The Last Word: Test cricket running on empty

Dwindling crowds have put five-day game in crisis but Pakistan's revival offers some hope

Just as we have been forced to acknowledge that cricket is a profession in which the workers can earn far more in one day than in five, so we must also accede it invariably follows that the smaller the audience the more important the cricket match.

We have seen evidence of that in Dubai this week where England were hammered by Pakistan in the first of three Tests and one Sheikh and his dog was there to witness it. Even the Barmy Army were scant. Indeed, you'd have to be barmy to go into a battle with an army this small. They were more like a Barmy Bus Queue.

Of course, we were assured that this was a one-off and that in no way did it provide any further proof that the five-day format is in terminal decline.

Yes, yes, if there weren't security fears in Pakistan then the grounds in Karachi and Lahore would have been similarly ghost-like. "But so what?" declare the five-day evangelists. Pakistan and the rest of the subcontinent don't much care for Test cricket. Their loss.

Except in the long run it will be Test cricket's loss and unless the powers-that-be do something about making this format more attractive then nothing will arrest its slow death. Certainly not the cricketing snobbery which exists in this country.

One-dayers, Twenty20s... well they're just not cricket are they? Test cricket has been going on for more than 150 years and no amount of music, pink balls or bright orange outfits can compete with such tradition.

That's the view in England, anyway, a country which is plainly in denial when it comes to the state of the game which turns them on. The truth is, without these truncated formats there wouldn't be much cricket to turn on at all very soon. The bastard offspring is keeping the old bugger alive, but only, it seems, to enjoy its demise.

Consider this. In Pakistan somewhere in the region of two million watched their young team claw back some much-needed respect in the Test arena. For the one-day and T20 internationals that figure tops six million.

Meanwhile, the grounds are packed out whenever the sluggers are on show and Dubai-empty when the "real" match is going on. The same is true in Sri Lanka and even more so in India. Indeed, in the latter the effect of the explosion of interest in the IPL is already being felt in their Test form.

No 1 in the world two years ago, India have lost seven away Tests in succession. Their great batsmen are coming to the end of their innings, but back in the pavilion there is no one to replace them. Why? "Because they're all chasing IPL contracts rather than working on their technique," so says Tarak Sinha, the respected coach from the Rajasthan Cricket Association. He is just one of many who applauded Punjab for banning under-21s for playing T20. Every state should do the same," says Sinha. "Else the future is dark."

The point is, it isn't Test cricket's fault that it finds itself in a modern world where the kicks must beinstant. So many Tests from that last half decade shows that it still has the propensity to excite and excite in a way which the upstart formats could never contrive. But as the players hunt down the £1m deals and as the fans go in search of high-five thrills, the senior game needs some help.

At the moment it is being failed miserably. The ICC is culpable. The governing body scrapped the World Test Championship, due to begin in 2013, because their broadcast partners, EPSN Sports Stars, went cold on the idea. Guess who they happen to be? That's right, an Indian network whose job it is purely to broadcast the action their viewers want to watch. So in other words, the ICC is bowing to the power of one-dayers and T20, when it should be hell-bent on pushing Test cricket to the forefront. England was rightly gutted when the plug was pulled on this veritable life-saver for our favourite format.

"It's disappointing the Test World Championship was scrapped," said the England wicketkeeper, Matt Prior. "And going forward it's a big worry. Yeah, Test cricket is doing great in England and Australia, but we need to make sure it is doing well around the rest of the world, too."

It's just England's luck isn't it? The Test side become the best in the world, but stuffing the likes of India have probably helped precipitate its downfall. That's why, in the wider sense, it was a good thing those Pakistan spinners bamboozled our boys into submission. They might spike the interest in Karachi and who knows, if England can manage to make a fight of the next two Tests, an entire nation might be reminded of the five-day glory. The wait is always worth it.

It'll be no fun and Games in London

The northern Englanders, the Welsh and the Scottish are reportedly annoyed that they are paying for London to benefit from the Olympics. They should count themselves lucky. Who'd be a Londoner for the 17 days which traverse July and August? Not only are they paying the brunt of the bill, but they are being asked not to go about their daily business.

Last week, Norman Baker, an incredibly pompous individual who is something called the Minister for Transport, told locals "to work from home" or else "the transport system won't cope". Meanwhile, Mark Evers, who is something called Director of Games (Transport), has asked businesses to cut out one in three journeys. That means they will be asking for more than three million people to desist from travelling.

Can you remember Lord Coe telling us that in his fabled presentation? No. But then, I'm sure someone mentioned that London's transport infrastructure would be updated to cope. All they've done is buy the paint to mark out lanes which only the VIPs can use (ie the IOC bigwigs).

So the poor man and woman in the London street is having their lives disrupted for no better cause than being able to watch Usain Bolt win the 100m – on television. But think of all those tourists just dying to visit the capital after seeing gridlocked traffic, abandoned buses and jammed tubes. Ah, the blessed magic of those five rings.

Comments