Ian Chappell’s article on the competitiveness at the top of the ICC Test rankings is a good read. He is bang on when he says that there is no clear leader, and that there can be no better time to create a World Test Championship. India, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Australia and England are bunched together quite closely, and Pakistan are just being, well, Pakistan – beating Australia one day, getting dismissed for 80 the next. There is enough masala in the Test hierarchy to launch a serious attempt to spice up each and every Test series.
However, one other thing he said got me thinking. This is what he wrote:
In the long periods when one team dominated, the game survived mainly on a group of extremely marketable stars strutting their stuff.
He goes on to add that their numbers are dwindling, but expresses hope that youngsters will come in to fill their shoes. Now this is where I am concerned. I am sure younger cricketers will come through and become stars in their own right, but there are two issues.
Firstly, will they be as big as the stars that are on the wane/have faded already – i.e. Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly in India, Warne, McGrath, Ponting, Hayden in Australia, Lara in WI, Flintoff in England, Murali and Jayasuriya in SL, Pollock and Donald in SA?That is some list of names to match up to, and chances are that it will take some time for the new corp to come close to that kind of superstardom and fan following.
Secondly, will the emerging/current stars – i.e. Dhoni, Sehwag, Raina, KP, Morgan (?), Clarke, AB de Villiers, Aamer et al – be able to pull in crowds and TV audiences for Test cricket? Most of the newer guys are better at ODIs/T20s than Test cricket. That, and the fact that shorter forms of the game are being played more these days means that the stars will shine brighter in the shorter formats, thereby leaving Test cricket, well, star-less.Fans of these guys will get their fix from watching T20s – there is more of it in any case, and their favourite players do well in those formats. A quickfire Dhoni 30 in an IPL game may give a Dhoni fan as much joy as a painstaking 70 in a drawn match at Lord’s. So why spend more time and energy watching the Test, might as well wait for the next T20 to come along.
Not for a moment am I suggesting that Tendulkar et al were only good at Tests – far from it. However, they all emerged as stars during an era when Test cricket was the primary form of the game. Most of them acquired their star status on the back of some terrific performances in Test cricket. That they were able to parlay their skills onto other formats of the game just added on to the lustre, and kept many of them relevant in the current era where the other formats dominate. The exact opposite is happening with the current stars – they are acquiring their star status because of their performances in T20s/ODIs – not because of Test cricket.
At a time when Test cricket needs all the help it needs, not having Test stars will severely impact that format of the game. I hope I am wrong, and Test cricket will go from strength to strength on the back of some seriously marketable stars, but it is cause for concern.