Test cricket needs change and innovation. Day/Night matches have provided a much needed refreshment – but more is required in order for Test cricket to survive. The next step is establishing a Test Championship. This article will analyse the logistics of a Test Championship, and provides an argument in favour of a new system that can help Test cricket survive and thrive.
1) Schedule and Structure
Arguably, the biggest challenge that faces a Test Championship is the schedule and structure. As England is the only major Test nation playing in the Northern Hemisphere, a number of series will overlap, as they already do now. Since England is the only team to play at home between May and September, the schedule could become cramped in certain months and empty in others.
However, it is possible for the schedule to span equally across twelve months. Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand’s home series would most likely remain between November and February. Pakistan already plays in the UAE, mostly in October; India’s high summer begins in March, Sri Lanka hosted Australia in August last year, and England toured the West Indies in April the year before.
Many complications are bound to arise regarding the schedule; if India were to play at home in March it would be dangerously close to the IPL. However, the Big Bash takes place at the same time as Australian Test matches, and many believe it is a more successful tournament. Such complications could be accounted for if a Test Championship becomes established.
Ideally, the Championship could run from June to June, with each nation playing three-match series – two at home and two away. However, it wouldn’t be possible for all sides to play each other in the space of a year. It would be possible to do it in two years, but the Championship would surely have to come to a climax sooner to keep viewers engaged. Furthermore, it would be possible for each side to be tested in all conditions – for example, Australia could play on the spinning pitches of Colombo and face the swinging ball at Headingley. Two-match series would allow each nation to tour another but would increase the amount of drawn series.
2) True Number One Status
Between July and September last year, three teams held the number one Test status. Australia held it first but due to their drubbing in Sri Lanka the mace was passed to Pakistan after their successful tour of England (England, too, briefly had the chance to seize it). However, their reign was short lived as India defeated the West Indies.
A Test Championship would provide a true number one status. By competing for at least a year, if not for longer, around the world in all conditions against the best sides in the world; any side to come out on top would truly have to earn the mace. Since Australia’s dominance was ended, only South Africa has dominated for a significant period of time. With the exception of India, most major Test nations are currently at a reasonably equal level. Therefore, every side would realise the consequence of losing, making an exciting spectacle.
3) Help for Smaller Nations
One way for Test cricket to thrive is to include as many nations as possible, and give regular matches to those nations. A second division is likely to include Bangladesh, West Indies, Zimbabwe, Ireland and Afghanistan. Irish cricket has felt cheated over the past few years by the fact that their best players try and qualify to play for England.
However, the opportunity of representing the country of their birth at the highest level could be too good to refuse. Mushfiqur Rahim recently stated in the recent Test Series with England, during Alastair Cook’s record breaking 134th Test (most ever for England), that he debuted before the England captain and despite playing in nearly all of Bangladesh’s Tests since then, has well under half the number of matches (50).
Afghanistan have made great progress in the last couple of years, proving to be the surprise package at the World T20, in which they were the only team to beat the eventual champions, West Indies. Surely, playing at the highest level can only enhance their chances of becoming an established cricketing nation.
India are not in favour of Test Championship, stating that they would prefer to help the smaller nations by playing against them. However, is playing a smaller nation once every blue moon, not playing their first XI and still hammering them really helping any smaller nation? India’s proposed one-off Test against Bangladesh next month is currently in doubt for financial reasons. Bangladesh can take heart from the fact that the intention was there, but will also feel extremely short-changed.
4) Further Meaning to Series Wins
The Ashes is a great example of how a new system can succeed. What makes winning the Ashes so special? Not that little urn, surely. Of course rivalry plays a great part, but also the history. Players and fans alike know what it means and what they are playing for. It is impossible for a Test Championship to create similar context and history overnight, but in time it is possible.
South Africa’s recent tour of Australia was a great spectacle – but what was the significance? It makes for great bragging rights and fond memories, but there is little context. A Test Championship would give context and meaning to every match, and it is needed now. Plans to implement a new system will not happen until at least 2019, if at all. It is a great shame to end plans that could be prove to be a turning of the tide for a format that so many hold dear.