Two-Tier Test Cricket? Please Take It One Step at a Time

Do not rush into dividing the Test world, set the format right, before attempting a radical change.

4 min read
If the icon series (Ashes/Border-Gavaskar/England vs South Africa) are not going to be touched, then are we not creating a class divide? (Photo: Reuters)

India’s opposition to the two-tier Test system may have grounded it for now, but it did generate good debate around the proposal.

There are a number of pros and cons of the two-tier system. Both sides of the argument may have a valid point. The fact, however, is that cricket is not strong enough right now to sustain a whole new system.

A two-tier system is in place right now anyway, without it being enforced. No one plays Zimbabwe, no one wants to host Bangladesh, West Indies and New Zealand are on the brink, whereas an Indo-Pak Test series has not happened since 2007. Most importantly, Pakistan has not played a Test at home for nearly a decade. So in effect, there is a loose two-tier system anyway – why make it formal and make it known to the world that there are two divisions?

The system would have been very difficult on a number of different counts.

If the iconic series (Ashes/Border-Gavaskar/England v SA) are not going to be touched, then are we not creating a class divide? Also, if few years down the line most top sides in the top tier keep dropping off, what happens to world cricket? Can we continue to let the poor get poorer and the rich get richer?

Joe Root celebrates his century on the first day of the first Ashes Test in 2015. (Photo: AP)
Joe Root celebrates his century on the first day of the first Ashes Test in 2015. (Photo: AP)

Ireland and Afghanistan would have been the biggest beneficiaries of the new system. However, one of Ireland and Afghanistan are anyways close to getting the Test status in 2018. The winner of the first-class competition – Intercontinental Cup for Associates – is going to play the lowest-ranked Test team (Zimbabwe) in 2018 in a Test challenge. Currently, the I Cup title bout looks set to be between Ireland and Afghanistan, so we could well see one of these two in the big boys club soon.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) could probably have waited for the newest member to be co-opted, before attempting to bring in a big change.

Eventually, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) will back these proposals when it realises that it will add depth to the format. But right now is not the time, because BCCI has not seen value in it.

Test cricket right now needs different strategies for different markets. This one-size-fits-all solution will not work if Test cricket has to be a format for the future. Pink ball, night Test cricket will work only in certain quarters. In India, for example, there needs to be an attempt to make access to the ground and the frills around the Test an experience for the fans. However, in the UAE – Pakistan’s home ground – there needs to be an attempt to bring in day-night Test cricket to enable the working expats to attend the match.

Test cricket unfortunately does not have 10 reasonable Test sides for it to officially attempt such a radical approach. More importantly, why is there such an urge to add more Test sides? It is going to prove counter-productive, because we cannot force sides to embrace a format that they are not keen on.

There may come a time when West Indies may prefer to play only T20s. (Photo: AP)
There may come a time when West Indies may prefer to play only T20s. (Photo: AP)

We should probably have eight Test sides, 20 ODI sides and about 35 T20I sides. Let sides pick the format they want to play. Take the West Indies for example; there may come a time when they may prefer to be just a T20I side.

Unfortunately, this fascination for Test matches is not linked to love for the format, but to the perks that come with being a full member of the ICC. Delink being a full member from the Test match status and see how the sides drop off the radar.

In short, the ICC needs to let the frailties of the format seep into everybody’s minds before attempting a surgery.

It is much like the debate around ODI cricket. Without anyone making a comment on it, the BCCI has slowly lost faith in the 50-over format. While all the drama has centred around the Test format, it is believed that the plan to start a 12-team ODI league involving those on the ODI ranking table could well be on the anvil. Essentially, what will happen is that every bilateral ODI, till now meaningless, will get a context. The fact that BCCI may well have agreed to it, shows that they eventually come around once they understand the ground realities.

Till now the biggest backers of ODI cricket, despite opposition from England/Australia and others, have been the BCCI and the Indian TV broadcasters. Now with BCCI quietly culling two ODIs against England and increasing bilateral T20I action, the 50-over format is finally on its last legs.

Maybe therein lies a lesson for the ICC. They should, in association with other members, take a calibrated approach and attempt one radical change at a time.

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