MCC calling the shots in battle to save Tests
Sunday 04 July 2010
The perilous future of Test cricket was considered twice this week. Initially it was the lame turn of the body who are supposed to run the game. They were soon to be outflanked by the organisation that used to run it and on the evidence of current form ought to make a revolutionary comeback takeover bid as soon as possible. The day after tomorrow might be too late.
It would seem that the International Cricket Council and Marylebone Cricket Club now have vastly differing views about what direction should be taken. Essentially, the ICC are sitting around paying lip service to the problem in places like Singapore, where a Test has never been and never will be played while the MCC world cricket committee, convening at Lord's, the spiritual home of the game, wants to take action now.
Consider the ICC's proposals for Test cricket, if they can be invested with such dignity. With Test match cricket haemorrhaging support everywhere except England, they have been prevaricating for more than a year.
The occasion of the annual conference week, in Singapore as it happens, was when they would finally announce a bold initiative. There would be a properly structured quadrennial world Test championship, perhaps day-night Tests and at least the permanent introduction of the Decision Review System, the latter being already official policy.
Instead of which they postponed, for the fifth time, any constructive action. The mealy-mouthed statement merely said that the chief executives committee and the governance review committee, having had discussions on the programme after 2015, will need more talks in September.
Haroon Lorgat, the ICC's chief executive, said: "Although we have made progress, this exercise requires more work. We know there are exciting opportunities to protect and promote all three formats but we must exercise patience as we consider all aspects in introducing context and content in international cricket."
This overlooks the prospect that by 2015, Test cricket – except in England and when England travel abroad – may have all but expired, ambushed by Twenty20. Indeed it might be defunct by September were it not for the Ashes this winter. Anybody who watched the recent series between West Indies and South Africa, played in empty grounds, could see where the game is headed. Watch any series anywhere and it is abundantly clear that as a live sport, which ultimately is what makes it worthwhile as a televised sport, the Test format has never had it so bad. Blame modern audiences, blame wretched marketing, blame Twenty20 – but, whatever, if you care, something needs to happen.
The day after this timid piece of inaction, the MCC world cricket committee spoke. It said in a way which was as unmealy-mouthed as it is possible to be without breaching the diplomatic code that pertains in these matters: "The MCC world cricket committee fears for the future of Test match cricket and has called for the ICC and its full member countries to better promote the longest and purest form of the game.
"Twelve months after stating the need for a World Test Championship and seven months since presenting a blueprint for such a competition to the ICC, the committee feels that the following necessary action should be taken immediately to reinvigorate Test cricket: ensure that Test matches are played on pitches that offer a fair balance between bat and ball; financially reward players to ensure that Test cricket is an attractive proposition; invest in marketing of the Test game to improve crowd and television audiences."
There is a crucial difference between the composition of the ICC groups discussing this seminal restructuring and the MCC world committee. One former Test cricketer will be involved in the ICC's conversations, David Richardson, their head of cricket. It will otherwise include professional administrators. Whereas the MCC group is chaired by Tony Lewis, who with due respect, is one of its least illustrious members. The rest include former Test cricketers and accomplished men such as Andy Flower, Martin Crowe, Mike Atherton, Rahul Dravid, Majid Khan and, as it happens, Dave Richardson.
MCC are also advocating the immediate introduction of day-night Test cricket, and while the evidence might not be overwhelming following the experiment in the UAE earlier this summer, it nonetheless indicates that they are willing to move decisively.
The former players are not daft. They recognise the lure of T20, but they also see that it cannot exist in a vacuum. Or not yet. MCC have done the necessary research by investigating cricket-viewing patters in India, whose clout only England can come close to matching. Only 11 per cent of cricket watched on television in India last year was Test cricket compared to 33 per cent as recently as 2004.
Once more revealing MCC's acumen, the MCC former players said: "The committee understands that market forces will always dictate what type of cricket spectators want to watch and that you cannot force people to watch Test match cricket. At the moment, however, cricket authorities around the world need to make a more concerted effort to attract audiences to Test cricket."
They can already see T20 gorging on Test cricket's historic remains.
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