The decision last week by major international cricketing bodies to refuse to make Test cricket more relevant is yet another blow to the long form of the game.
Under the proposal, Test cricket would have been split into two tiers. Seven teams would make the top tier and a further five would remain in the second tier. Relegation and elevation would then occur accordingly after the completion of a cycle.
I am against changing much at all to do with Test cricket. It is the purest form of the game and the one that should be left alone. However, it must be given some relevance which this proposal would have done. This idea at least gives countries something a bit more meaningful to strive for rather than simply being the top ranked Test playing nation. It would keep teams at the top of their game and have the best teams playing against each other more often. That can only be good for the game.
Sri Lanka put up a brilliant performance against Australia in their most recent Test match series. But what does it mean? The Ashes aside, win, lose or draw, Test cricket doesn’t really have any major consequences after a series has concluded except for pride.
It would also hopefully mean that so called ‘minnow’ nations such as Afghanistan and Ireland could try their hand at Test cricket and have a go at keeping the other major Test cricket playing nations honest. Under this proposal this would initially have minnow nations playing teams with similar talent where games are less likely to be lopsided. It will be a brilliant way for the less talented teams to learn their craft, gain some confidence and strive for emergence in the top seven where they could then test themselves against the best.
It could be quite exciting, but admittedly something that will take a while to flow through in order to get some of the lower nations slightly more competitive. This would also minimise situations such as the one that occurred last Summer where Australia and the West Indies played a bruise free boring Test series.
There is the argument that nobody would watch or be interested in Test matches featuring lower ranked teams, which would then have a flow on impact on television audiences and revenue. I argue though that these games are likely to be very competitive and closely fought contests. You would also be increasing the amount of Test cricket playing countries, which in turn would expose it to more audiences in new markets. Additionally, we see in the Premier League how exciting and nerve racking things get come relegation time. Plenty of people watch those battles, given that there is actually something riding on every result.
One Day International cricket also needs more relevance and purpose injected into it. Why couldn’t a similar thing be done with the shorter form of the game? Again, have a two tiered, cyclical system that allows relegation and promotion rather than simply a rankings system. The second tier could feature extra teams who are not up to test playing status but could hold their own at the one day level. Again, getting more countries, more audiences and new markets exposed to the game.
This could lead into the creation of World Cup qualification criteria based upon what has occurred during the preceding World Cup cycles.
Test cricket has to be played in preference to T20 and ODI matches. Arguments that there is a lack of room in the schedule are rubbish. There should be no consideration to domestic T20 tournaments when it comes to scheduling Test matches. The longer form should take priority and be played across the world more often.
T20 cricket is not going anywhere anytime soon. Money is driving that first and foremost. For that reason, Test cricket needs a couple of tweaks to remain relevant and gain exposure in places that it has never had before. Given where it is currently at, there is nothing to lose.