Compare the current Ashes series to the test tournaments this year between Bangladesh-WI, Sri Lanka-Pak (in pak) and Eng-WI. No wonder test cricket’s future looks bleak. Dead pitches making legends out of mortals, hundreds, double hundreds, and pacers steaming in and bowling at over 90 mph only to see half timed shots earning the confident batsmen free runs. These matches under lights or with pink balls would not have generated any more interest than they did without them. The problem is not with the game itself. The problem is the quality of pitches and the quality of cricket on display. You want hard-fought high quality test cricket between equals, and batsmen having to earn every run. Look at the interest the Ashes has generated over a century.
Among many ideas that are being toyed with to revive test cricket, the only one that made sense and appealed to me was the two-tier system. And the more i thought about how it would work, the more i was convinced that it is the ultimate solution to the seemingly indomitable problems of the chaotic cricketing schedule and loss of interest in test cricket of fans, especially in the sub-continent.
This is how the two tier system should work:
1. Relieving Bangladesh of the test status. Test Cricket is what it is and what it has been for over a hundred years because it is played by a few countries, and to expect it’s market to go beyond these countries is unrealistic. Giving Bangladesh Test Status has done nothing except give bangladeshi fans endless defeats, poor quality of test cricket, tightening the international cricketing schedule and generating an insignificant amount of revenue for Bangladesh or the nation playing them. Test Cricket must be limited to the top 8 teams. If the game has to become global, 20-20 is the format for it.
2. Each tier would have four teams. The teams in the top tier play a home and away series against each other for a period of say, three years, and same for the lower tier. The teams finishing last in the top tier(say A) and first in the bottom tier (say B) now play a home and away series against each other , and if B beats A, B is upgraded to the top tier while A is demoted to the lower tier.
This could generate a lot more interest and the countries will start taking test cricket seriously, because now it becomes a matter of pride. The top teams will fight to stay in the top tier, and the lower teams will fight to get a place in the upper tier.
It means that each tier has 12 test tournaments for 3 years, 4 each year, each team playing one home and one away 5 test-match series each year. This way, the amount of cricket can be reduced, yet the quality of cricket would improve. And test cricket would not lose players like Flintoff to shorter versions of the game(i meant IPL, of course). The players cannot be blamed for choosing 20-20 over test cricket in the present system. With a family to support, not knowing when your body could break down again, that choice is inevitable. Increasing the number of test matches will not make a difference. Each test should become a memorable one.
3. As for all the nations trying to bring out their own versions of the IPL, it is a lost battle. If I start a franchise based basketball tournament in India, It wouldn’t come anywhere close to the revenue generated by the NBA, because India simply doesn’t have the market for it. So among all the 20-20 tournaments, the IPL would always rule the roost, and international cricketers would always choose the IPL over any other tournament because they’ll get paid more.
4. Setting up an international committee which oversees the quality of pitches all over the world. While a certain degree of home advantage should always be granted, ‘mirror-tracks’ have to be eliminated. The administrators are under the impression that more runs scored means more revenue generated. What people actually want to see is a fight. Fast bowlers steaming in and banging the ball in. More matches with all three results possible on the last day.
But there are still a lot of problems. For example, the BCCI, an agglomeration of bussinessmen and politicians, illeterate as far as the understanding of the game is concerned, is now going for a 94 match IPL from 2011. That is madness! Even from the BCCI, that’s a shocker. But didnt anyone see this coming? Every other board has to be blamed for BCCI’s antics as much as the BCCI itself. If all the boards don’t want BCCI to call the shots, why dont they all come together to say to the BCCI – ‘We refuse to play with you until you become an equal member.’ The more you give in to a dicatator, the more cruel he becomes.
A lot of the Indian domestic players have earned more in a couple of seasons of the IPL than Ian Botham or Viv Richards did in their entire career. Today, Michael Clarke and Mitchell Johnson can say no to the IPL because they have years ahead of them. Once injuries or loss of form or just sheer fatigue start setting in, they might have to make a choice as well. Something needs to change.