It has been an interesting start to the Australian summer of cricket. From tampering with the Sheffield Shield competition, to more debate about the day night cricket concept and the scheduling of matches, there has been lots of discussion. Add to that the conjecture about the reviewing of wickets and where the future of the Test cricket format is headed and you quickly realise the summer of cricket has well and truly begun. So where is Test cricket going and in particular what role does Australia have in it?
Sheffield Shield level
In the Sheffield Shield game between Queensland and New South Wales last week, Mitchell Starc was pulled out of the game mid way through and the amount of overs he bowled was restricted. The idea was that he was being managed in preparation for the First Test. If he needed to be managed like that, should he even be playing in the Test side? Manipulating the Sheffield Shield competition is a dangerous game that raises more questions than it answers. It leads to an unfair advantage or disadvantage for teams and paints the competition as second-rate. Yes, everything should be done to ensure Australia’s best players are ready for international level, but not at the expense of the feeder competition. Do not bite the hand that feeds you as the saying goes. A healthy domestic competition is vital for the future of the game at a higher level.
Pink ball cricket
The jury still remains out on this topic. Is it good for the game or just a gimmick that is doing more harm than has yet been realised? These are all questions that will be answered in time, but for the moment there does not seem to be all that much to lose by at least trialling it. One pink ball Test a summer though is probably enough. At least while the kinks are ironed out. These kinks include the fact that the actual ball is still not entirely right and more needs to be done to sort this out. It is clear that some players are still not happy with the concept and further work is required to ease their concerns too. In an increasingly busy world, this day night Test idea does need exploration as the concept allows the best possible time slot to maximise attendance numbers. What we must ensure however, is that the game is not altered too much from the original form in order to achieve this outcome.
This one is ridiculous. Why has a Twenty20 match against Sri Lanka at the Adelaide Oval been scheduled the day before the Test series against India in India begins? That is just crazy stuff. There is an easy fix to this and that is to remove Twenty20 International cricket or at the very least restrict it to World Cup’s only. Leave Twenty20 cricket as a purely domestic product and remove the meaningless International games that are scheduled to bookend Test and One Day International tours. These Twenty20 games are clearly worth not much, because they would not be scheduled in a way where the best players cannot play if they were taken seriously. It would be farcical to have a situation where we have two national cricket teams playing at the same time, albeit in different forms of the game and would do nothing except absolutely dilute both products.
Are we at the point now where every decision on the field should be reviewed as the player walks off? It would not take that long and would go a long way in removing some of the embarrassing errors that remain in the game. It is 2016 and surely it is time we got this right. Every no-ball appears to be double checked now when a wicket is taken, why not the dismissal itself as well.
Structure of Test cricket
The future of Test cricket has been hotly debated by several big names in the game in recent time. You can read my thoughts on the issue here. In brief though, some sort of meaning must be applied to the result beyond the official Test rankings attributed to a nation. Test cricket should be played in preference to any other form of the game and everything should be done to get more countries playing the game. A two-tiered system provides the best solution to this idea. For now though, it seems that there is a resistance to this. Four-day matches have been offered up as an idea too, but what that achieves remains to be seen. One extra day is not the reason why crowds are dropping or why the game is losing some meaning. The only other thing that needs tinkering with is the slow over rates that constantly occur at Test level. A stricter penalty of some sort must be applied to teams who are slowing the game down to ridiculous levels. The game will become unattractive if it gets any slower and that does not help in keeping people interested and attracting new fans to the game.
Overall, the game of Test cricket is not broken, but it cannot be left completely alone either. During the week the West Indies beat Pakistan, Bangladesh beat England and so far we have seen a cracking couple of days of Test cricket between Australia and South Africa in Perth. If the opening couple of days of that game has taught anything, it is that on the field, Test cricket can still deliver fantastic contests and provide plenty of on-field talking points. There has been an increase in the ability of Test playing countries around the world, which is providing for great matches. Some small tinkering does need to be done to the game and the administration of it in the next twelve months though to ensure it remains sustainable going forward and is not eventually lost to sporting history forever.
Picture – The Guardian