If Test cricket dies, it will be murder and an inside job
By H Natarajan
The advent of one-day cricket changed the face of cricket. The change, though, was evolutionary – be it the style of play, the strategy and approach of the captains or even the format itself. The abridged version has gone through further condensation to emerge as. This time around the resultant changes are more revolutionary, keeping with the frenetic pace of the modern world.
A generation bygone quit overs-limit game to prolong their Test career. The reason commonly heard then was that limited-over game is a young man’s game which places uncompromising demands on the body. In other words, when the wear and tear from the years of toil began to take its toll, they made a graceful exit from ODIs to concentrate in the relatively less-taxing conventional form of cricket.
Players often moaned that more than the actual playing it was the frequent travelling and flights at unearthly hours after a day-nighter which was killing. There was no time for rest and recuperation. In sharp contrast, a player can be assured of staying put at least for a week in one place while playing a Test match. And of the five days of a Test, often he can expect about two days relaxing in the pavilion.
But the birth of T20 and specifically the advent of the money-spinning Indian Premier League (IPL) have triggered a radical change in the thought process of the players. In what is clearly an emerging pattern, players today are willing to bid adieu to Test cricket to prolong their careers in the compact version of cricket.
Let’s see some of the recent examples. Sanath Jayasuriya last played a Test in December 2007, but he played ODIs for two more years and, in fact, was in the provisional Sri Lankan squad for the 2011 World Cup probables alongside another veteran in Chaminda Vaas. The left-arm medium-pacer’s final Test was in July 2007, but he went on to play ODI for over a year. The Sri Lankan provisional list also included a third veteran in Muttiah Muralitharan, now retired from Test cricket. But unlike Jayasuriya and Vaas, Murali has been given a chance for a final hurrah in the World Cup.
In all my years in cricket, I never came across a single player who valued overs-limit cricket more than Test cricket. That’s why I was appalled to hear Chris Gayle say in 2009 that he will “not be so sad” if Test cricket died! Sacrilegious!
Gayle’s shockingly audacious statement came after arriving in England just two days before a Test. He was the captain of the West Indies team, but he was busy playing the IPL!
Before 2009 ended, England’s Andrew Flintoff, New Zealand’s Jacob Oram and Shane Bond all cited injury reasons to quit Test cricket while making themselves available for the T20s and ODIs. The disturbing trend is having a domino effect. Last year, Brett Lee quit Test cricket to extend his overs-limit career. Then Shahid Afridi said he was not interested in playing Test cricket saying that “my temperament is not good enough for Test cricket” - enlightenment after 12 years in Test cricket! Before the recent Ashes series ended, Paul Collingwood joined those saying bye-bye to Tests and now comes the news that Lasith Malinga (pix above) is apparently contemplating to do the same. Malinga has been in international cricket for just over six years and is only 27 years old.
I would not be surprised if more professional cricketers make such decisions to keep themselves fit and fresh for the more lucrative IPL. That’s definitely not good news for Test cricket.
The last time Test cricket faced serious threat was when Kerry Packer flexed his financial muscle to lure the crème de la crème of international cricket. But the difference between then and now is that, the establishment then waged a fierce battle to protect the future of Test cricket. But what makes the present danger most worrisome is that the epicentre of the tremors is found inside the establishment. Unless some serious rethinking is done by the high priests of the game, the numbers forsaking Tests for the greener pastures of T20 could get alarmingly high. And if Test cricket eventually dies, it will be an inside job.
Once the ageing heroes like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Ricky Ponting and Jacques Kallis, to name a few, mothball their cricketing whites, the romance of Test cricket could fade as a newer generation weaned on T20 razzmatazz hold sway.
Gayle, Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo rejected contracts offered by the West Indies Cricket Board to be free to play domestic Twenty20 competitions all over, including the IPL.
As professionals, the players cannot be blamed for securing their future. But as the custodians of the game, I would like to see the administrators take steps to secure the real game of Test cricket. Skills cannot be honed in the corruption of T20 and one-day cricket; it has to in the longer version. If the basics are flawed, then it will have an adverse affect on the abridged version as well.
I would like to believe that if India wins the 2011 World Cup, Sachin Tendulkar would retire from ODIs to channelize his energies on Test cricket. That will send the right message to those who play overs-limit internationals over Test cricket.
(H Natarajan is the Executive Editor of http://www.cricketcountry.com/ where the above column appeared)