The Neil Drysdale Column
Time for ICC to revamp Test cricket?
International cricket stands at the crossroads of either subsiding sleepily down a cul-de-sac of apathy and absent spectators or of the sportís administrators finally waking up to the fact that they are presiding over a global game.The Neil Drysdale Column: Previous Articles
That much has been evident for those of us who have spent much of the winter surveying test action from Australia and South Africa, where even the heroics of such gnarled warriors as Ricky Ponting, Mike Hussey and Jacques Kallis has not sufficed to paper over the yawning gaps in grounds where fans have grown bored with the status quo of the five-day international format.
As to what can be done to transform the situation, last weekendís clash between England and a combined ICC Associate/Affiliate ensemble in Dubai might just have provided a template for future development. The underdogs, despite collapsing at the start of both innings, ran their highly-vaunted opponents close, and although Andrew Straussí men eventually won by three wickets, the emerging countries could derive considerable consolation from the performances of players such as Christi Viljoen, who top-scored in the match with 98, Afghanistanís batting star, Mohammed Shahzad, Irelandís impressive paceman, Boyd Rankin, and the Scottish all-rounder, Majid Haq, who propped up his side with valuable runs and also dismissed Strauss in Englandís victory chase.
The whole exercise surely raised the question of whether this type of composite Associate line-up might not be a better way to advance in the future rather than the likes of Ireland and Scotland contemplating the pursuit of Test recognition on an individual basis. Irrespective of the heroics of Kevin OíBrien and his colleagues in past World Cups, it seems to me there is a massive difference between encouraging new nations to succeed on the ODI stage and the Test circuit and yet it can hardly be denied that the ICC must work to increase the number of Test-playing representatives from the present small group of 10. This includes such underwhelming members as Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, the West Indies and might even stretch to the new Sri Lankan line-up in their post-Murali incarnation, on the evidence of their being skittled for 43 by South Africa.
To that end, what about the governing body advocating the creation of an Associate Europe and Associate Africa and Asia as their 11th and 12th teams? The former would be filled by elite participants from Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands and Denmark and could be extended to offer the best Affiliate talent a platform. The latter would be a vehicle for such countries as Afghanistan, the UAE, Kenya and Namibia to grace the longer version of the sport and the Afghanis have already shown they would provide the bulk of the team, whilst this plan would hopefully offer a shot in the arm to the Kenyans, who have plummeted from World Cup heroes to zeroes in less than a decade.
Some might argue that this proposal would prevent an Ireland or Scotland from going it alone. But, letís be honest, the positives far outweigh the negatives. As things stand, the Associates are constantly losing their elite personnel to the likes of England and Australia, as in the case of Ed Joyce, Eoin Morgan and Dirk Nannes. Would this still happen if there was a genuine pathway, by which the best individuals could progress from the Scottish, Irish or Dutch ranks into a fully-fledged Test line-up, which would begin life as part of the second division of a newly-devised World Championship, alongside the aforementioned strugglers such as Zimbabwe and Bangladesh?
And, for those who counter that Europe isnít a country, well these amalgamations have worked in other sports, such as when the Pacific Islanders have come together in rugby. And letís not forget that the West Indies is a collection of separate islands, who have pulled together for the greater good, often through gritted teeth.
On current form, an Associate Europe team might look something like this: William Porterfield (capt), Kyle Coetzer, Alexei Kervezee, Tom Cooper, Ed Joyce, Ryan ten Doeschate, Niall OíBrien (wkt-kpr), Peter Borren, Majid Haq, Boyd Rankin and Gordon Goudie. And, personally, I would back that contingent to offer stern opposition to any of the second-tier Test members. So itís over to you, ICC? What do you think?