De­spair at plans for split from Test cricket’s new­est na­tions

Pakistan Observer - - SPORTS -

DHAKA—Test cricket’s new­est na­tions are in de­spair at plans to split the for­mat into two di­vi­sions, fear­ing it could undo decades of hard-fought progress on the field and kill in­ter­est in the game.

Cricket’s gov­ern­ing body the In­ter­na­tional Cricket Coun­cil (ICC) is meet­ing in Ed­in­burgh this week to de­bate pro­pos­als for the seven top-ranked teams to es­tab­lish a de facto pre­mier league in a bid to boost wan­ing in­ter­est in Tests.

Un­der the scheme be­ing con­sid­ered by the ICC, the other three coun­tries with Test sta­tus would join a five-strong sec­ond divi­sion along with Afghanistan and Ire­land.

While the shake-up would guar­an­tee cricket’s lead­ing na­tions play each other ev­ery other year, the other sides would be starved of matches which draw in crowds and lu­cra­tive broad­cast deals.

As things stand, the two lat­est ar­rivals at cricket’s top ta­ble — Bangladesh and Zim­babwe — will be doomed to the sec­ond tier and could be joined by another rel­a­tive new­comer Sri Lanka.

“This will spell the death of in­ter­na­tional cricket as we’ve known it,” said Ahmed Saz­zadul Alam, a Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) di­rec­tor.

Bangladesh lob­bied for years to join cricket’s elite before play­ing their first Test in 2000.

Their record has been poor, winning just seven of their 93 Tests and they are cur­rently ranked ninth, just above Zim­babwe.

How­ever, per­for­mances have im­proved sig­nif­i­cantly of late and Bangladesh have only lost six of their last 18 Tests.

BCB vice pres­i­dent Mah­bubul Anam warned Bangladesh “would go back­wards” if they stop play­ing teams such as Eng­land and In­dia, both of whom they are due to play later this year.

“The more we play against com­pet­i­tive sides, the bet­ter we’ll get,” said Anam. Alis­tair Camp­bell, a for­mer di­rec­tor of Zim­babwe’s board, ap­pre­ci­ated the ar­gu­ments for a split be­cause of the gulf in class be­tween the top and bot­tom sides.

But Camp­bell, a for­mer cap­tain who played in Zim­babwe’s in­au­gu­ral Test against In­dia in 1992, said it would be heart­break­ing if cur­rent play­ers would never be able to com­pete against the best.

“It’s go­ing to be a tragedy if you are grow­ing up in a coun­try like Zim­babwe or Bangladesh,” he told AFP.

“It means you might never get the op­por­tu­nity to play with top tier sides.

That might drive play­ers to go and seek greener pas­tures.”

There are sim­i­lar fears in Sri Lanka which has fallen down the rank­ings in the last two years af­ter bat­ting greats Ku­mar San­gakkara and Ma­hela Jayawar­dene re­tired.

Sri Lanka are cur­rently ranked sev­enth and in dan­ger of be­ing over­taken by an im­prov­ing West Indies by the time the pro­posed split comes into force.

Sri Lanka also strug­gled in the first decade af­ter their in­au­gu­ral Test in 1982 but then found their feet and won the 1996 World Cup.

Si­dath Wet­timuny, who scored Sri Lanka’s first Test cen­tury, warned the ar­chi­tects of the split were play­ing with fire.

“It’s okay to make some tweaks but what is pro­posed is go­ing to be a dis­as­ter in ev­ery sense of the word,” he said.

Sri Lankan board’s sec­re­tary Mo­han de Silva was cool on the pro­posal.

“We are not very much in favour, but we need to dis­cuss with our ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee af­ter study­ing it care­fully before tak­ing a fi­nal de­ci­sion,” he wrote in a text from Scot­land.

But Sports Min­is­ter Dayasiri Jayasek­era in­sisted the shake-up should be op­posed as it would “have a neg­a­tive im­pact”.

Sri Lanka’s cash-strapped board is hugely de­pen­dent on TV money and ticket rev­enue from tours by the likes of In­dia and Aus­tralia.

But nei­ther broad­cast­ers nor spec­ta­tors will pay sig­nif­i­cant amounts for matches in­volv­ing min­nows such as Ire­land.

“If you club the weak­est teams in one league, who’ll be in­ter­ested in watch­ing those games? This will lead to fi­nan­cial ruin,” Jayasek­era told AFP.

The BCB’s Alam also warned of dire fi­nan­cial con­se­quences.

“There would be an in­evitable loss of in­ter­est among younger fol­low­ers of and a de­cline in in­ter­est from the me­dia and spon­sors,” he said.

“The re­sult­ing down­turn in rev­enues would un­der­mine de­vel­op­ment pro­grammes and fund­ing of do­mes­tic leagues.

“It will ef­fec­tively mean the end of cricket for coun­tries like us.”—AFP

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