Ashes 2013: Ricky Ponting and Michael Vaughan back Tests as pinnacle of the game

 

Trent Bridge

The standard of the cricket has varied wildly but the drama has been virtually unparalleled. Two days of assault, and sudden shifts in momentum; one of patient bowling and cautious accumulation.

Those who ask why the oldest form of cricket should be protected ought to watch highlights of the opening nine sessions of the first Test. They would then understand why the International Cricket Council’s cricket committee, a sub-group within the world governing body, are so desperate for the principal decision-makers in that organisation to do more to promote Test matches.

Limited-overs cricket rarely offers the kind of ebb and flow, dominance of bat and then ball, or sheer unpredictability that we have seen in this game. Twenty20 can be great fun, and the Champions Trophy, held last month in England, demonstrated that there is still life in the 50-over game.

Yet the worry for cricket around the world is that the Ashes, rather than being the pinnacle of competition within the sport, now represents an anomaly. Very few other Test series today comprise five matches, and longer-form tours are being adjusted, or even cancelled, to squeeze in more limited-overs games or make room for Twenty20 franchise tournaments.

South Africa recently agreed to postpone until 2015 a Test series in Sri Lanka, which had been scheduled for this year. Pakistan’s current tour of the West Indies was originally planned to include Tests; now, there will be limited-overs matches only.

Ricky Ponting retired from first-class cricket two days ago. He made 13,378 runs in 168 Tests, averaging 51.9. How many more players will there be like him, who put Tests first? The  38-year-old spoke about it recently.

“Being a traditionalist, I would like to see a lot of emphasis placed on Test cricket, and there have been a few worries for it over the last five or six years,” he said. “Tests are strong in Australia but you travel to different parts of the world, such as West Indies or Sri Lanka, where Tests still happen and people enjoy them, but they would much rather watch Twenty20. It’s the new generation and the way cricket is being seen but when you speak to young players, they still want to play Test cricket. Hopefully there is enough room in the international  calendar for all three forms.”

The ICC have taken some steps towards the preservation of Test matches. The inaugural World Test Championship is due to take place in England in 2017, while at the ICC’s annual conference last month, the board ruled that all full members should play a minimum 16 Tests in the next four-year fixture cycle.

Former England captain Michael Vaughan believes that the Test game should be split into two divisions, a system that would mirror the County Championship, albeit with fewer teams. Vaughan would also like to see the financial rewards increased for the strongest countries and players.

“It’s about finance,” he said. “These guys are getting opportunities around the world that they don’t get if they play Tests for their own country. If Test cricket is the pinnacle, you should incentivise it by increasing the rewards and that might have to come from the ICC, to fund the game.

“Test cricket needs the best teams playing each other more often and I’d have two divisions from now on.”

Some have suggested that 10 Ashes Tests in seven months is too many but if the next nine matches are as exciting as the first two days at Trent Bridge have been, they might soon be asking for even more.

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