Friday, 2 January 2009

Urbi et Orbi: the Mess That Is Test Cricket

Test cricket, as an organized sport, is in a mess. Ultimately, it's down to the problem of adapting a structure that was built on the foundation of an amateur ethos to an entertainment industry. Leisurely activities punctuated by lunch and tea are giving way to a four-hour Twenty/20 razzmatazz as the sport tries to keep up with a CGI world.

My gloomy mood is triggered by the sad cases of three Test nations all in the news recently: Zimbabwe, Pakistan and Bangladesh. They are each different problems, but the effect on the Test arena is the same. At the root of all this is a struggle between the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) on the one hand, and Cricket Australia (CA) and the England and Wales Cricket Board (EWCB) on the other.

Zimbabwe is a soap opera that has run and run. Nor does it show any signs of stopping soon, as sore loser journos try to widen the crisis. Zimbabwe itself suspended Test play in January 2006, in recognition of a growing political crisis at home that had disrupted its ability to field a competitive Test side. At the root of the problem is the economic crisis in the country, a subject that apart from the acknowledgment that it exists warrants no further treatment in this forum. The reason it must be acknowledged, though, is that it is having an impact on the treatment of the players. In the forefront of the international response to the situation, however, are the EWCB and CA. Both are serving as arms of government policy, as both countries' governments have issues with Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, and have sought to 'quarantine' Zimbabwe officials. The BCCI, by contrast, has opposed drastic action. The trouble is, until Zimbabwe Cricket can reach financial arrangements with Zimbabwe players that are satisfactory to the latter, there seems little point rushing them back into the Test arena. I think we're still a few years away from such a permanent solution, and until the BCCI, EWCB and CA can get a consensus on how to handle the situation, Zimbabwe's stuck in this purgatory. The BCCI has won an ally here.

Pakistan is in the same situation as Zimbabwe in that it can't get a game. Nobody particularly wants to play them at home, and the difficult situation in the country is reflected in a turbulent administration of cricket. The whole story of Pakistan cricket in 2008 is of controversy. Finally, Sri Lanka agrees to go after the BCCI pulls out, resulting in all kinds of wild speculation. As with Zimbabwe, until the political problems afflicting Pakistan are resolved, it seems unlikely things will run smoothly for the country in the world of cricket. In the mean time, Pakistan has used alternative venues before, and maybe it should make a virtue of necessity. That at least might get them a few matches with other teams. But probably not with India. The BCCI will follow government policy for the foreseeable future. We'll have to wait and see if the Pakistan Cricket Board starts making common cause with the EWCB and CA, so long as its kept away from the valuable Indian market.

People don't want to play Bangladesh for different reasons, but the effect is the same. Its Test status is endangered. Similarly, as in the other two cases, part of the problem can be laid at Bangladesh's feet. For whatever reason, after eight years they are still not particularly competitive at the Test level. I've heard it said, by New Zealand radio commentators, that they don't play enough first-class cricket at home. Maybe. I don't have an easy recipe, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) opted to focus on the One-Day game. The BCCI is relatively uninterested in hosting them for Tests, even though they are required to by the ICC's Future Tour Programme (FTP), but will happily play ODIs.

Now, there's the rub. Suppose we get to the review of the FTP, and India still refuse to host Bangladesh. What's the ICC to do? The BCCI is by far the richest cricket organization in the world, and most countries can't afford not to tour there. The BCCI likes to wield its clout, and sees no reason to respect the spiritual home of cricket in the EWCB, nor the dominant nation in the field in the shape of CA.

Yet, in spite of all three of the major players in world cricket by word or deed declaring in favour of revoking Bangladesh's Test status, I don't see it happening. Quite probably the recent statements by the EWCB and CA are a way of putting pressure on the BCCI to host Bangladesh. Yet the BCCI is unlikely to join the EWCB and CA in questioning Bangladesh's Test status given that it can easily influence the vote of the BCB in the ICC. My money is on India both not hosting Bangladesh and not agreeing to end the Test status of that country. And so the mess will continue.

No comments:

Post a Comment