Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Test Championship

Till about a month back, the question on everyone's minds was "How do we make the Tests less boring?". Of course, that was until it was revealed that the most fervent followers of the game - the bookies - like Test Cricket the best as they make the most money from it! Well, at least someone does...

Test cricket is always termed by most players - former, current and currently suspended - as the pinnacle of cricket, the ultimate test of your abilities on the field. With the exception of Chris Gayle, who was then blasted for such blasphemy. Drawing on my years of playing test cricket, (our own street test cricket version where hitting a six was considered out, to ensure more measured play) I can empathise with that opinion.

But, my views as a discerning observer of the more commonly known form of test cricket will be suitable for the purposes of this post.

Professional sport, after all, is a microcosm of life itself. Grown men and women try their best to out-do one another while staying within the boundaries and rules agreed upon by the sporting society. The advantage being that while your greatest of victories in life may go unnoticed by the vast majority, in sport your smallest of losses is likely to be put under the microscope. If you call that an advantage.

But, for me, test cricket comes the closest to simulating the vagaries of life within itself. The great test matches in history have had the glorious uncertainities - from the sudden change in behaviour of the pitch on the third day afternoon session leading to a collapse, deadly spell of reverse swing bolwing turning the match, dropped catches rued for days, debatable umpires' decisions, players having lively chats about each others wives, girlfriends, mothers, sisters, etc - spread over five days swing fortunes from one end to another, with the potential for an action packed Bollywood spice fest with a climax to match.

I admit some matches can get boring. But then, so can life.

Test cricket is definitely not a shot of adrenalin for the masses like T20. Its taste is for the cultivated, the nuanced. For those who read between the deliveries, check for body language, ponder over strategy while the rest of the world just waits for the end of the day score. It is a sport where you can safely drift off into a world of your own, debate about the pros and cons of each move, without missing out on any action. It even gives you ample opportunity between overs, during drinks, lunch and tea breaks to have refreshing conversations about things other than the game. I may have taken it too far by thinking it is an ideal setting for a first date, but you get the point.

So, after this rather test match type detour, I shall come to the point I was making. Martin Crowe had an idea a month ago about a revamped Test Championship. I liked this idea far lesser than his only other idea - that of using a spinner as an opening bowler in an ODI. Though my response in Cricinfo's comments section was one of reflex. But upon reflection, I have realized it was the danger it posed to my beloved nuances of the game that really set me off. Anyway, here is my response:
I don't agree with Crowe.

1. The one-off contests can't replicate the beauty of a test series - a true test of mettle
2. The lop sided nature of the draw will give no incentive for the home-team to prepare sporting pitches. Incentive is works better than rules :P
3. Viewership will decline as a result of one-sided tests - most likely draws.
4. Only seven tests??!! and you are world champion??
It sounds increasingly like a patchwork formula made on the back of a tissue.. :P His ideas seem to pander to everything that is wrong with test cricket right now and gift wrap it into a short-term solution

My suggestion:
Emulate the football league formats (Premier and Championship), or even the Indian domestic Cricket Leagues (Ranji and Plate)
1. Split the teams into two groups of 5 based on current ranking - say 'Champions' and 'Challengers'
2. The 'Champions' will play a home and away tour of 3/5 tests each home and away during a two year period. Same for the 'Challengers'. Considering each series takes 2 months (for 5 tests) you have 16 months of test cricket. Still leaves enough time for T20s, ODIs.
3. The points system will be based on the hierarchy - Test Wins, Test draws, Away wins, Away draws, Runs scored etc to split the teams, if required
4. The bottom 2 teams from the 'Champions' and the top 2 teams from the 'Challengers' will trade places at the end of every two years
This will create a lot of test cricket and make it more competitive. The teams will be more evenly matched, and over a long tour will have opportunities to make come-backs.