Cricket’s One Big Test

A common trend in today’s world is for companies to bring in “specialists” to give them advice as to how they can do things better. Sporting organisations are no different.

Just as coaches and athletes will look at new training innovations to try and make them better than their opponents and ‘gain that edge,’ it is understandable that sporting bodies in a highly competitive sphere also want to be one step ahead of their competition.

There are two pitfalls when brining in outsiders to lend advice. The first is that they are usually being paid a consultancy fee, so therefore feel obliged to come up with some suggestions, whether they will actually make a difference or not. How many actually are honest and say to their client, this is in fact a very well run lean operation? The second issue is just because you paid for this advice it does not mean you have to take it. Many a company has ignored a consultants advice, for example Qantas in the late 1980’s, who were told to relocate their reservations to Perth as at the time property and wages were a great deal lower than Sydney.

What seems to be too much of a coincidence is the International Hockey Federation announcing a nine team International competition, and then almost a year later the International Cricket Council announcing a new International nine team league competition. Did they use the same consultants? Did they simply rebrand an idea and put it on the table and promote it as “revolutionary?”

There are many small consultancies today that sadly simply trawl the internet for other people’s ideas and rebrand them as their own and get paid handsomely for it. There are other companies who ask interviewees to come and present a structure and long term plan, ask for a copy of the plan, fail to employ the interviewee and adopt the plans that were presented. Sadly there are some very unscrupulous people out there, looking for the cheapest and easiest way to get ahead.

The Test Cricket League has been talked about for a while. The reasoning behind such a concept is to give every Test match meaning. The ICC understand that long term rivalries such as the Ashes will always have meaning, and attract the crowds, but they wanted to give Test Matches between Australia and England when the play Bangladesh and Zimbabwe greater context. In a league competition every game could count, as could the winning or losing margin. This they believe would mean that every single Test match would become relevant.

The idea, very like the International Hockey Federation’s Pro League concept will see the nine top ranked teams play each other. In cricket they will play three home and three away series over a two year cycle and at the end of the two year cycle the top two teams will play off to win the “World Test Championship.”

The original idea had been that all teams would play each other home and away over two years, but that was deemed too difficult. At least in Hockey’s competition that will be the case so everyone will have played each other. To have two teams at the top of a League table when they have not all played each other is going to be a hard sell to the public.

The first final of the World Test Championship is expected to be played at Lords the home of cricket in 2021 and then Sydney Cricket Ground and Eden Gardens have been picked as suitable venues for finals after 2021.

This competition will see countries playing one-off test matches rather than the traditional best of three or five day games, as has been the norm. This one feels will also be hard for the ICC to sell to the traditional cricket fan. For the record Australia has not played a one off test match for 18 years!

The new structure they believe will increase the fans interest in the “other” matches as they will have an impact on their team. Time will tell whether this proves to be the case or just great salesmanship by those who came up with the concept.

Sometimes the best answers to tricky solutions such as how to raise the interest in Test cricket may in fact lie with the fans, but rarely are they asked, unless via an on-line poll which as many know can be manipulated and sadly tend to see limited demographic groups participate.

It was ex Test Cricketer and writer Ian Peebles who in his book “Bowler’s Turn” in 1960 suggested that the new Test playing nations – soon to be Afghanistan and Ireland – should play only three day matches until they become strong enough to play five. Many traditionalists scoffed at such a suggestion. His reasoning was that these nations when they embark on Test cricket have historically had only six or seven players up to the strain of a five day match, but ‘carry’ four players every match. Hence they struggle to be competitive over five days and the quality of the match as a spectacle is affected.

There are many of us who years ago used to be able to tell you who was playing whom, at what time, and where in the world. Not only that, but which nations would be touring Australia or England next. In the past twenty years as more cricket at International level has been played it has become nigh on impossible to keep track of each nation’s playing schedule. Some point to this as the reason for Test Cricket’s decline. The simple fact that no longer are the series cyclical.

One has to wonder whether this new format will have any impact. A One-off test match on the face of it has little appeal, unless it is to celebrate an historic milestone such as the Centenary Test in Melbourne in 1977 between England and Australia and the return fixture at Lords in 1980.

Change is constant in the world today, and it happens rapidly. However change for the sake of change is not necessarily always the best option, and not all change is good.

In two years we will find out of the custodians of the game have made a change that benefits Test Cricket, until then it will continue to be a matter open for debate.

Cricket’s One Big Test
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