The ongoing debate within the ICC about the merits of initiating a Test World Championship for cricket took another couple of twists this week.
Firstly, Haroon Lorgat, Chairman of the ICC announced that the ICC were very much in favour of such a tournament, but that two National boards—England’s and India’s were opposed to the idea.
This was followed up by the ECB countering that statement with one of their own, noting that it was the proposed format of the Championship, with unknown fixtures over a two year period that they were opposed to, rather than the concept as a whole.
Both stances are blinded by the implication that there is something “wrong” with the current format, where National boards arrange their own fixtures with one another. Although Test cricket may be suffering falls in attendance in several nations, this is not the case everywhere, and indeed largely follows the natural cyclical and economic fluctuations.
In England, for example, tickets for Tests are often vastly oversubscribed, particularly for tasty encounters against opponents like Australia, India and South Africa.
Indeed, if there is anything fundamentally “wrong” with Test cricket it is that there is too much of it, and it is accompanied by too much One-day cricket.
TV contracts have increased the fees payable, but have also driven a move towards more International cricket and less rest time for players.
Similarly, the Future Tours Programme, whilst rightfully earnest in its ambition to ensure that all the Test-playing nations face one another, has led to tours being crammed in next to each other so that the prime series’ can still be conducted as frequently as the National boards involved require.
Having a Test “World Championship” in any format merely adds to that pressure, and effectively involves additional matches, more travel and less rest time for players. How can this be a good thing, if our top players find that they are no longer fit to play as regularly as their paymasters require?
Not only that, but any such Championship devalues any other Test series played between two sides. How do you create the necessary framework for cricket to continue if some, sporadic, individual, games are more important than others in the series, or in the forthcoming or previous series, because they count towards a World Championship?
The ICC seem to be under the delusion that they need to be able to rank teams definitively, and that having a “World Championship” will prove once and for all which the best team is. Clearly this is a ludicrous scenario.
The form of one team on a given day (or over a period of five days) can make all the difference between winning and losing a Test match, one reason why the ICC’s own Test World rankings only includes series’ of two or more matches.
This was exemplified in the recent Ashes series, where the two sides were evenly matched in talent, and a few big days at Lord’s and The Oval turned the series England’s way.
The ECB’s proposal to the ICC in respect of a World Championship was someone slimmed down, effectively consisting of a play-off between the best two sides in the rankings. Yet, whilst this avoids the necessity of significant extra games, it still ends up as a one-off match, where luck may play as much a part as judgement.
There doesn’t appear to be a real dissenting voice in terms of the prospect of a Test Championship, and Lorgat seems adamant that he will convince doubters, though his argument is very weak. He proclaims that if a match between India and Pakistan was going to affect (say) Australia or South Africa’s ranking, then Australians and South Africans would take more interest in the match.
There is no evidence to back this up—I would expect that if an Australian or South African were interested in the match through its own merits then they will remain interested, whilst those who were not interested to begin with won’t sudden find themselves drawn to it because it is part of some Championship (after all, fans from Liverpool don’t go to watch Chelsea play Arsenal just because they are in the same tournament).
And the latter example seems to show where the idea has come from—football has league tables and an easy way to determine a “Champion” every year, whilst cricket, at the moment, does not.
Rather than follow football’s lead, which has a tradition of crowning a champion every year, why not focus on the traditions of cricket.
Clearly some Test series’ have a cache that National boards use to promote the game—this is what needs to be progressed, so that series between Pakistan and New Zealand become as interesting, important and historical and Ashes series’.
The ICC need to take a step back and see how they can help National boards improve the pulling power of their Test series, rather than interfering with an unnecessary and unwieldy additional complicating tournament of their own.