Three Test series have been wiped clean of the FTP this year and it seems no body (the ICC especially) could care less. West Indies and SriLanka mutually called off their Test series in the Caribbean in April, allowing there players safe passage through the entirety of the IPL.
The Sri Lankan officials realizing nobody really gave a hoot, then went ahead and also postponed (read: scrapped) their home test series against S.A. The West Indian Cricket authorities not to be left behind, saw and raised the SLC’s move by dumping the Pakistan home tests from their calendars. Both of these last two test series were rubbished due to the scheduling of a more alluring short ODI (7 matches) tri-series to be played between India, W.I and Sri Lanka. Apparently the riches to be earned through this mini-venture were enough for the Sri Lankan’s to give the world’s number one test side the boot, as well as lure the West Indies to shift away from their once long-time sporting rivals, Pakistan. The men in Green, due to the intense rivalry they enjoyed with the Windies through much of the 80s & early 90s, remain a local favorite touring side.
It isn’t as much the action of these two boards as the lack of discourse and sheer disregard of these cancellations amongst the Cricket community that is disturbing. Apart from the obligatory report summarizing the press releases from the respective boards, not much else has been written on the matter. The Cricket media and pundits who are usually out with their sharp knives and daggers if a similar scenario arises with the English or Australian Cricket teams (or worse, if India, god-forbid schedule another limited over series) have remained conspicuously silent. The “Test Cricket is Dying” brigade alarmingly seems to only notice blows to the five-day format, in regions where there isn’t actually any threat to Test Cricket at all. As long as fat helpings of Ashes pudding are there to keep these Test Cricket “sympathizers” well fed, they couldn’t care less about what’s happening with the remaining countries.
Often their wrath is wrongly directed towards India or more specifically the BCCI, especially when the board schedules another meaningless T20 series, or squeezes a couple of ODIs in its home schedule. But to be fair the BCCI has always kept itself up to pace with a healthy dose of Test Cricket spread through its calendar year. The dwindling Test crowds in the country are less to do with the death of the Test game and more to do with modern day lifestyle changes, a preference for limited over Cricket (which is nothing new, and has been building ever since the 80s), and most importantly the perceived shift of Test Cricket in the Indian consumer’s mind from a spectator to a T.V sport. This coupled with the lack of marketing strategy or coherent thought process by the Asian boards (and the ICC as a whole) to stopper the shift and reverse this trend back in favor of spectators, means these countries have lost their in-stadium Test audience.
Test Cricket is not a three, sometimes four, if you count S.A (but they too are quickly turning victims), member sport. The lack of attention, the suspension of these three series, has gotten is alarming and unfortunately points to a clear divide which has now filtered down from administrative to media circles. The raising of such issues by the informed mainstream Cricket media is essential to getting the point-of-view of fans across to the ICC and other relevant administrative bodies.
It doesn’t matter that such criticism has never really amounted to much or changed the views of those governing the game. Just having that outlet, on a major platform, shedding light on all sides of the coin is important enough. Test Cricket fans in countries like the West Indies, Sri Lanka and Pakistan cannot afford the media dropping the ball on this matter. For it is in these countries (and not the three that often occupy most of the space on this discourse) that Test Cricket is truly on its deathbed. The West Indies are about to go through their first home season with just two scheduled Tests (those too against Zimbabwe). They will not play a Test at home for over a year! This should be big news, but has barely caused a ripple in the Cricket fraternity.
South Africa are the recent holders of the Test Mace. As with all their non-Asian predecessors of the title before them, they are not truly deserving of the crown until they prove their mantle against spin in the Subcontinent. The tour to Sri Lanka would have served as a great litmus test for measuring their batsmen’s capability to cope with spin in helpful conditions, as well as a true challenge for the likes of Philander and Morkel to prove themselves on less friendlier surfaces. Thanks to the ICC we won’t get to savor this challenge any time soon. Pakistan has never won a test series in the W.I. With Misbah at the helm and the test side much more settled than when he captained them to the Caribbean shores two years ago, this might have been that historic tour. Thanks to the ICC again we will never find out.
I blame the ICC, and not the respective boards because these decisions, as excruciating as they might be for Test Cricket fans, are understandable when seen through the lens of these cash-strapped boards. Both SLC and WICB are perpetually in need of money, and one cannot really blame them for milking the cash cow that is T20 and Indian ODI Cricket. The ICC however (as rich as this will sound), apart from the usual revenue generating obligations, is also the custodian of the international game, and so bestowed with the responsibility of the safeguarding of Test Cricket. It is then up to them ultimately to make sure the FTP is abided by, and that proper disciplinary measures are taken if it is not.
The ICC allots a significant amont of money each year to all its member Test nations for the development and running of the game. Maybe it is time they made sure the FTP and all its Test requirements were being met before this money found its way in the exchequer of the respective boards. It is also not that far fetched that more money be designated to some of the countries suffering from greater symptoms of Test Cricket withdrawal than others.
The smaller boards (Pak, S.A, Sri, S.A, N.Z) themselves of course also need to come to the realization that they are already scraping at the bottom of the barrel in terms of FTP Test allocations. Instead of canceling each others tours, and taking a bite out of the others apple, they need to sit down and collectively come to agreements where they can increase Test as well as ODI commitments. The FTP of all these countries are nowhere near as packed as the other three, and allow plenty of room for maneuverability. Yes, the money won’t be as easy as with an Indian tour, but long-term commitments, repeat tours, and proper marketing can lead to the generation of new rivalries that can create new revenue streams.
The India-England and India-Australia rivalries, so prevalent in Cricket today due to their billable nature, are not like the Pakistan-India and Ashes where there is a historic context to them. These are modern-day manufactured rivalries that have taken their current forms through some expert T.V marketing. With the aid of narratives, stories and symbols along with an excess dose of these contests, the rivalries have been force fed and developed (mainly as revenue generating tools) before our eyes in the last decade and half. Instead of fighting over crumbs, the smaller boards should find opportunity in there current squalor and look to forge similar strong alliances.
The current situation, if allowed to prevail, is eventually heading to a stage where it might become essential to have either India, England or Australia be one of the sides competing in a Test series. But given how much we care from the current levels of discussion on the matter, it’s highly likely we’ll not even notice when this “begins”.