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Talk is cheap: Only real investment can stop Test cricket ending up like rugby league

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Expert
7th January, 2024
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Warning signs have been looming on the horizon for years but now that Test cricket’s worrying future is in the spotlight, there has been plenty of talk from high-ranking officials. 

They have officially raised concern in an officious way without offering anything of note to make the poorer nations optimistic. 

Test cricket’s prospects are becoming so compromised that it is in danger of having a similar number of viable nations to rugby league. 

For those of you who don’t follow league’s dubious international competition there’s basically three teams with any money, a couple more who have a fighting chance of upsetting the top dogs and then a handful of others who are basically making up the numbers. 

One nation pretty much controls the purse strings – Australia – with England and New Zealand also having some clout. 

Sound familiar? Test cricket, like the sport’s two other formats, revolves around the mother ship of India with Australia and England the only other nations who can be confident of putting their best XI on the field without worrying about the T20 franchises luring away their top talent. 

New Zealand and Sri Lanka are still punching above their weight in the Test arena but have already started losing first-choice players to the T20 circuit/circus. 

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Pakistan are only just hanging on, the West Indies are a shell of their former selves while South Africa are giving up the five-day ghost, the saddest aspect of Test cricket’s decline because their administrators are prioritising T20 as its money spinner. 

The Proteas proved in their Boxing Day home Test win over India that they are able but they showed with their embarrassing squad selections for their subsequent series in New Zealand that they’re not willing. 

Their decision to send a second-string squad for the two-Test tour has many fans wondering whether the traditional format has reached its global tipping point. 

Nick Hockley at a press conference

Nick Hockley. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

Cricket Australia chair Mike Baird and CEO Nick Hockley, along with players’ union boss Todd Greenberg, have responded by saying more needs to be done to divert finances to the nine Test-playing nations who are on the outside looking in at the wealth of India, Australia and England. 

Their hearts seem to be in the right place and each of them appears genuine in their desire to save Test cricket from a grisly demise but talk is cheap. Real investment is needed to ensure the longest format has a lengthy future. 

When the news cycle moves onto the next story and Test cricket’s gulf in class between the haves and have-nots is no longer making headlines, that’s when the executives need to come up with a plan to ensure some of the rivers of gold that are coming into the sport via the T20 explosion are diverted back to Tests. And put the plan into action. 

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Steve Waugh wants to see a premium playing fee introduced for all nations so that multi-format cricketers aren’t taking a massive pay cut to represent their country in red-ball contests. 

HYDERABAD, INDIA - MAY 12: Jasprit Bumrah of the Mumbai Indians celebrates taking the wicket of Ambati Rayudu of the Chennai Super Kings during the Indian Premier League Final match between the the Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings at Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium on May 12, 2019 in Hyderabad, India. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Jasprit Bumrah celebrates a wicket for the Mumbai Indians against Chennai Super Kings. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

The former Australian captain’s idea has plenty of merit but even if the ICC opened up a huge slab of funding to boost the income for Test players at the poorer nations, will it still be anywhere near what a player could earn in the IPL, or one of the many other leagues now dotted across the globe?

And if a LIV Golf-style, Saudi Arabian-fuelled megabucks league gains traction, then there is no way the ICC will be able or necessarily bother to try to compete with that kind of moolah. 

Another former Test skipper Greg Chappell gave cricket’s avaricious administrators a lashing on the weekend in his Herald/The Age column by blasting them for prostituting the sport on the T20 street corner. 

“Cricket administrators, particularly the Board of Control for Cricket in India, are fairly and squarely to blame, for their avarice. Shamelessly chasing the TV dollar, but clueless and callously not doing enough to keep our greatest format alive while demanding bigger and extended periods for rubbish and more new rubbish. This prostitution of our game is complete but has to stop. The weed is strangling the formerly healthy plant.”

And even if the ICC comes up with a financial solution to keep the sport’s top-line talent (from all nations, not just three) engaged in Test cricket, it will take many years before countries like South Africa, the Windies and Pakistan are able to be truly competitive.

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The ICC has made a big song and dance over the establishment of the World Test Championship as a vehicle to keep the format relevant but even though the Black Caps claimed the first title in 2021 before Australia lifted the trophy last year, how many of the 12 member nations are a legitimate chance of making the next final?

South Africa are virtually forfeiting their hopes by running dead in NZ, the Windies and Bangladesh started the race with next to no chance and that’s only diminishing while Ireland and Afghanistan barely get much in the way of games anyway so you can put a line through them – and Zimbabwe are struggling in all formats: they haven’t even qualified for the 20-team T20 World Cup and missed out on the past two 50-over tournaments. 

(Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

Uganda and Namibia qualified ahead of them yet the cricketing public is being hoodwinked to swallow the spin that Zimbabwe are still one of the elite “Test-playing nations”.

The Black Caps and Sri Lanka won’t be pushovers and Pakistan have shown over the past month that they have some fight in their team but talent wise they are a tier down from the Big Three. 

They don’t get to play India in bilateral Test series due to political reasons while they went down 3-0 to England and Australia in their most recent match-ups with them. 

It all adds up to a very international rugby league state of affairs and that’s a sad indictment on Test cricket if it continues to draw those kinds of parallels. 

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Hopefully South Africa’s decision to tarnish the value of their team and Test cricket itself will prove to be a watershed moment. 

The line in the sand that prompts administrators to finally take action to preserve something which is not only the traditional format but the greatest test for a cricketer. 

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