The International Cricket Council (ICC) has just announced that it has agreed in principle a Test championship in order to give context to Test cricket around the world. This has yet to be ratified, but it’s one way the ICC is trying to give some meaning to Test cricket around the world.
People talk about the biggest threat to Test cricket and whether it’s losing ground in popularity to Twenty20 cricket. Well, yes, it will lose ground unless Boards can continue to make Test cricket the most lucrative form of cricket for a player.
I don’t think any cricketer can be blamed for looking at the Twenty20 leagues that are popping up around the world and thinking they can make a very good living – in some cases a better living than if they played Test cricket - by playing in four or five Twenty20 leagues over the course of a year. It is an issue the likes of which the West Indies have faced.
"There is a disparity between the amount of money that some Boards pay their international cricketers compared to what some players can earn from playing in domestic Twenty20 leagues"
There is a disparity between the amount of money that some Boards pay their international cricketers - particularly given the amount of time and travel that Test cricket requires - compared to what some players can earn from playing in domestic Twenty20 leagues. That is the biggest threat to Test cricket, because if domestic T20 draws the best players away from the five-day game then the product will obviously diminish.
I believe the current generation of players still regard Test cricket as the pinnacle of the game, and they relish the sense of honour and achievement that comes with Test cricket. But that’s not to say that a player who is five-years-old right now and is going to grow up soaking up a diet of Twenty20 cricket on TV won’t think differently. Will they recognise the sense of prestige and appreciate the sense of history that comes with Test cricket?
"There are some cricketers today who play the game but they’re not what you’d call students of the game"
Again the Boards have a duty to educate its cricketers in the traditions of the game. There are some cricketers today who play the game but they’re not what you’d call students of the game. If you asked them who Jack Hobbs was they might not have a clue. You worry that the next generation might not have the same regard for wanting to play Test cricket if they’ve just seen T20 all the time and have seen that it draws in big crowds, features fireworks, dancers and provides a powerful, short-term thrill.
"In countries around the world where switching the hours of Test cricket makes it more amenable for spectators to attend, that in turn makes the product more popular"
Floodlit Test cricket has been a recent innovation to encourage more crowds into Test matches and on the evidence of the few games that have been played it’s been a success – at least in Australia. England is trying it for the first time this summer at Edgbaston. You can argue it’s not really required in England because the grounds are smaller and they sell out most of the time. But for those grounds that don’t sell out, there is a certainly a case for playing the game in the hours after people have finished work to see if that brings more in. In countries around the world where switching the hours of Test cricket makes it more amenable for spectators to attend, that in turn makes the product more popular, more people will watch it on TV, and it becomes self-perpetuating. I welcome the efforts to make it more spectator-friendly, but it’s not going to work everywhere – it wasn’t that successful in Dubai.
I want to be optimistic, but I do worry for the long-term future of Test cricket, unless the Boards ensure that it remains the most attractive option for the best players in the world.