produce interesting cricket would be a start. Something needs to be done – and it needs to be done now.
It’s an old debate on these pages I suppose. We could discuss the fact that the BCCI doesn’t do enough to promote test cricket in India (facilities at grounds aren’t always great and, amazingly, tickets for individual days aren’t always available – it’s five day bundles or nothing at all). We could also point out that the weather often makes it too hot to watch cricket all day on the subcontinent. However, implementing sensible schedules is surely the first step. Forget pink balls and day-night tests for now – let’s just play meaningful matches on meaningful tours.
England’s incongruous tour of India is the perfect example of what’s wrong with international schedules. There are no tests – not even any T20s. Just five ODIs between the World Champions and a team that struggles in limited overs cricket away from home. There was only ever going to be one result. If England have to play ODIs in the subcontinent, as they surely must (it’s only fair, and it’s the only way we’re going to improve), let’s play them as part of a proper tour – not just a useless bolt on to fill air time and make a few bucks.
The sensible way to do it would be to have one or two T20s, followed by three ODIs, and then three to five test matches – depending on whether it’s a major series involving top sides that people want to see. The whole tour then builds towards the test matches, which should be marketed as the main event. If the respective cricket boards are worried about getting people through the turnstiles, they should either reduce ticket prices (why not let people in for peanuts as most of the money comes from TV anyway?), or consider day-night tests if the climate is suitable. People can then turn up after work.
We’ll leave discussion about the World Test Championship for another day. It’s a whole topic on its own. We desperately need one, but apparently we’re not going to get one because Indian TV companies would rather show the bloody Champions Trophy – a much maligned tournament which is the third most important international limited overs competititon on the calendar. The mind boggles.
It’s a sad world when Asian TV networks, companies that probably care more about advertising revenue than the health and vitality of game we love, are determining the fate of test cricket. But that’s the world we live in I’m afraid. It’s a world where the IPL is king, and everyone is chasing money in the short term without considering the long term impact on the sport.
If I could have three wishes, one of them would be the total annihilation of the IPL and the public flogging of the self-interested suits who wanted to turn cricket into English football. Then I’d get started on the boneheads who have made the international calendar a mishmash for the fans and a nonsensical treadmill for the players. This might seem a tad harsh – flogging is a little draconian, so maybe a stint in the stocks would be more appropriate – but we’re getting exasperated now.
How on earth can a form of the game that involves pyjamas, contrived concepts like powerplays, and now artificially created franchises like the Mumbai Indians, be more popular than the beautiful game of test cricket – a graceful sport which tests all of a players faculties: mental strength, concentration, technique, skill and stamina? These days, players get paid more if they can hit a long ball over cow corner, and amazingly the masses seem to prefer watching it. The marketing strategy has gone down the pan and the ridiculous schedules exacerbate the problem.