Test cricket’s glass is half empty ... what a dam shame
Why the World Test Championship won’t help to top up the old fart format ... it needs to make itself relevant
“Surely the dam’s full now”: Faf du Plessis sounded like everyone else who is anxious about Cape Town’s water situation.
Outside the streets marinated in rain. Six weeks of the stuff. Du Plessis no doubt hoped for some sunshine in Sri Lanka, where he was off to on Sunday.
His most immediate assignment is to captain South Africa in two Tests. The first of them starts on July 12 in Galle, where the famous fort will brood over the scene like a cat keeping a cold eye on a stricken insect.
The image could be used to describe where the oldest format, a veteran of 141 years and 2,309 matches – almost a third of them drawn – finds itself in an all too brave new world that doesn’t care much for anything that requires patience and discipline to appreciate.Why sit around watching a contest that takes five days to unspool, and even then may not produce a winner, when you can get in, get out and don’t mess about in the three hours it takes to play a T20?
It’s a question that raises others.
If people spend up to five hours a day on their smartphones – which studies suggest they do – how can they tell us they don’t have the time to watch Test cricket?
Some of the most exciting Tests have drawn, so who needs a winner?
Who can care about the Las Vegas Lizards being crowned champions of the Sponsor’s Name Here T20 tournament when they have existed for only a few years, and do so for just six weeks a year?
Every Test cricket aficionado has asked themselves questions like those, and every Test aficionado knows they – and the game they love – are on a hiding to nothing.
Count me and Du Plessis among the old farts. “I hope Test cricket can still be the main focus point for international cricket,” he said. “It’s fighting against a very powerful monster in T20 cricket that is taking a lot of players towards it.”Thing is, Du Plessis helps feed the monster by playing in the Indian Premier League. And he has a bulletproof case for doing so as long as T20 impresarios are able to pay players exponentially more than national boards.
But that doesn’t mean Du Plessis isn’t as filled with hope about the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) World Test Championship (WTC) as he is about the level of the Western Cape’s dams.
“It will give Test cricket good purpose to play for something,” he said. “That will be a real motivation for guys to stick around and play Test cricket. Because Test cricket should always be our number one form of the game.”
It isn’t. An ICC survey revealed last week that 70% of the 19,000 respondents interviewed in 14 countries where the game was either soundly established or has a significant chance to grow were interested in Test cricket.
That sounds like good news. Except that T20 cricket enjoys an “interest rate” of 92%.
Worse, three-quarters of all cricketers players don’t play anything except T20s.
Worst, although the survey took its data from more than 19,000 interviews, none of the respondents were younger than 16.
How much more skewed in favour of T20 will the figures be once the ICC talks to the kids, as it plans to do?
No one can be sure whether the WTC will tear their attention away from fake teams playing a fake format in fake competitions that may exist largely to service the gambling industry, but that seems unlikely.Only nine of the 12 Test-playing teams will contest the WTC. They will play each other in the same number of series but in differing numbers of matches. The fixtures have not been drawn up objectively but have been mutually agreed by the boards of the teams involved. And the whole damn thing will take a month short of two years to complete.
Good luck getting anyone – 16 or younger, or older – to stop staring at the T20 results on their smartphones for long enough to make sense of that, much less to take it seriously.
The suits have hatched the WTC to, they say, give Test cricket “context”. We should be grateful for their attempt, but they should know that Test cricket already has more context than it knows what to do with.
What it needs is relevance: it needs to be able to make its music heard amid and despite the cacophony all around.
The WTC may make old farts like me and Du Plessis believe that, finally, Test cricket’s glass is at least half full.
But that’s dangerous, akin to lumping Day Zero into the category of things that were supposed to happen but never did. Like Y2K Day.
The dams aren’t full, Faf. They’re not even half full. On Monday, after six weeks of rain, they were at 48.3%.