Jayawardene Column: Scheduling of Tests should be fair

In Asia, the limited-overs format is king and the gulf in popularity between Test cricket and ODI/T20 formats is significant. This is highlighted by the sparse crowds — especially in Sri Lanka — and the lower value of TV rights and sponsorships. This is rightly a concern, but in my view, it’s an issue of opportunity and planning rather than neglect.

Day-night cricket would be an attractive option if practical but in Asia, I can’t see it having a future. We get dew at night in almost all venues and throughout the year.   -  Getty Images

When Twenty20 cricket exploded onto the world scene in 2007, there were many who feared the worse; worried that Test cricket would be undermined and marginalised. Eight years on, I think it’s clear that the arrival of T20 has had many positive influences on Test cricket, like increasing entertainment levels with greater aggression, higher skill levels and producing a higher percentage of results.

 

All this is encouraging, but there is still a concern about the future health of Test cricket in Asia. In England, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand Test cricket, to a certain degree, appears in good health. Spectators are coming in good numbers and there is no doubt that Test cricket is sitting at the top of the cricketing food chain.

In Asia, though, the limited-overs format is king and the gulf in popularity between Test cricket and ODI/T20 formats is significant. This is highlighted by the sparse crowds — especially in Sri Lanka — and the lower value of TV rights and sponsorships. This is rightly a concern, but in my view, it’s an issue of opportunity and planning rather than neglect.

Right now, I think Asian teams are playing at least 2-3 Test matches less than they should be playing each year. Not even India have played more than 10 Tests per annum regularly during the past five years — they have played 48, Sri Lanka 47, Pakistan 41 and Bangladesh 25. I think we should be targeting at least 12 Tests per annum (six at home and six away).

The challenge for the organisers, especially in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh, is that securing a series with the big teams is not easy. The current five-year home-and-away FTP model is fundamentally flawed. It is too difficult to secure tours with the top nations and when we do, it is frequently just a two-match series.

The result is that we get far too many two-match series and we end up having to play against each other, and other financially less able countries, too much. How can we expect our fans to embrace Test cricket if we are so frequently playing against the same teams and playing shortened two-match series? Personally, I think two-match series should be immediately banned.

We must work towards a fairer schedule that allows teams equal chances and guarantees the fan far more excitement and interest. Hopefully, we will see some progress from the ICC on that level during the next couple of years before the finalisation of the post-2020 FTP.

But this is not just an ICC issue, the local cricket boards must be far more proactive in their scheduling and planning. From a Sri Lankan perspective, we need to look carefully at the calendar and carve out clear windows for Test cricket so that we can definitely secure at least six home Test matches a year.

I think we need a fixed Test match window — probably from July to September — that players, fans and sponsors can look forward to each year. We also have an opportunity to have another window in February and March.

Scheduling aside, we must look again at the whole experience of watching Test cricket from a spectator’s point of view. We need to be more proactive and innovative to attract more people into the grounds. We must look at ways of being more kid-friendly, encouraging parents to bring their children and working closely with schools so that watching of Test cricket becomes an annual event.

Day-night cricket would be an attractive option if practical but in Asia, I can’t see it having a future. We get dew at night in almost all venues and throughout the year. Given the limitations of the pink ball, which requires grassier pitches to reduce wear-and-tear, the conditions would vary too much between day and night and could turn the game’s toughest format into a lottery.

The encouraging aspect for me is that I believe there is the hunger and appetite for Test cricket from players and fans. Test cricket has become more entertaining in recent years and there is an opportunity to turn that into heightened popularity if we are clever about the way we plan, organise and market the game.