The Toughest Test of Test Cricket

Mushfiqur Rahim, the diminutive veteran of Bangladesh’s national team, had just hit the winning runs in a landmark Test cricket victory in New Zealand as spectators filtered into a damp and gloomy morning at SCG , readying themselves for Day 1 of yet another Ashes dead rubber in Australia.

The stark contrast between the two matches was poetic; a perfect metaphor for an international cricket system that is completely out of whack.

On the one hand, the forgotten team of Test cricket had just defeated the reigning world champions in their own backyard. This was Bangladesh’s first win in New Zealand in any format, and the Black Caps’ first home Test loss since March 2017.

Ebadot Hossain reminded everyone of the joys of Test cricket

Bangladesh, led by Ebadot Hossain, pulled off the biggest upset of all time by winning the first Test in New Zealand and reminding everyone of the joys of Test cricket.

Test Cricket

Test Cricket

On the other hand, Australia and England arrived in Sydney with the Ashes already decided, with the hosts holding a commanding and entirely predictable 3-0 lead. England has won four out of a possible 28 Test matches in Australia since the turn of the century, three of which came in the 2010/11 series. They haven’t won in 13 years. Please remind us why this is the alleged pinnacle of test cricket.

Despite the complete lack of danger or tension, in a triumph of rampant commercialism over competitive integrity, this contest is one of the few that still has the full repertoire of five Tests. And this serves as yet another unsettling reminder of where the game is heading, with power and resources concentrated in the hands of an elite cabal.

Let us begin with New Zealand, the reigning ICC Test World Champions and finalists in both the T20 and 50-over formats. On those metrics, they should be considered the heavyweights of international cricket. However, the last time they were invited to participate in a 4-Test series was in 1999, in the game’s longest format.

New Zealand has participated in 38 Tests over the past five years

Over the last five years, New Zealand has played 38 Tests, one more than Bangladesh, which has played 35. How can the leading light in red ball cricket fail to secure a series lasting more than 15 days?

What about Bangladesh? They have not competed in a series of more than two matches since 2014, and they have never competed in a three-match match against any of the so-called “big three.”

In contrast, England – a country so obsessed with the white ball that it has systematically ignored red ball cricket for the better part of a decade – has played 65 Tests since 2017, including a remarkable 19 in the plague-ravaged last two years. Despite this, they have not invited Bangladesh to the UK since 2010.

Australia, more constrained by Covid-19 than their Anglo foe, is limited to 48 Tests, but with the caveat that they appear to be given licence to choose when and who they play. Bangladesh have not toured Australia since 2003, and by the time they visit the West Indies for the Frank-Worrell trophy in 2023, it will have been seven years since the men in maroon faced off against the men in green.

At the behest of Cricket Australia, which had suddenly found its moral compass, Afghanistan was also denied a standalone Test in Hobart in 2021. What logic is there in any of this?

The inaugural World Test Championship (WTC), which runs from 2019 to 2021, was introduced to provide some structure to a schedule increasingly dominated by India, England, and Australia. The nine competing teams would theoretically play each other more frequently, competing for points in a standard league table. In reality, England, India, and Australia participated in 45 percent of all WTC matches.

Only series involving India, England and Australia generate revenue

We are well-versed in the economic forces that drive this imbalance, owing to the boards that benefit from them constantly reminding us of them. Only series involving India (or, at a stretch, England and Australia) generate revenue, giving each an outsized influence with which to dictate the schedule.

Because of this lopsided relationship, Australia felt empowered to cancel Bangladesh’s scheduled tour to Australia in 2018 for “financial reasons,” and to postpone its reciprocal tour in 2020 due to Covid-19. Meanwhile, the five-match Ashes series continues, despite Australia having the highest nationwide case rate since the pandemic began.

Pakistan and the West Indies went above and beyond to save England’s summer of 2020, with little to show for it.

While it is to India’s credit that its Test XI has toured extensively during the pandemic, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that if it were up to the BCCI, ECB, and Cricket Australia, they would play each other in an endless merry-go-round at the expense of the wider cricket fraternity.

Is that where we really want to go? To watch Broad, Anderson, Root, and Bairstow toil in yet another futile attempt at the urn, rather than the lesser-known but equally captivating Ebadot Hossain bowl Bangladesh to its sixth away win in 21 years?

Despite England’s obvious weakness, this Ashes series is being played over five Tests – England hasn’t won a Test in Australia in 11 years.

The game is stronger because of the depth and diversity of its competition

The game is stronger because of the depth and diversity of its competition, and its beauty lies in its ability to create stories that are so rich that we remember them for the rest of our lives. However, the canvas is rapidly contracting.

The suits will tell us that this is just a reaction to market forces, a need to meet consumer demand. Make no mistake, it is no coincidence that had Bangladesh not managed to pull off one of the game’s great upsets, its match against New Zealand would have gone unnoticed and unheard.

The big story for a frenzied media, fed by an inflated sense of the Ashes’ worth, was whether Chris Silverwood would still be in a job come February. Such short-term thinking – where money comes first – is endangering the health of Test cricket.

However, this is not an unstoppable and irreversible trend. What Test cricket desperately needs is care, attention, and a fraction of the marketing budget afforded to the IPL, the Hundred, or the Big Bash.

The format is self-explanatory. India and South Africa are currently on the verge of yet another nail-biting Test match. The question is whether anyone cares about defending it.

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