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Opinion

Multi-format contests loom as better option for most opponents than only playing fait accompli Test series

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Expert
23rd December, 2023
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There hasn’t been a lead-up to a Boxing Day Test this uninspiring for a long time. 

Rain is forecast for the first couple of days, David Warner’s Perth ton removed the only element of Australian selection intrigue and there is an air of inevitability about the result. 

Pakistan tried hard at Optus Stadium but were gradually worn down before collapsing in the fourth innings. 

And now they’re down two more bowlers with Noman Ali and Khurram Shahzad ruled out for the rest of the series. 

Bilateral Test cricket is still evoking interest when India and England come to Australia but with the other nations struggling to compete, perhaps a format rethink is needed. 

If the men followed the lead of the women’s team and held multi-format series, the overall result may indeed end up the same but it may bring an element of much-needed unpredictability to the contest. 

A Test is worth four points then two each for a pair of three-match T20 and ODI series like they do in the women’s Ashes. On a side note, the BCCI has kyboshed that system for Australia’s current tour, deciding each format will stand alone rather than being part of an overall trophy. 

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For half the time in the four-year cycle of touring teams to Australia outside of the Ashes and the Border-Gavaskar Trophy you could have the first side’s series culminating with the Boxing Day Test and the second one starting with the New Year’s fixture at the SCG. 

A venue like Optus Stadium would get more fans through the gate if they were hosting three T20s than the modest totals that turn out for a Test in the West no matter how much of a marketing spend there is to point out that it rhymes.  

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 15: Alex Carey and Marnus Labuschagne of Australia unsuccessfully appeal for the wicket of Abdullah Shafique of Pakistan during day two of the Men's First Test match between Australia and Pakistan at Optus Stadium on December 15, 2023 in Perth, Australia (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Alex Carey and Marnus Labuschagne appeal for the wicket of Abdullah Shafique. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Teams like Pakistan, South Africa, New Zealand and Sri Lanka are some chance of upsetting Australia in some white-ball fixtures to make it interesting. 

It would be worth a try rather than constantly repeating the drudgery of last summer’s four Test drubbings over the Windies and Proteas which was only saved from being five on the trot by Sydney rain. 

A multi-format schedule could potentially soak up less of the already crowded calendar than a three-Test series where touring teams. 

Melbourne fans will still turn out in big numbers for Tuesday’s start of the second Test even though the pre-match cricket headlines have barely been about the marquee event. 

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The only real Test-related storyline has had nothing to do with the match itself – Usman Khawaja being reprimanded by the ICC for wearing a black armband to raise awareness about the human cost of the Israel-Palestine war. 

On the field, Australia need to be operating with dual focus in each of the six Tests they have left this season – ensuring they win each one and that everything they do is building towards next summer’s five-match series when they host India. 

Usman Khawaja.

Usman Khawaja was given a reprimand for wearing a black armband to protest the violence in Gaza throughout the first Test against Pakistan. (Photo by Will Russell/Getty Images)

They’ve got two more Tests against Pakistan, the West Indies and on tour in New Zealand to iron out any kinks or weak links. 

With Warner fulfilling his wish of playing on until his farewell Test in his home city, Khawaja’s new opening partner will have the two Windies outings to find their feet before facing a tricky assignment across the Tasman in late-summer conditions on likely seaming wickets. 

With no Sheffield Shield matches before next month’s first Windies clash, Marcus Harris got a leg-up on opening rivals Matt Renshaw and Cameron Bancroft by scoring a ton in the two-day fixture jammed into the Pakistan tour this week to give them a chance to tune up for Boxing Day. 

Hopefully it helps Pakistan put up a fight at the MCG. Australia have not been defeated in a Test at home in the 11 matches since India upset them at the Gabba in 2021 and the chances are they won’t lose another one until they come back again next year. 

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