The last time this was experimented in was in 1912, before the advent of television and internet or even floodlights and before there was money pouring into cricket. The Triangular Test Series played between England, Australia and South Africa, with England winning the series was largely deemed a failure owing to the highly noncompetitive matches and failure to draw crowds, partly due to a much weaker Australian side.
However, right now the talk amongst the cricketing fraternity does seem to be inculcating an interest in test cricket, how to solve the problem of declining viewership, lack of crowds and sometimes, players’ lack of interest (for instance – Lasith Malinga retired from Test Cricket to focus more on being a T20 mercenary). Many believe that the day night test could bring back the charm of test cricket, including former England captain Andrew Strauss, who said the format could keep the format ‘alive and vibrant’.
So far, ICC has announced their intentions to host a World Test Championship and repeatedly, as the date draws nearer, the tournament gets cancelled, for some reason or the other (financial problems is the norm), both in 2013 and 2017 and instead, back in 2013, a redundant ODI tournament was revived. The 20 over format needed a world tournament, it had one, the fifty over version already had it, since the 70s and there was no point in carrying on another 50 over tournament.
However, 2013 had the revival and considering it was India who won, there was a lot of interest generated in the tournament and thus, the Champions Trophy lingering on became imminent. On the other hand, the chance of a World Test Championship has also become bleak; while the stands remain largely empty during the early hours even on countries. This is not a phenomenon restricted to nations where there are other popular sports such as England, Australia or New Zealand, but also in countries where cricket is the primary sport such as Sri Lanka and India.
Constraints of a World Test Championship
The format and the manner of conducting a World Test Championship has been largely undecided, if there is to be some sort of a round robin with each side playing everyone else at least once, there are twelve test playing nations at present (including Ireland and Afghanistan); the number of matches come to a staggering 66 – meaning a minimum of 330 days; a tournament going for a whole year. There could be leagues or others worked out but the duration is always going to be a constraint.
At present, the proposal seems to be that the top four sides over a four year period will play a tournament but that is something that has not yet been tested and the present situation seems to be that the tournament scheduled for the year 2021 also stands cancelled.
Thus, it is evident that it is difficult to decide on a format that would be interesting and also be good on the time factor.
With T20 leagues throughout the year at some part of the world and a lot of players turning out to prefer the lucrative deals over playing test cricket, working around the leagues for a schedule would be very difficult or; the latter is an even more difficult task of retaining the key players. It so happens that most nations have stopped scheduling bilateral series during the time of the Indian Premier League these days, let alone a World Test Championship.
No guaranteed success
There is no guarantee that this experiment could be a success, perhaps it could be a repeat of 1912 and considering that this would be marketed at such a massive scale should such a tournament be scheduled, a flop show would be a disaster for test cricket as a whole and its failure could even mark the beginning of the end. Thus, one has to thoroughly research viewer interest before taking such a decision.
Thus, it seems very evident that at the moment, a World Test Championship has a lot of problems, however, an idea that has not been tried, since 1912 has been a triangular test series and sometimes, adding more diversity to a series could help.
For instance, the upcoming West Indies versus England series seems to be a huge quality mismatch, but at the same time, an experience of playing against a top side is perhaps what the young Caribbean sides need; but the cost of that experience is going to be one sided matches and total lack of interest from the viewers. The same could be said of the recently concluded series between Sri Lanka and India wherein there wasn’t much of a competition between the two sides though this experience could help the Lankan side in the future.
So, to add some flavour to these sort of series, the 1912 experiment could be revived, wherein three test sides play a series, even if we have a simple format where each team plays each other once – and the best two would reach the final – it comes to a total of just four tests, which is similar to most bilateral series. Of course, there is the issue of determining the best two, especially when there is a possibility of matches going for a draw (especially in the final); in which case the entire debate of whether a points system should be in place comes in but I believe this is something easier to come to a consensus to, than a World Test Championship.
A World Test Championship is of course a great idea and if pulled off well, it would be a feather in the cap for the glory of test cricket but at present, it is a lot more pragmatic to go for it step by step. Australia have often conducted tri-series, I hope in future, some cricket board takes up the idea of a triangular test series.
Just to conclude, had it been a triangular series, with a side like South Africa (who had just toured England) along with West Indies, the press would not have declared England as the winners of the series, even before the same was conducted.
This is a guest post by Anirudh Parthasarathy who is a test cricket enthusiast. He can be reached out here
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