We asked our panel of former England captain Nasser Hussain, former England coach David Lloyd, West Indies legend Michael Holding, cricket correspondent Paul Newman and Wisden editor Lawrence Booth to assess where the game stands and what can be done to save Test cricket.
It feels as though T20 is taking over the world. Is Test cricket really in danger?
Michael Holding: T20 cricket is spreading and the fever has gone beyond international cricket to domestic level now — and below that with youngsters trying to play the shots they see on television rather than learning the basics of the game. Test cricket is under serious threat. I’m not saying it’s going to die but it will become less and less significant.
Nasser Hussain: It is in danger and I’m concerned about the standards of Test cricket. If you are New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum or South Africa captain AB de Villiers there’s always going to be a lucrative T20 deal around the corner and the game’s best talents are going to disappear off into an IPL sunset two or three years before they have to.
In my day you were brought up on a diet of red-ball cricket and had to adapt to white-ball cricket but now it’s going the other way. But if you get it right, Test cricket is still a fantastic form of the game.
David Lloyd: Test cricket is vulnerable. De Villiers wants to manage his workload and talks about wanting to play less ‘meaningless’ Test cricket and what I think he’s saying is that we need two divisions.
I would agree with that but it’s not T20 I worry about. We simply have too much cricket now so I would do away with 50-over cricket entirely other than staging a World Cup every four years. It would allow more time for Test cricket and T20 to find their own places.
These lads at the top have short careers and they want to make money. You can’t stop them playing in T20 competitions. International cricket has to work around it.
Paul Newman: Let’s take the case of De Villiers to explain why it really is in danger. He is paid about £170,000 a year by South Africa for international cricket but earns about £700,000 for six weeks at the IPL. What would you do?
The crunch may come when the next Big Bash in Australia clashes with a low-key Test series against Sri Lanka, a country South Africa have committed to playing regularly for the next six years. It is very possible the South Africa captain will miss that Test series to play T20. Others will follow and Test cricket will be further weakened.
Lawrence Booth: Cricket-lovers seem to enjoy the constant threat that hangs over Test cricket, as if it validates their membership of an exclusive club. But the threat does seem to be looming more ominously than ever.
Domestic T20 cricket is what pays the bills. Outside England and Australia, the Test match feels like a barely tolerated elderly relative.
What can be done to turn things round? How do we save Test cricket?
Hussain: Pitches are vital. If they are incredibly flat and 600 plays 500 it will rapidly kill Test cricket. Nobody wants that any more. There has to be something in the pitches for the bowlers.
Ticket prices, too, and the whole Test match experience for spectators has to be looked at. We can’t be set in our ways. Day-night Tests, the pink ball, let’s give them a go. Try to ensure that players get paid as well as possible for Test cricket because it’s much easier to play T20 and it’s human nature to choose the easier option, especially if it’s better paid.
Lloyd: Play less of it and concentrate on quality. England played 17 Tests in the last nine months, and they will play 17 in 2016. It’s nonsense.
And reduce the number of one-day internationals if we have to keep them. Five-match series are too much. They are money-making vehicles. Make it the best of three again and cancel the last one if it’s 2-0.
Booth: The first step is to repair the damage caused by the scandalous takeover of the ICC in early 2014 by the ‘big three’ (England, India and Australia). A more level playing field would be a good start.
Boards also need to make a Test career more financially viable. Look at West Indies. All their most exciting cricketers chase the T20 buck. And proper marketing for Test matches is essential, not just lip service.
Holding: I suggested this many years ago — play less Test cricket. Introduce two divisions and have the top six playing against each other home and away — same with the bottom six — but also have the top six play the bottom six once, in the home of the bottom six. Only then will it create interest and context.
As it stands, Bangladesh playing in Australia, and even West Indies playing in Australia, creates no interest. You also have to have promotion and demotion but I cannot see that happening. Certain teams won’t agree to it in case they are ever relegated.
Newman: Why do administrators not understand the concept of less is more? Make Test cricket special again. Have a proper context to a series and bring in the World TestChampionship that was strangled at birth so we could have yet another 50-over tournament in the Champions Trophy.
England invented T20 but other countries overtook us. How do we catch up?
Holding: It depends what England want. You tend to take T20 too seriously. It’s not proper cricket. It’s a circus and should be treated as such. There should be fireworks and dancers and all sorts going on.
England need to accept that and provide a specific period for it rather than spreading it out throughout the season. Then try to get all the biggest names to play in it. Have the circus and then move on.
Hussain: It’s too simplistic to just say we should have franchise cricket. There is more of an association with cities in Australia than there is in England and I’m not sure whether someone who lived in Chelmsford would relate to a London side.
Our domestic competition was lauded but it’s gone stale. One thing we have to do is have it in a block during the school holidays, on the best pitches and hopefully in the best weather, rather than spread it out. If the franchise system will bring in the best players then I’m for it but it’s not the answer to all our problems.
Newman: We need a Big Bash type-tournament. The ‘new’ regime at the ECB are having just as little success in persuading myopic counties that it is the future as the old one did and self-interest and the views of ageing county members, a minority of the country’s cricket supporters, are, as ever, holding sway.
Lloyd: We need our own version of the Big Bash. Put it in a block and stage it when people can see it.
I don’t like the term ‘franchise’ and I hear people saying ‘if the team is called Leeds or Sheffield I don’t want anything to do with it.’ Well, don’t call them that. Call them Vikings. Call the Lancashire-based team The Lightning. You don’t need the city tag, but we do need an eight-team competition and follow the Australian model. It works. And you could still have a county T20 competition too if that’s what they want.
Booth: England are doing just fine at international level but of course we need an IPL or Big Bash. The success of the Big Bash ought to send shivers down ECB spines.
It doesn’t say much for the counties that they have resisted franchise cricket. It looks as if two first-class games are going to be cut from the domestic calendar but 14 per team is still too many.
If you were a player starting out now what would be your priority — Tests or T20?
Hussain: If I were starting out now I would be the polar opposite of what I was as a batsman. I grew up learning to keep the ball out but nowadays you learn to hit the ball first and try to learn the technique to keep it out later.
Newman: I like to think young players still understand the importance of Test cricket and its unique demands, but then if they looked at the case of De Villiers they would surely be tempted to go down the T20 route.
The shocking hijacking of the ICC by the big three has made it less attractive for players outside India, England and Australia to concentrate on international cricket. That has to change.
Holding: I would still want to play Test cricket because that is the ultimate, and the test of you as a proper cricketer. But as a young man I would probably also want to make as much money as I could because you have a short shelf-life as a player.
I’d want to play in the IPL and Big Bash but I would like to show the world that I’m a top-class player and the only way you can do that is at the highest level in Test cricket. You’d have to find a balance but you wouldn’t want to turn your back on the big bucks.
Lloyd: I’m a bit long in the tooth and I still consider a player should be judged on what he does in Test cricket. But we are going to have more Harlem Globetrotter-type players going round the world playing in all these T20 leagues and I can understand that. But hopefully it will come towards the back end of a great player’s career rather than at the start of it.
Booth: Until now any cricketer would tell you Test cricket is for prestige, T20 for cash. But the noise around the various T20 leagues suggests this may be changing. I’d like to think I’d be more concerned with my Test stats than my bank balance but then no-one has ever picked me in the IPL auction…
Where do you see the game in 10 years?
Holding: Well, I’m hearing that the new ICC chairman Shashank Manohar wants to go back to proper sharing of cricket’s funding and hopefully that will come to fruition. That way a lot more money will go to the poorer countries and that could revive Test cricket and ensure that it isn’t only one or two series that mean anything.
As I’ve said, I don’t think Test cricket will die but if things carry on the way they are then it will become insignificant in most of the regions where it’s played.
Lloyd: It has changed rapidly in the last 10 years and I see no reason why it won’t change equally rapidly in the next 10.
If I were a betting man I would say there will only be Test and T20 cricket and no 50-over internationals. And England will have a Big Bash-style league!
Booth: It depends how serious Manohar is about rescuing the game’s reputation after the big-three heist. The trouble is, he won’t be in power for long. The national boards have to be careful to avoid a situation where Test cricket means the Ashes plus India. It really is up to the administrators.
Hussain: I’m sure it will have moved on a long way from where it is now because it is moving so quickly. I hope there will be a comeback for bowlers. In the last decade batting has improved exponentially but bowling hasn’t. Would you say any bowling attack now is better than five years ago? I don’t think there’s a single one. But every batting line-up is better.
Newman: I dread to think. I seriously fear we may have virtually no Test cricket unless the people running cricket start eschewing short-termism and begin to act as true guardians of the game. It is down to them. – Daily Mail
Original source: Is T20 a real threat to Test cricket?