Future of Test cricket

The first ever day/night Test match in the West Indies began last Saturday at 3:00 pm, East Caribbean Time, at the Kensington Oval, Barbados, and finished yesterday afternoon just before 4:00 pm, with Sri Lanka beating the West Indies by four wickets in a tense low-scoring affair.

The tenth ever day/night Test match might have been over in less than three days but for rain on the second day which severely restricted play. The ineptitude of the West Indian batting was reflected in scores of 204 and 93, having been reduced to 53/5 and 14/5, in the first and second innings, respectively. Sri Lanka did not fare much better, with scores of 154 and 144/6, after struggling to 81/6 in the second innings.

 Dropped catches on Monday night by the West Indians probably led to the Sri Lankan series levelling win, and cost the hosts a chance at a much needed morale boasting series victory over the higher ranked visitors.

West Indian fans who took the time to watch the match, probably over the staunch objections of their better halves who had already endured them being glued to their living sofas from early in the morning following the soccer World Cup, must have been appalled at the few attendees in the stands. Which begs the question, does test cricket have a future in the Caribbean? And for that matter, the world? Is Test cricket really dying?

After the Kerry Packer World Series crisis was resolved in 1979, with Packer getting more than what he wanted initially, the structure of the cricket calendar was drastically changed. Every Australian cricket season thereafter included an International One Day tournament of the fifty overs variety, involving the host and two visiting Test playing teams. Packer’s Channel Nine Network, with its innovative approach to television coverage was soon able to capture the interest of fans the world over, whether their team was participating or not.  The triangular tournament concept spread to the Asian sub-continent, and the cricketers began reaping the financial rewards that accompanied the advent of the increased advertising sponsorship and television coverage.

  The next phase of the modern game, the advent of the T20 format and the proliferation of T20 leagues around the world has had a profound effect on the game of Test cricket. The briefest format of the game with its exciting television presentation package and guaranteed results in a relatively short space of time has attracted the millennial generation who have been brought up in an age of “instant messaging, internet search engines, as well as a host of other functions that can be accessed within milliseconds (and which) have naturally affected our psychological approach to everyday life. As a result, both the internet and the growth of modern devices have fuelled society’s desire to achieve fulfilment within an instant. Patience, it seems, has become a thing of the past,” are the words of Liam Hope, one of the younger generation who is actually fascinated by Test cricket after being introduced to it, by of all things, Don Bradman Cricket on PlayStation 4. The young enthusiast’s appreciation is driven by the complexities and the patience required to succeed in Test cricket.

 Pakistan legend Imran Khan in an interview, a few years ago, had attacked the modern game, lamenting the decline in the standard of Test match cricket.  He pleaded with cricket’s administrators to take a serious look at the international schedule.

 “The calendar is already being carved up in an ad hoc way, dictated by money and short-term compromise. We need to sit down and come up with a coherent long-term strategy – a worldwide calendar of attractive events that both appeal to spectators and preserve Test cricket and the future of our game as a whole.

“Soon you will find a lot of players skipping series – key players – simply because of the amount of cricket. And yet in six weeks of playing Twenty20 cricket in the IPL, some players made more money than I made in my whole 21 years of international cricket. If you have that sort of money available, a player can first make his name in Test cricket and then retire and save himself for Twenty20.

 “If your stars don’t continue to play in Test cricket, you will just see standards going down. That’s the danger; and the way things are going it could happen, “the former Pakistani all-rounder correctly predicted, in July, 2010. Here in the West Indies we need look no further than the path taken by Chris Gayle.

 The ICC announced last week that it will be introducing a World Test Championship, as well as an ODI League, as part of its Future Tours Programme, from 2018 to 2023. The nine top-ranked sides will participate in the inaugural edition of the World Test Championship which is scheduled to run from July, 2019 to April, 2020. The teams will play six series in a two-year cycle on a home and an away basis against opponents which they have mutually selected. The World Test champions will be determined in the final in June 2021 by the two top ranked sides.

Is this Test tournament too late? Has the ICC dropped the ball on this one? Can this format revive interest in Test cricket? Will day/night Tests be the future of the game? Or will four-day Tests become the norm? Will Test cricket survive? Only time will tell.

As the saying goes, cricket is a strange game.

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