Opinion: How to solve the problems of Test cricket
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‘Worrying’ was the adjective James Anderson recently used to describe the condition of Test cricket.
A host of players have recently turned their backs on red ball cricket opting to focus on the more lucrative shorter format.
Adapt or die. That is the cold truth. The egg and bacon brigade have to accept things need shaking up dramatically and that must start with killing off 50-over cricket and revolutionising the structure of the county championship.
Two major threats to the survival of the longer format are widely accepted in cricketing circles: the schedule is too intense and first class cricket does not offer competitive financial reward.
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Enthusiasts have argued that ODIs offer a different tactical spectacle and they have a point but the current amount of games is unsustainable if we want the best players playing all three formats.
The game needs simplifying. Test cricket has to continue as the revered format where the greats can showcase the extent of their mental and physical ability, and 20-over cricket as the gimmick to enhance interest in the game.
Leveling the financial playing field is a harder task, and one that will likely never be completely achieved, but it is clear that demand for red ball cricket needs to be resurrected.
In England we are unique by regularly filling out Test arenas, but the attendance problem in Test cricket abroad is well reported. The dismal turnout for the opening Test of the South Africa vs Australia series, a contest involving two of the best teams in the world and a long international rivalry, is the latest depressing example.
The rewards of recent adaptations to Tests, including the introduction of day-night matches and a Test championship, are steps in the right direction but only time will tell whether they will pay off.
Domestically, we have to address the empty stands at First Class matches in order to offer salaries that can stop players solely focusing on the short form.
Two things must be done to bring back spectators: get championship matches broadcast into people’s homes and restructure the competition to make it more of a spectacle.
Ideally we would see First Class matches on terrestrial television but, failing interest from television companies, why not live stream games?
Getting a four day match broadcast live on You Tube would be a step in the right direction. It would increase awareness of the County Championship and bring back crowd revenues and sponsors.
To give punters a more exciting spectacle, take a leaf out of rugby league’s book and introduce play-offs culminating in a grand final at Lords. I know I would watch a one off game between the best two counties in the country with the championship trophy on the line.
The blazers will say this will devalue the tradition of the historic County Championship, but the tradition and value of the competition will cease to exist if we do not keep the best players in it.
Anderson does not have to worry. The future of Test cricket is bright, but only if those governing it are open to innovation.
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