Big changes ahead for test game

Weekend Herald - - RUGBY - Cricket An­drew Alder­son

Test cricket fi­nally has con­text.

The In­ter­na­tional Cricket Coun­cil rat­i­fied the pro­posal for a nine- team cham­pi­onship from 2019 at its board meet­ing in Auck­land yes­ter­day.

It will be played over two years, cul­mi­nat­ing in a fi­nal at Lord’s.

Each team will play six se­ries — three home and away — in that pe­riod.

That de­ci­sion came in con­junc­tion with an agree­ment to trial four- day tests.

They can be con­tested by mu­tual agree­ment in bi­lat­eral se­ries, but will fall out­side the cham­pi­onship. The play­ing con­di­tions need con­fir­ma­tion, but days are ex­pected to con­sist of 98 overs across 6 ½ hours.

New Zealand are com­mit­ted to five- day tests for now, but the four­dayer be­tween South Africa and Zim­babwe at Port Elizabeth can go ahead on Box­ing Day.

ICC chief ex­ec­u­tive Dave Richard­son said the move came be­cause of a “ques­tion mark” over test cricket’s sus­tain­abil­ity.

“We have to trial these things as a re­sult. Is four- day cricket go­ing to pro­vide a bet­ter prod­uct? Who knows, but we’ve taken sim­i­lar ap­proaches to the in­tro­duc­tion of tech­nol­ogy and pink- ball tests.”

Richard­son said the mem­bers of ICC’s cricket com­mit­tee, fea­tur­ing some of the game’s lu­mi­nar­ies, were “tra­di­tional and the ma­jor­ity are re­luc­tant and scep­ti­cal as to whether four- day­ers are a good thing but there’s an ac­knowl­edge­ment we need to do some­thing. Maybe this will be the cat­a­lyst to cre­ate in­ter­est in coun­tries where test cricket i s di­min­ish­ing.”

The gen­eral view i s that four­day­ers will help with sched­ul­ing across a given week and re­duce costs although, as Richard­son pointed out, Lord’s and other pop­u­lar test venues see fifth days as a li­cence to profit.

New Zealand Cricket’s pref­er­ence is to con­tinue with the sta­tus quo.

“That is the pin­na­cle,” chair­man Greg Bar­clay said.

“But we recog­nise four- day tests are a good trial and those coun­tries de­vel­op­ing as full mem­bers [ such as test cham­pi­onship ab­sen­tees Zim­babwe, Afghanistan and Ire­land] lend them­selves to four- day tests for cost and time rea­sons.

“Per­haps tests are not sup­ported to the ex­tent they have been by fans or broad­cast­ers — who are not as keen on it as a com­mer­cial propo­si­tion. This is prob­a­bly the shot in the arm the game needs. Get­ting con­text and rel­e­vance around the test game will help.”

Tac­tics and pitch de­te­ri­o­ra­tion also need con­sid­er­a­tion should five days meld into four.

“Cap­tains will have to ap­proach the game dif­fer­ently,” Richard­son said.

“Five- day­ers are a test of stay­ing power. Of­ten they’re won by the team that goes to the ground fight­ing fit on the fifth day. Four- day tests will level the play­ing field.

“Stronger teams might need to use in­no­va­tions such as declar­ing their first in­nings ear­lier, rather than bat­ting to 500- 600, to en­sure there is time to win the game. It might pro­duce more at­tack­ing cricket.”

The test cham­pi­onship has been sup­ple­mented by a 13- na­tion one- day in­ter­na­tional league which will run ev­ery three years ( but two ini­tially from 2020 as ICC con­tracts with spon­sors and broad­cast­ers are worked out).

The league will pro­vide a di­rect qual­i­fi­ca­tion path­way to­wards the World Cup for the 12 full mem­ber coun­tries and the win­ners of the next tier’s world league cham­pi­onship.

The onus goes on ad­min­is­tra­tors to work to­wards an­other Fu­ture Tours Pro­gramme dead­line by the end of the year to set sched­ules un­til 2023. Those are ex­pected to be pre­sented and ac­tion taken on them at the next meet­ing in Fe­bru­ary.

The re­sump­tion of tours to Pak­istan, in lim­ited overs cricket ini­tially, are also a step closer af­ter the suc­cess of the World XI se­ries se­cu­rity ar­range­ments in La­hore.

“Pak­istan se­cu­rity agen­cies have done lot of work in low­er­ing the threat [ of ter­ror­ism],” Richard­son said.

“The risks are still sig­nif­i­cantly high, but the plans pro­duced for the World XI se­ries were strict and un­prece­dented.

“The peo­ple im­ple­ment­ing them could do so 100 per cent, whereas they of­ten look good on pa­per but fall apart. It’s all about in­creas­ing the con­fi­dence in play­ers and teams.”

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