Thursday, 16 October 2008

Home from home

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.


Homer said...

Dear Mr Oliver,

When a ground with capacity for 55,000 people ( a number that is well in excess of the capacity of all the grounds in the UK) is half full on every single day of the Test match, it hardly points to "Test Apathy".

Contrast that with scene when the West Indies toured the UK in early 2007.

Most Indian TV's get the Test feed. Contrast that with the UK.

Compare ad revenues garnered by TV stations broadcasting Test Cricket in India and the UK!

I think this notion of Test cricket being on the decline in the sub continent is a canard.

Yes, the percentile population within India that is tuned into Test cricket may be less than the percentile populations in the UK or Australia.

But if we are to run the numbers and to assume that 80% of India's population is cricket crazy and 10% out of that cricket crazy population is tuned into Test cricket, the number works out to 80 million people.

Which is greater than the sum of the populations of the UK and Australia combined.

The death of Test Cricket on the sub continent is greatly exaggerated and while it may suit a certain narrative ( as espoused so vigorously by Englishmen of all hues), the reality is somewhat different.


Tim said...

Tests being played on neutral territory is a really interesting idea - and Pakistan now presents the obvious chance to try it out. Could be very interesting, especially as English pitches tend to be more conducive to taking 20 wickets than Pakistani ones.

Philip Oliver said...

The comparison in attendances should not be between an India v Australia Test (including the Tendulkar record factor) and England v Windies. A similarly high profile match in England would be sold out for the first 3 days many times over. If Test cricket is so popular, why does the BCCI push for tours heavy on limited overs cricket and light on Test matches?

The fact is that Test attendances are falling in India, and whilst my support for neutral Test venues could be viewed as a declaration of the death of Test cricket in the subcontinent, it is merely the backing of a plan that could help the future of the game.

If touring teams refuse to go to India in the future, surely playing some matches in England can only be a good thing? It will enable the huge TV audience that Homer refers to to watch something other than Twenty20 cricket and help counter the permeating presence of the shorter format.

Would India's board, players and fans back such a plan? If the views offered here are anything to go by, then apparently not.

Rob said...

> I think this notion of Test cricket being on the decline in the sub continent is a canard.

It looked that way today. India in a commanding situation against the most powerful team of the last decade and I bet there wasn't 25% of the seats full (oh and it was a bank holiday). Amazing really, you would think they would be queuing around the ground.