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The 2000th cricket Test match has just begun between England and India at Lords. Some are querying whether it is really the 2000th Test, generally because of a view that the game a few years ago between Australia and the ICC World XI should not count.
That view, as I understand it, is generally based on the proposition that teams playing a Test should be representing two countries.
My Macquarie dictionary gives a definition of “Test match” consistent with that: “a match, or one of a series of matches, especially in cricket, between two nationally representative teams.”
If we accept that definition, it seems to me that there have been an awful lot of games that are down in the records as Test matches but in fact weren’t.
For a start, it took a while for the concept of “Test match” to be thought up. Various early games now regarded as Tests weren’t thought of as such when they were being played (and the odd game thought of at the time as a Test subsequently lost that status – England versus the World XI in the early ’70s being the obvious example).
If test status can be conferred or taken away like that, it suggests it may not be something intrinsic and immutable. It’s not enough to look like a Test match and smell like a Test match – someone with authority has to say you’re a Test match.
A possibly better example of that is the third five-day match between South Africa and India in 1991 – two nationally representative teams, from top tier cricket nations. Five days, at a well recognised Test match venue. Down in the schedule as the third match of a Test series. Duly played, to a result. But not a Test match.
The ICC said so (because it refused to change the appointed match referee, Mike Denness, after a request from the Indian team, aggrieved by Denness’ decisions against a number of Indian players arising out of incidents in the second Test.
The Indian team refused to play with Denness as match referee. South Africa agreed to play the Indians with a different referee).
Interesting to speculate if that game will ever be retrospectively classified as a Test match. One C.C. Williams would be a strong advocate of that – that was the one and only five-day match he played for India against a nationally representative team from another country.
The next category of games considered Test matches but which don’t fit into the dictionary definition are those played by teams representing an assortment of political entities before those entities combined to become sovereign states. There are quite a few of these – Australia before 1901, South Africa before 1910, India before 1947, West Indies before 1958.
You can argue that the collections of pre-nationhood entities bundled together equate to the post-nationhood states recognised today, although that’s not strictly correct either – India before 1947 of course included what is now Pakistan (and one or two players who had played for India played for Pakistan after partition), so the pre-partition and pre-independence India wasn’t, geographically, the same thing as the current Indian nation.
Pakistan until the 1970s included Bangladesh – I don’t know how many, if any, players who would now be Bangladeshis represented Pakistan, but that’s a little different – what was clearly one nation (as opposed to a collection of other political units) became two.
Then there is at least one team that still represents multiple sovereign states – the West Indies being the obvious one. From 1958 to 1962 there was a West Indies Federation.
Teams playing for the West Indies in that time could be said to be “nationally representative” – but at all other times (and therefore for the majority of tests regarded as played by the West Indies) the West Indies has not been a nation.
And if we want to be pedantic (or malicious) here, it’s the England and Wales cricket team, not just England.
We can then dig a bit deeper. As I understand it, the Australian teams for early Tests in Australia were very much picked by the association hosting the relevant match, with a significant bias to local players. Is a team picked that way “nationally representative”?
For that matter, were the touring teams they played against, which to the modern eye look more like private jaunts crossed with commercial ventures, any more representative?
And Australian touring teams were no different – when Australia toured England the teams were picked by the leading players themselves (there was no national association, and no national selectors – is that why we sometimes did quite well?) and operated essentially as money making joint ventures between the players themselves.
Nothing wrong with making money, but are teams selected that way, and with those objectives, “nationally representative”?
I mentioned South Africa above, in the context of playing Tests before becoming a nation. You can also query whether some of the early games played by South Africa should be regarded as Tests, given how very weak the South African teams were.
Who gave them that status?
While talking about those early games, should any game played on a matting wicket be counted as a Test match? The dictionary doesn’t go into that much technicality, but I think it’s not an illegitimate question (and that would bring into question some games played in Pakistan).
Finally, while talking about South Africa you have to ask whether teams picked during the apartheid era should be regarded as “nationally representative”.
At many times it may have been that there were no non-white cricketers better than any of the players in the all white teams chosen.
But perhaps the real issue is that there is no way of knowing that because the non-white players had no real opportunity to show otherwise, meaning that the South African teams were in fact only representative of a racially based section of the population, not the nation.
My point, perhaps a long time coming, is that you can argue that there have been a lot of games we now call Test matches played between teams that don’t represent two different countries.
Exceptions to the general concept of the Test match being what the dictionary (and the opponents of the ICC World XI games counting as Tests) says it is are allowed for all those games (and I have no trouble with that – although you have to wonder about some of the early games).
I just don’t see why making another exception for the very occasional game involving an ICC XI should cause any issue at all.
After all, the players go into the game having been told it’s a Test, by the body which is the acknowledged international governing body of the sport. If that body can withhold test match status (as it did in 2001 for South Africa versus India, logically it can confer it also).