Will white ball contracts spell the end for Test cricket?
Test cricket was once the cornerstone of our great game, it was the pinnacle, the ultimate stage on which to showcase your skills. The La Scala of the cricketing world.
Grace, Bradman, Hutton, Lloyd, Gavaskar, Botham, Lillee — the list goes on of greats whose careers have been defined by their performances in the Test arena. But is this a thing of the past?
In case you missed it, England internationals, Adil Rashid, Alex Hales and Reece Topley have all turned their back on red ball cricket as the trio have signed ‘white ball’ contracts with their respective counties and in doing so, almost certainly ended their Test careers.
All white now
As we all know, cricket is not what it once was. With a new, more dynamic audience craving speed, innovation and power, white ball cricket is thriving. So much so that worldwide domestic T20 competitions and their teams are now investing astronomical sums of money in players that have little hope nor little ambition of Test selection.
I present to you, Tymal Mills. The Sussex T20 specialist recently landed a whopping £1.4 million from Indian Premier League side, Royal Challengers Bangalore, which rather astonishingly, is just shy of double the salary of England Test skipper, Joe Root.
Not bad for a guy that has taken just three international T20 wickets in four matches.
Players such as Mills certainly cannot be begrudged or blamed for committing to the shorter format, but can the same be said about those with realistic hopes for Test match selection? Do players have a duty to support the game’s most traditional format?
Not according to former England bowler Chris Tremlett: “Some people will be disappointed that Hales and Rashid are no longer putting their hats in the ring for Test cricket, but the game is moving forward.
“Like it or not, this is the way modern-day cricket is going and it’s a personal choice for the players in question. You look at IPL contracts and that is where the money is – players are bound to follow it.”
Dagger through the heart
So, as the game continues to evolve into a calendar full of limited overs games, will higher profile players make themselves unavailable for Test selection as they eye the big bucks?
One man who could indeed do that is South Africa’s A B De Villiers. The quite brilliant Protea batsman is one of the most sought after one-day players in world. Despite being in the middle of a Test series battle against Australia, rumours persist that this could be his last outing in white clothing as he looks to cash in.
If that is the case then it would be a dagger through the heart of Test cricket and could potentially encourage other high profile players to follow suit.
So how do the players see it?
“No one is watching it [Test cricket] and soon, it won’t be viable. There’s no money in it because it’s all in T20 leagues and we have to be worried about that,” says England Test opener, Alistair Cook.
Whilst England’s current limited overs captain, Eoin Morgan echoes those thoughts: “Test match cricket has had a lot to worry about for a while now. If something was going to be done about it, it should have already been done already.”
Make county cricket great again
I agree with Eoin Morgan that something should have been done but the rapid rise of T20 cricket has made it difficult for the ICC and the respective governing bodies to come up with a solution. Or perhaps I’m being rather naive and in fact they see T20 as a lucrative cash cow they want to milk for all it’s worth, even if it means the Test arena is neglected.
So what are the options?
If players want the big bucks, then give it to them.
The ‘Test Championship’ has been talked about for some time now with no sign of it forthcoming. The ICC need to introduce this as soon as possible and offer big rewards, not only for the team winning it but for standout individual performances.
Show the players they can be rewarded.
Make county cricket great again
The stereotypical view of first class cricket in England is that it’s miserably cold, viewed by a solitary fan accompanied by his or her Jack Russell and played by glorified club cricketers.
Whilst that isn’t the case, it’s not a million miles from it and that should be a huge concern.
The ECB has to start engaging the youth of Britain and raise interest levels in the longer format and they need to do that by introducing a friendlier schedule.
Nobody wants to watch cricket in April with a flask of coffee in their hands and a blanket over their lap, so stop shaping the schedule to suit limited overs games and start playing first class games in school holidays, even if that means a shorter schedule.
Prioritise quality over quantity and make it fun.
Let the kids see a fiery spell of fast bowling on a quick bouncy pitch in July, not a 200 ball half century in April.
Innovate in the Test arena
The shorter formats are innovative, so why isn’t Test cricket?
Day/night Test matches have been a great hit with the crowds — let’s have more of them.
What about introducing penalty runs for slow over rates? Even as a cricketing purist I can acknowledge that the longer format can be painful to watch at times. So why not introduce an ‘over clock’? All overs must be bowled inside an allowed time or penalty runs are awarded to the batting teams.
Yes, these ideas aren’t perfect, but it’s a start.
Whatever is done can’t come quickly enough, because as it stands Test cricket and its future looks bleak.
Cricket balls photo by Farrukh via Flickr Creative Commons under Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)