A look at how Pakistan and India playing home Tests in England can help counter the prominence of Twenty20 cricket.
The battle for survival that Test cricket faces in the Twenty20 era has been well-documented. Players, administrators and supporters all hope and believe that the longest format of the game will continue to prosper, but there has so far been a lack of action in safeguarding Test cricket’s future.
Most new proposals and developments have been associated with Twenty20, although continued trialling of the third umpire referral system and tweaking of ODI power play regulations do reveal a desire by the ICC to improve the credibility of Twenty20’s rivals.
ICC World Twenty20, IPL, ICL, Stanford 20/20 for 20 (the billionaire’s marketing department had an off-day when devising that name!) and Champions League have all sprung up during the global growth of Twenty20, but steps have finally been taken to evolve the Test game.
ECB chairman Giles Clarke has suggested that England could host Pakistan Test matches in a move that would help solve Pakistan’s problem in hosting internationals. They have not played a home Test this year and have hosted just 11 Tests since January 2005.
Clarke’s proposal is not purely altruistic – any problems caused by the transformation of a Headingley green-top into a Multan featherbed to suit the ‘home’ side would be offset by the filling of ECB coffers – but it stands out as the prime example of how Test cricket can maintain its profile.
Clarke told the Wisden Cricketer that ‘Pakistan might get a better crowd in Leeds than in Karachi’ and those who have seen the team’s vocal support in this country would not argue.
Fanatical home support would encourage Pakistan to make the move and prospective opposition would have their security fears allayed; Pakistan will remain a no-go zone in players’ minds, even if security reports give tours a green light.
Pakistan have played home Tests away from home before, in Sharjah in 2002, beating West Indies twice before being hammered twice by Australia. The first defeat, inside two days after being bowled out for 59 and 53, might leave the PCB with unhappy memories of neutral Test venues.
It would not be inconceivable for India to follow suit; recent bomb blasts nearly curtailed Australia’s tour and they suffer from a similar Test apathy to their great rivals – there must be a problem when a ground is not full to watch Sachin Tendulkar attempt to beat Brian Lara’s Test runscoring record.
Dwindling Test crowds in India are partly put down to Twenty20’s popularity, which has encouraged IPL franchises to export their product in the form of overseas exhibition matches.
Such matches should not be compared to possible overseas home Tests, as the motives are very different – the IPL models itself on the English football Premier League and IPL matches at Lord’s and the Oval would be their version of the infamous money-spinning ‘39th step’ round of Premier League matches.
Cricket fans love the traditional values of Test cricket but we must not just live in hope that the most prized form of the game will survive; the authorities need to be proactive in protecting the future of the great game.
Written by Philip Oliver, a sports writer who blogs about cricket betting.