Twelve years ago when I was in Sydney, Australia, I was told by Sam Loxton, a member of Don Bradman’s Invincibles of 1948, that only Test cricket is ‘real cricket’, and that the limited versions of the game are really ‘limited’; mere slogging – light entertainment. However, it now seems as if Sam (who died in 2011 aged 90) was not totally correct, as many commentators and millions of younger fans all over the world now say that the days of Test cricket are numbered.
After the ignominious defeat of the West Indies at Edgbaston last Saturday, I decided to discuss the future of Test cricket with Professor Clem Seecharan, author of several cricket books, including his current project, a three volume Hand-in-Hand History of Cricket in Guyana. He said that there are very few players with the skills to be considered genuine Test cricketers. There are, possibly, 10 around the world today. We have none in the West Indies. And Test cricket is unsustainable without the requisite skills to survive, struggle and prosper over five days. This belongs to a different age with a different temperament.
He believes that you cannot keep Test cricket alive without players who are grounded in first-class cricket, with the muscle memory honed by that rigorous experience, day in day out. That’s why the Australian pace bowlers collapse all the time, unable to complete a Test series.
Most cricketers, understandably, wish to be equipped to compete in forms of the game where the financial rewards are the most lucrative. This means T20, once maligned and dismissed, now respected if not totally accepted outside of India. Professor Seecharan adds: “In this digital age where images are readily accessible and people demand decisive results quickly, England apart (for the time being), increasingly smaller numbers of people go to Test cricket. Many of the grounds are a ghostly vacant site. The template for the future surely is the Indian Premier League (IPL). A digitally grounded, modern Indian middle class (men and women) that’s slowly going beyond the caste limitations (note the number of Yadavs in the Indian team today), works six or seven days a week. They do not have the time to watch leisurely – to chat and drink during a normal working day. They work late in the office or the business, go home, have a meal, then the whole family goes to watch an IPL match that lasts three or three-and- a half hours. The idea of the city-based team, following the American baseball format, has taken root in India because it meets the social demands of its middle class that can afford to pay for a product that suits its needs. Consequently, the IPL can afford to buy the best in the world. Moreover, the lucrative pay-packet stimulates many cricketers in India and around the world to work hard to gain an IPL contract. This is the centre of gravity of the modern game – certainly no fad! This is what the market demands, and this is the benchmark that the most gifted players today are prepared to work towards. Not Test cricket.”
He concluded: “Time to wake up! The future is there for us to see in the West Indies as well. We are crap at Test cricket, but we are not alone, the South Africans, the Pakistanis and Sri Lankans, even the Australians, are peddling damaged goods. I can’t see any gimmick (night cricket, for example) rehabilitating a product that has long passed its sell-by date. But we are as good as anybody at T20. Ask the IPL people who have made several of our players millionaires. Let us recognise this and begin to plan for a future in which T20, possibly with major extension into the US and Canada, will be the real cricket of the future.”
Despite Professor Seecharan’s strong views, however, there are millions of cricket fans who will defend the sanctity of Test cricket as the only format of the game that speaks to the soul of the great game, that is also at the heart of our West Indian identity.