Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Aussie captain Michael Clarke says the five-day game has a big future - but most fans here disagree...

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The Independent Online

On the eve of the World Cup final, the culmination of a tournament which has been a resounding triumph, the captain of Australia came riding to the rescue. The seventh cavalry could learn a thing or two from Michael Clarke.

He may not have known it and his decision to announce his retirement from one-day cricket before rather than after the tournament ended was contentious at the least, but Clarke’s declaration still amounted to a hefty poultice on a gaping wound for cricket. One of his main reasons for making the match against New Zealand his last in the limited-overs format was to prolong his Test career.

In the face of the weight of evidence which suggests that the public is turning its back on Test cricket faster than on mainstream politics, Clarke offered a glowing encomium. For six weeks cricket has witnessed a constantly alluring spectacle which has comprised fearless  attacking batting, bowling which has been constantly under the pump but has somehow held its own and fielding of quite staggering athleticism, all in eight hours.

It has been a pleasure to observe, to be so perpetually engaged day by day, even though 44 of them is pushing it. But every six hit – and there were 459 of them before the final – felt as if it might be another cut with a sharp knife to the future of Tests.

Clarke was asked, given the way the wind is blowing, why he did not retire from Tests to prolong his  one-day career and perhaps make another World Cup in four years’ time. He looked the way civilised folk do when the barbarians start burning books.

 

“Never,” he said. “No, I’ve never hid behind the fact that I find Test cricket to be the pinnacle of our sport. I’ve never probably gone  down that road anyway in regards to what is the best thing to do for the public interest, as I’m sure you would have seen through my career.

“I’ve copped my fair share of smacks in the mouth. But I am who I am and it’s about being true to myself, and I don’t feel bad about saying that I believe Test cricket is the toughest part of our game. I love that challenge. I find it extremely difficult every Test match I play. I do see it as the pinnacle.”

All sincerely felt, but those who watch are increasingly less absorbed by the long game. They might ask the score but that is different from watching the play. Part of the reason for expanding domestic Twenty20 tournaments around the world, apart from the immediacy of their appeal, is so the people at whom they are aimed will then see the obvious  attractions of Test cricket.

This might take a little time to seep through but so far it has not done so in any measurable way. Test match attendances in most places are paltry and becoming paltrier.

Even in England, which is the last bastion, there are growing concerns about the inability to sell Test match tickets, given that it is simply not feasible to play an Ashes series every single summer. But Clarke was extraordinarily sanguine about the future of Tests in such a way to make it tempting to think that all was right after all.

“I think if you ask the players, their opinions aren’t too different to mine,” he said. “And I think they love T20 cricket and one-day cricket as well. I think Test cricket is the ultimate for an Australian sportsman. Long may that continue. It mightn’t be that way, but my hope and goal is that Test cricket continues to grow. I think we’ve seen over the past few years some really hard-fought Test cricket, and I think that’s brought a lot of people, a lot of new people, to our game. I think there’s room for all three formats. I’d like to see that continue.”

The ICC should emblazon those words on the lobby of its Dubai headquarters. It has made a mess of its mission to protect Test cricket lately. For more than two years it went with the proposal that a World Test Championship was the way forward. It was intended that the top four teams in the ICC rankings would contest it before being finally ditched because broadcasters refused to pay for it.

This made the playing of regular Test series between countries more important. But for every England v Australia there is a New Zealand v Sri Lanka, which however it is wrapped up does not possess the same resonance.

It is well established that one-day cricket between World Cups lacks context. Its main raison d’etre is to  develop your team for that (unless you are England). The Future Tours Programme, therefore, is largely aimed at setting a calendar for bilateral Test series. The ICC have banged the drum incessantly and last June announced the setting up of a Test fund, which is available to all countries (except the rich beasts in the cricket jungle, India, England and Australia) to ensure they can stage a home programme of Test cricket until 2023.

At the same meeting it was virtually instructed that countries should “as a matter of urgency” enter into contractually binding agreements up until 2023. They had to do this by the next meeting in October 2014. That came and went – the FTP still goes no further than 2019.

There are plenty of Tests scheduled up until then – 58 for England, only 35 and 33 respectively for New Zealand and Bangladesh – but there is a sense that it might already have been by-passed by events of the past six weeks. The eleventh World Cup has been so lovely that a goodly proportion of the world might wonder if there is a need for Test cricket.

There is, of course. When Clarke talks of it being the pinnacle he is deadly serious. It is and its rich  heritage alone should ensure it  continues. That and the fact  that broadcasters might stick with  it simply because it fills so much  air time, unless so few people  are watching that it becomes  impossible to televise as a relevant sporting spectacle.

The 50-over game, it has been plain to see, has been enriched by the tricks and gizmos of Twenty20. Test cricket may use some of the tricks but it also has to decide whether the best way of preserving itself is by staying different.

There are no easy solutions as the ICC have found for years. Clarke’s words were significant but the real worry as this superb World Cup ends is that he is among the last of a breed.

Batting records at this World Cup

Highest score

Australia 417-6 v Bangladesh

First double ton at any WC

Chris Gayle’s 215 for W Indies v Zimbabwe (200 off 138 balls)

Fastest 150

South Africa’s AB de Villiers off 64 balls, in 162 v West Indies,

Fastest 50

New Zealand’s Brendon McCullum, 18 balls v England

Most sixes in an innings

Gayle v Zimbabwe, 16

Highest individual score

New Zealand’s Martin Guptill 237 not out v West Indies

Highest partnership

Marlon Samuels and Chris Gayle, 372 for second wicket v Zimbabwe

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