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Healthy Test Cricket, How?

International Cricket Council (ICC) is the governing body and the cricket running body globally consisting of more than 100 members including 10 Full members Test Playing Nations and 39 associate and 56 affiliate members playing in the lower divisions.

Most of the cricketers, till date, always want to represent their respective countries in the whites as it is the prime form of the game and the toughest test of their skills, temperament, techniques. It is generally considered the most complete examination of teams” playing ability and endurance

Over the last decade, only Australia, England, South Africa, India and to some extent New Zealand & Pakistan are the teams competitive and succeeded in pulling the crowds to the grounds.In terms of competitiveness, Sri Lanka, West Indies, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe have had mixed results especially when they play higher ranked teams.

With the upsurge of the T20 cricket and a slight decline in the influence of TEST cricket, ICC find themselves at a crossroads on how to lure the crowds to view the longest format of the game consistently.

Everyone, the ICC, the players, the former players, the media and even the fans of the sport, want all the 3 formats, Tests, ODI’s &T20’s to co-exist

With the associates nations like Ireland, Afghanistan, UAE, Netherlands and Scotland consistently knocking the doors for more exposure and opportunities, the ICC has to do some soul searching and ponder on some serious questions on probable reasons &options to make Test Cricket more lucrative.

Why do fans surgeto the stadiums, more for limited overs matches and not much for a Test match?

What are the likely reasons for a steady decline in performance of some teams in Tests?

Is it something to do with the scheduling? Are the Teams playing less number of Test matches and more Limited Overs matches?

Is Day Night Tests a possible solution? Is a Two Tier System another likely solution?

Are the kinds of pitches these Test matches being played one main criteria?

Test Championship would be of greater significance, rather than meaningless bilateral schedules?

 Let us look and analyze the overall performance of all the 10 Test playing Nations in the last decade i.e. 2006 to June 2016

From the above chart, we can notice that there is a wide difference in the Total number of matches played by the 10 Test playing nations (Zimbabwe however was on a self-imposed exile for most part of the decade until 2011)

Teams like England and Australia have played 127 and 114 Test matches respectively followed by India (99), South Africa (97) and then gap broadens further among other nations. England played 71 home matches alone in this time frame,whereas Pakistan has played 75 matches, home and away combined.This is such a huge disparity and is immensely alarming.This wide gulf, affects the performance of the teams, as it is pretty obvious that the more the teams plays, the better they tend to become.

New Zealand & Bangladesh, strangely, play shorter Test series. 21 out of their 36 Test tournaments for New Zealand and 22 out of their 27 Test tournaments for Bangladesh, played in this duration have been a 2 Test Series. These small contests tend to become trivial and it is difficult for any team to drive the best out of its players and to generate some sort of excitement and competitive battle among the teams in turn loose the crowds. The series usually ends before it actually starts.

Pakistan & India, surprisingly travel a lot, 60% (45 out of 75) and 59% (58 out of 99) of their Total Test matches respectively, played in this time frame have been on the road. Whereas, England only played 44% (56 out of 127) away from home. The scheduling is so imbalanced and there is no “home season” as such similar to that of England or Australia. However, the BCCI has realized this and since the past few years, they decided to have an exclusive “home season” for India. In this way, the home fans know that they would get to witness substantial number of home games and would tend to follow the same.

Hence, the respective cricket boards’ approachand the scheduling of the games are immenselycriticalin ensuring the Test Cricket remains a pinnacle of the sport.

Analyzing further on the Home and Away performance of the Teams in the last decade again 2006 to June 2016

From the above charts, we can comprehend that, in the last decade, India and Australia are evenly matched in terms of Away Success. However, Australia have been potent in churning out more victories away from home (26) compared to India (15). India’s crucial Away Draws (21) have ensured a better achievement as an Away package compared to its nearest rivals. Though, South Africa have been quiet astounding on the road, sitting right on Top with 74% Away from home.

The key differentiator for both India and Australia when compared to the rest is the fact that they have been incredibly ruthless and miserly when they played at home with impeccable record of 90% and 86% success respectively. On contrary, South Africa and England, have let their guard loose at home.

Another critical observation is that, lower ranked teams like Sri Lanka and West Indies have had much greater success at home than away. This is very important, because, in order to ensure the local fans to come and support their teams, success, especially at home is very vital.

How can they achieve this on a consistent basis? They need to recognize their strengths and prepare the surfaces accordingly. When they start performing well regularly at home, they would start believing in themselves and gain confidence and in turn, their supporters would keep egging them by participating and echoing in their team’s success and eventually helping to negate their margins of away losses as well.

So, pitches and attacking surfaces are enormously significant in ensuring the good health of Test cricket.

 

Rank Team Total Matches Away Matches Home Matches Away Success Away Loss Home Success Home Loss
1 Aus 114 57 57 36 (63%) 21 (37%) 49 (86%) 8 (14%)
2 Ind 99 58 41 36 (62%) 22 (38%) 37 (90%) 4 (10%)
3 Pak 75 45 30 21 (47%) 24 (53%) 25 (83%) 5 (17%)
4 Eng 127 56 71 34 (61%) 22 (39%) 58 (82%) 13 (18%)
5 NZ 81 43 38 19 (44%) 24 (56%) 27 (71%) 11 (29%)
6 SA 97 46 51 34 (74%) 12 (26%) 35 (69%) 16 (31%)
7 SL 88 42 46 21 (50%) 21 (50%) 36 (78%) 10 (22%)
8 WI 84 43 41 18 (42%) 25 (58%) 24 (59%) 17 (41%)
9 Bang 53 19 34 4 (21%) 15 (79%) 13 (38%) 21 (62%)
10 Zim 14 6 8 0 (0%) 6 (100%) 3 (38%) 5 (63%)

 

 

Since we touched upon the scheduling and pitches, there is another imperative factor. Ensuring a healthy competition among teams. From what we see of late, there is a massive mismatch among the top and bottom ranked teams even when the games are played at home of the bottom ranked teams.

On 1st June’2016 ICC Chief, Dave Richardson said that there would be 12 teams in a seven-five split, with the top tier being the larger of the two. Over the two-year cycle, each side would play the others in their division home or away, in series lasting a minimum of three Tests each. The winner of the second division would either be automatically promoted or go into a play-off against the bottom-ranked team from the top division. Likewise, the bottom team in division two would have to play off against the top team in the next level down, the Intercontinental Cup.

Though, teams like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have expressed their reservations against this proposal, stating that they would get better if they play more against competitive sides and loose out commercially as well. But, the risks are worth it, and that the difficult decisions are absolutely necessary. Bringing in divisions would ensure greater sense on a slightly muddled bilateral schedule, add significance to one-sided series and dead-rubber Tests, provide motivation for both players and fans, and open the game up to new nations like, Ireland, Afghanistan, Netherlands, Scotland, Kenya, UAE.

Test cricket’s capacity to adapt is one of its great strengths. It has already evolved from once being played by only two teams in the 1880’s, to the timeless games and then played over six days, half a century back. Now, we believe, is the time for yet another significant change.