Cricket is an amazing game. After one Test it seemed certain that these Ashes would be the Summer of Steve. With just a few hours of the second Test remaining, Jofra Archer was set to be anointed 2019’s Supreme Being.
Ever since the armour clad Ancient Greeks tussled and battled for the acquisition of olive leave wreaths and crowns in their holy city of Olympia, societies have longed to discover who is the best of the best.
As colossal figures such as Zeus and Alexander have drifted away with the sands of time and become no more prominent in our minds than a fringe NRL player or a struggling Socceroo plying his trade abroad, those that have succeeded them and risen to the top in their respective fields exact the same level of adulation and omnipotence.
Michael Jordan, Lionel Messi, Sachin Tendulkar, Haile Gebrselassie – the list goes on, and much like the aforementioned Greek legends, their influence extends far greater than simply within the sports they occupy.
For the Greeks, displaying physical prowess earned one the right to political command. Although that collaboration, theoretically speaking, ceases to exist now, one cannot trivialise the power those who have dominate in sport have.
They become marketing products and extract superfluous amounts of revenue for sponsors and their very sports alone. Their voice, when publicly projected, appears to silence all and shape the way others think and operate.
Followers abound yearn to replicate even a mere ounce of this preeminent performer’s achievements, often on a subconscious level. They are simply put on a pedestal, which they remain affixed to right up until they die, no matter how senile or obstinately dogmatic they become.
So how does this sentiment apply to sporting teams, where the individual often goes unnoticed in and among the entire collection of exceptional performances that his teammates execute?
Well quite frankly, the implications are far greater and perpetually heavier.
Complete domination by an individual in a particular sport often does little for the country that the athlete hails from.
Spectators and fans will adore their hero over the course of their career, and barrack for him against his opponents but that is the extent of the attachment from the perspective of the fan.
Team success engenders a level of passion among the people they represent whether it is within a community, region or nation. In the latter case, patriotism is cultivated inspiring even the least rambunctious of onlookers to get behind their nation as though they were fighting dear life.
If you support the Blues in the state of Origin, you despise every Queenslander and it is rocks or diamonds for the majority of the state’s inhabitants by the time the final whistle is blown.
A loss is a disaster that sits with you until the next match affords you with a chance of redemption and a victory enables you to cavort around with your chest protruding so far out in front that any number of cockroaches or cane toads would go unnoticed beneath you.
If you barrack for Manchester United then an Arsenal fan is what a German was to an Englishman some 70 odd years ago.
There is no question that pride is at stake for the fans just as much as the players. As William Hazlitt put it, “pride erects a little kingdom of its own and acts as sovereign in it.”
So to get to the point, with a 5-0 trouncing of the old enemy on the cards, how do we know where we stand? Barely four months ago, it was the English who were prancing around bellowing God save the queen with half a dozen pints of Carlsberg in their bellies.
The Proteas have just recently accounted for the Indians by the skin of their teeth in their own backyard but ones gets the impression that should a return series take place next week in the subcontinent the overall spoils would be similarly shared.
With the home ground advantage now seemingly having a pronounced effect on the outcome of a series how can we ever determine who is the best?
As we know, an ICC rankings system does exist but the shortcomings of its organisation can perhaps be best outlined by the fact that Pakistan sit above Australia. And lets face it, a systematically designed point feature just isn’t convincing enough for spectators.
They need evidence, something which a world cup provides. The Spaniards have cast aside their economic woes for they toppled the world in 2010 and have been able to bask in the glory of that feat for the past four years.
You might argue that we already have an equivalent in cricket, being the limited overs world cup that is held every four years. But this is no compromise for what has always been in many people’s eyes the only form of the game, Test cricket.
Ask any member of the record breaking Australian team of the turn of the century what their proudest moments were, or any fan for that matter.
Three consecutive world cup victories? Or having twice registered 16 successive Test victories in the midst of dominating the world of Test cricket for the best part of a decade?
It would be a landslide victory for the latter alternative.
But when things aren’t as clear-cut, and the game is more closely fought, how can we demarcate where the leading sides stand on the podium?
Some possibilities to consider are:
A Test cricket world cup held, in which there are two pools of five and the top three sides of each pool progress to the final six, where an elimination process ensues.
This could be particularly taxing given the demands of Test cricket, the tournament would need three months to allow for possibility of playing eight Test matches should one progress to the final.
However, if it took place in a nation of one of the lower placed sides it could provide what spectators so desperately crave; evidence of the best.
Dividing the schedule into two pools, so that the top sides are predominantly playing against other sides of similar quality rather than having futile series scheduled in Zimbabwe and Bangladesh that do little for either side other than demoralising the hosts and pampering the guests with a boost to their career averages.
England, India, Australia and South Africa would play each other once a year and with this increase in frequency foreign conditions would no longer be as unusual, diminishing the impact of the home ground advantage.
Holding Test series’ in neutral venues is important. The Ashes could take place in South Africa, and the Border-Gavaskar trophy might find itself in England or the Caribbean.
This would be a bit of a disaster for fans, having to commute overseas to support their troops but it would solve the dilemma of having to neutralise the effects of climate, narrow-mindedly hostile fans and dubiously doctored wickets.
I personally like the idea of a world cup. For one they are generally memorable moments in time that become stored in our memories eternally and are fondly recollected every time another four years rolls around.
Whenever, footage of a classic world cup match is shown or music from the tournament is played, a strong level of nostalgia is aroused, stimulating even the most apathetical of characters.
The rugby union and football world cups are prime examples of this, not to mention the Olympics, which although deals primarily with individual athletes, has the same everlasting effect upon those who witness the timeless battles that are undergone.
Could we replicate the success of these in the Test cricket arena?
With astute organisation and precise planning its definitely a possibility.
As one of those fans that covets the knowledge of who the best of the best is, it’s a prospect I hope is entertained by the ICC in the not too distant future.