Tier 1, Tier 2... worth a try!

I believe there needs to be a shake-up in the fundamental set-up of Test cricket’s structure. Plaguing the structure today is the difference in the performance levels of the top half and the bottom half of Test-playing nations.

“Like for many, my most favoured format is Test match cricket. Having said that, one can’t deny that stadiums are empty for Test matches, broadcasters are losing money beaming Test cricket and viewership is going down every passing day,” writes the author.   -  K. R. Deepak

In this age of T20 cricket, Test cricket still manages to hold its own. But, for how long? Like for many, my most favoured format is Test match cricket. Having said that, one can’t deny that stadiums are empty for Test matches, broadcasters are losing money beaming Test cricket and viewership is going down every passing day. Let’s accept there is a crisis, however small it might be, and it needs to be addressed.

Whenever I hear talk about Test cricket, it sounds like a CSR project. To be fair to the authorities, they have been trying to make it more attractive. The Day-night Test is a step in the right direction, it is a work in progress and needs R&D, especially with the pink ball. The BCCI did a fantastic job last home season by scheduling Test matches in non-traditional venues and getting kids to the ground to watch their heroes play in whites. At the financial level also, BCCI has increased Test match fees considerably, thus incentivising the longer format. All these steps are important, but are they enough?

I believe there needs to be a shake-up in the fundamental set-up of Test cricket’s structure. Plaguing the structure today is the difference in the performance levels of the top half and the bottom half of Test-playing nations. One aspect that makes sports attractive is unpredictability. Of late some of the series have been devoid of this essential ingredient. There have been several inconsequential series and matches, which to an extent is due to the bilateral nature of these encounters.

I’ve been thinking about this and have a few suggestions. Some of them have already been tabled, but I’ve tried to compile them in a holistic format.

To start off, there needs to be a structure in place, where there are no dead rubbers and every Test has some value in the bigger picture, irrespective of the state of the series at any given point. For that, it is imperative to have a ‘Test Championship’ played over a three-year cycle. The minimum number of Test matches for a series should be fixed at three. If mutually agreed, teams can play more. The Ashes is a good example.

The next hurdle and a major one is the level of competition. To keep all stakeholders interested, it is imperative that a majority of the matches are keenly contested. Looking at the disparity in the current levels of performance, I suggest a two-tier format. The 12 Test nations can be divided into two groups of six... the top six in Tier 1 and the rest in Tier 2. Teams need to play home and away against the rest in the Tier, once in the cycle. Hence, the minimum commitment is 30 Tests over the cycle. At the end of the cycle one team gets promoted and one gets relegated. This is the basic structure, over and above this, each position can be financially incentivised.

When I was talking to someone about it , his concern was, “How will this make the teams improve?” My take is, improvement has a direct correlation with exposure, as to how much cricket is played .

India since 2015 has played 29 Test matches and during the same period Bangladesh has played 14 . Zimbabwe, on the other hand, has played only five matches this year so far. Going by this, even though Ireland and Afghanistan have got their Test status, it would be a while before they actually play a game. One can’t expect them to improve by just practising in the nets. As of now, the schedule is based on mutual agreement and most of the lower ranked teams or the new teams depend on the higher ranked teams to get a series . Well in this format every team is obliged to play 30 matches over the cycle, irrespective of their rankings.

The BCCI did a fantastic job last home season by getting kids to the ground to watch their heroes play in whites. Here schoolchildren support the Indian cricket team on the first day of the second Test against England in Visakhapatnam.   -  PTI

 

Who doesn’t love a good underdog story, but the fact is chances of that happening in a Test match format are far less than, let’s say in T20s or ODIs. But I do agree, interaction between players is very essential, that’s one of the prime channels of experience, information and knowledge-flow. On an average, top Test playing nations play 13-15 matches a year. In this format, the commitment is to play roughly 10 matches a year, which leaves a window for another 3-5 Tests, which can be played on a bilateral basis. This also allows top-ranked sides to play Tier 2 teams once over a period of three years. I am aware that it could lead to the same issues we are trying to address, but this would only be a handful of games. Secondly, I believe that the established sides also have a responsibility to make sure they do their bit to improve the overall standard of the game.

The other practical challenge would be to schedule series like the one that just got over in Sri Lanka, where all three formats were played. What I’m proposing is a totally different structure from the one existing in limited-over cricket, which I believe should continue as it is. Hence, the limited-over engagements between teams from different tiers will have to be scheduled separately. The India-Australia ODI series is a good example. Australia is visiting India just to play limited-over matches. England had split its last trip to India into two parts on either side of the New Year. There are other instances of teams travelling only to play shorter formats as well.

While we all want our team to win, it shouldn’t be at the cost of a good, competitive game. At the end of the day, we all want the game to be known for its ‘glorious uncertainties.’