Test cricket split into two divisions is better than nothing at all

Forum » Cricket » Test cricket split into two divisions is better than nothing at all

Jan 14, 2024, 03:21

Less than three years ago, Kyle Mayers startled the cricket world when he made an unbeaten fourth-innings double century on Test debut to lead the West Indies to a rousing victory in Bangladesh.

Don’t bother, though, to look for Mayers when remnants of the Windies straggle out to play Australia in the first of two so-called Test matches in Adelaide on Wednesday. He will be in South Africa, representing the Durban Super Giants in a competition called the SA20. Most of the West Indies’ first-choice players will be there, too, or at an overlapping T20 tournament in Dubai, leaving a skeleton squad to fetch up in Australia.

How much cricket Mayers actually plays for Durban is an open question. There are 22 in the Super Giants squad, to cover a one-month, 10-game competition. Another on the list is immediate past West Indies captain Jason Holder, though he says he will be playing in the UAE (where, for five group games each, teams will run 18-20 man squads).

Evidently, in this T20 world, it is possible to be in at least two places at once. Former England batsman Alex Hales, appearing momentarily for the Sydney Thunder in the BBL, is on the books of six clubs around the world at once. His concept of loyalty, he said this week, was to play for only one club in any given competition.

One of the others on the Durban roster with Holder and Mayers is Tony de Zorzi, an exciting young batsman who was set to open the batting for South Africa in a so-called two-Test series in New Zealand in early February until his late and irresistible call-up as injury cover by the Super Giants. The invitation was irresistible, which is to say Cricket South Africa said he could not say no.

De Zorzi played in South Africa’s recent eventful 1-1 draw with India, but his and South African cricket’s priorities then switched to SA20, leaving a shadow squad to travel to New Zealand. Yet another on the Durban rota is Heinrich Klassen, a star in last year’s 50-over World Cup, who - would you believe it? - just this week happened to retire from Test cricket.

This is not where cricket’s going; it’s where it’s gone. T20 continues to muscle in on Test and 50-over cricket apace. There are now at least 12 and up to 15 short-form competitions in the world, depending on how you count them. As players, money, resources and attention gravitate to them, the game’s structure with Test cricket the pinnacle is crumbling.

Cricket is doing only what every other sport that can generate money has done; they’ve followed it. It’s both important and useless to protest it.

This upheaval is not easy to see from Australia, or England, or India, where Test cricket outwardly thrives. Pakistan gave an unexpectedly good and watchable account of itself in the recent Test series here, and that was a fillip. But ultimately, they did lose 3-0 without really threatening to win a match, and when it was done, impressive captain Shan Masood said one of his country’s troubles was that they simply didn’t play enough Test cricket. If and when the IPL admits Pakistani players, Pakistan too will find themselves picking teams out of whatever passes for a pub there.

They’re not alone in their isolation. The vehicle that is meant to give form, context and purpose to Test cricket, the World Test Championship, is hopelessly compromised. In this cycle, England will play 22 matches and Australia and India 19 each, but the West Indies will play 13 and South Africa just 12 (and never more than two at a time). It was much the same in the last cycle. As the last chairman of Fitzroy Football Club in the AFL, Dyson Hore-Lacy, contemptuously declared of the league’s fixture, it’s not a draw, it’s a scheme of arrangement.

The points are weighted and rationalised, of course, but that cannot hide the fact that the lesser countries are not viable in the system as it stands. Cricket Australia have made noises about subsidising Test cricket in other countries, but until and unless India consent, it won’t happen, and in the most recent division of the game’s broadcast spoils, India appropriated even more of it than previously.

The plight of the West Indies is not news. The only upside to their squad here is that their new names at least roll around in the mouth as lyrically as the old. But the South African party for New Zealand is both a white flag and a canary in the coal mine. By that, we don’t mean a warning; we mean dead.

This is South Africa, who when at full strength a couple of weeks ago beat India by an innings. South Africa, who lie fourth in the rolling Test rankings. This is South Africa, where the buck has stopped.

It doesn’t mean South Africa will always pick compromised teams henceforth, but it does mean that whenever there is a clash, they will prioritise the short-form. It’s certain that clashes will become more frequent. The idea that there can be windows for all is see-through.

What to do? Four-day Tests are not the answer. Most Tests are done inside four days anyway, so mandated four-day Tests would be a solution to a problem that does not exist.

But here’s a wrong-’un of an idea. Test cricket could split into two divisions. The first would consist of Australia, England and India - who have been maneuvering towards a closed shop for years anyway - and maybe New Zealand and South Africa, suitably subsidized.

The other teams would fill a second division (including Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Ireland, who are not included in the Test championship). They would play multi-format series in the manner of women’s cricket: one Test and an assortment of white-ball games. One spin-off would be to give much-needed context to bilateral white-ball cricket.

This might be financially feasible and at least would keep their hands in at Test cricket, just. Their share of the cake is small, but at least this way they could have it and eat it, too. The winner of division two would be doubly rewarded, with promotion and more Test cricket. It would soon be clear whether Test cricket indeed is the supreme form.

It’s a back-of-serviette solution. Others quickly will see holes in it. It needs much more thought, also some new serviettes.

But it’s better than … nothing.

Feb 16, 2024, 16:26


Unfortunately the big money follows the 20 over and 50 over games and realistically who would go to a test match in which Wales are playing Scotland.

The companys that plow dollars into the short game and offer monetary rewards to spectators making one hand catches are lost and will never return to the long format of cricket.

Times have changed unfortunately for us "Oldies" and the new breed want action, music, excitement and results as opposed to a five day cricket game which could ending in a draw.

Sadly, we either have to learn to adapt and make the best of the situation or watch Juskei on TV.

Feb 16, 2024, 22:05

Are the fans flocking to the one day circus in SA ?

Feb 17, 2024, 13:14

Watching the one day games that just concluded in SA I would say yes.

Plus if you watched the NZ - SA tests just completed in NZ the spectator numbers appeared very low.

Mar 29, 2024, 04:19

Thats because no Kiwi wanted to watch a piss poor South African team I guess.

Mar 29, 2024, 11:00

Care to tell why the low turnout in the most recent series against Oz on your home turf?

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