The road ahead for Test cricket is full of potholes and difficulties
The historical Test between India and Afghanistan turned out to be a complete dampener as regards the conventional form of the game. The Afghanistan batsmen lacked the skill and patience to survive the Indian bowling attack and were bowled out comprehensively in both their innings in just one session of play.
This definitely does not augur well for Test cricket. The new entrants to Test cricket need to make major structural changes in their domestic circuit in order to be competitive. Both Ireland and Afghanistan do not play the longer format of the game in their respective countries. Their home tournaments revolve around playing limited overs cricket. In this version they have both shown and proven their ability to compete with the best. This is why the International Cricket Council (ICC) decided to include them in the elite status of countries playing Test cricket. On retrospect, one feels that including these sides without any experience was not done in a proper manner and it exposed them totally.
The India versus Afghanistan Test showed the difference between playing, what the connoisseurs term as “ Banana cricket” and the actual form of the game. It took India just two days to demolish the Afghans who failed in every department of the game. Their star leg spinner, Rashid Khan, scored their first century, alas in bowling, by giving away over a hundred runs. He was destroyed by the Indian batsmen, as he lacked patience and the ability to outsmart the batsmen. He does possess the skills of a top-level leg spinner, but never having played the longer version of the game, he lacked the thinking that goes into planning a batman’s demise.
The ICC has shown a positive intention in enlarging the Test playing countries, but it is unfair to pit teams who have never played this format against the best in the world. The better way to introduce the minnow teams would have been to have a second tier team play the five-day game. This would have encouraged them to play domestic matches as well as matches against each other. The Afghanistan batsmen were like “ cats on a hot tin roof,” very nervous and with players who had no idea as how to construct a Test inning. Ireland, on the other hand, have been playing cricket for many years. They too lacked the experience and this showed during their inaugural match against Pakistan. Their performance was, however, creditable, but they succumbed because they did not have the exposure to and knowledge of playing in the longer format of the game.
The best way forward for Ireland is for them to become a part of the cricket county circuit of England. The four-day format and the inclusion of an Irish side in the league would help their players immensely.
Similarly, Afghanistan has to become a part of the Indian domestic circuit. India should invite them to play in the Duleep Trophy. A few seasons in India, till they get their act together, would be a major boost to their cricket.
The top cricket playing countries need to take the lead and become patrons of the game. They need to encourage cricket playing countries in their neighbourhood to become a part and parcel of their cricket structure. This will then enhance the game to another level. Unfortunately, the men at the helm of the ICC seem far away from such thoughts. The spread of cricket can only be accomplished if the family of established cricket playing countries play a part in popularising the game. The limited overs version was a good introduction, but the time has now come to think more progressively.
Test cricket is a dying format if it is not revived expeditiously. The only way for it to survive is to get more teams to play this format. At present this is not the focus in world cricket as the 20-20 and the 50 overs version seem to have become the benchmark for a world title. The World Cup has become the prestigious tournament that cricketers and cricket lovers acclaim to be the ultimate goal. This is why Test cricket is fading quite radically.
Unfortunately, even in India, players who perform well in the limited overs tournaments and the IPL find favour in being selected for the country. Afghanistan is a great example of the difference between Test cricket and the shorter form of the game. Players playing in the longer version can still adjust to the limited version, but vice-a-versa seems a very difficult proposition.
One can see that the road ahead for Test cricket is full of potholes and difficulties. If the modern players are not being able to adjust themselves to it and the finances are not as remunerative as in the successful limited over versions, Test cricket could be an art that was once revered. It needs immediate revival or else, “time and tide as they say waits for no man.”
(The writer is a former India cricketer)