The addition of the Hundred to cricket’s array of formats should concern players because of the adverse effect the unwieldy schedule has on one of the game’s most important aspects – player development.
For decades the best way for a player to progress from a schoolboy cricketer to an international one was along a straightforward path: play as many matches as possible at a young age, and when success is achieved at one level, it is time for promotion to a higher grade. The player either hit a ceiling that was their limit or they reached the pinnacle with the skills acquired to provide them with a decent chance of achieving success.
This productive system has been severely diluted in the prime pursuit of revenue, with little thought given to the effect on players’ skills.
In a revealing and thoughtful interview during the Trent Bridge match, the current poster boy for Test cricket, Virat Kohli, made an interesting observation. When asked about the murky future of the game’s longest form, he replied: “It depends on the quality of cricket; it’s the players who keep Test cricket alive.”
This being the case, the players should want more of a say in the future direction of the game.
Instead of devising more formats, which in turn results in an absurdly cluttered schedule, there needs to be rationalisation in order to produce a blueprint for the game’s future. A much needed forum on this subject should include a wide range of participants: players, administrators, media, sponsors, medical people and the public.
The first question should be: “How many forms of the game allow a workable schedule that provides for player and fan satisfaction, along with ample revenue?”
If it’s decided Test cricket is part of the game’s future, then a decision needs to be made on what form it takes to best fit into modern society. After all, it’s better to have a streamlined version than no Test cricket.
It’s hard for the modern player to maintain the standard Kohli is referring to when you look at the schedule. While the battle for the Pataudi Trophy is in progress, any player England might potentially call up is involved in the Hundred, the T20 Vitality Blast, or the Royal London Cup 50-over matches. Not a red-ball game in sight, and yet Test cricket, at least according to the majority of players and administrators, is the game’s pinnacle.
During a Test series in Australia, the situation isn’t much different. An Australian player has to press his claims through the Big Bash T20 tournament.
That’s two countries with a reasonably strong first-class competition. What chance do the lesser nations have when their potential Test players either have a weak first-class competition or none at all in which to hone the required skills?
It’s often said that players have improved. The comment needs clarification. If the reference is to batters being more powerful hitters, then it’s true. Are they better equipped to navigate tough spells of bowling for a long period? In most cases the answer is an emphatic no.
It’s the same when people profess that fielding has improved. There’s no doubt the number of athletic catches in the outfield has increased, and they are often spectacular in their execution. Has slip catching improved? Most definitely not. The bulk of the regularly spilt chances occur because of one simple flaw in footwork, and yet it remains uncorrected.
The skills required to excel at Test level need to be acquired at a young age and then honed in tough competition as the player rises through the grades. This can only be achieved if enough countries have a functional development system. If this is the case then Test cricket can remain vibrant, otherwise it will wither on the vine.
If those skills are properly honed, a player can adapt to any length of game – Kohli being a good example. If players truly believe Test cricket is the pinnacle then they need to agitate for a summit on the game’s future; they could do no better than appoint Kohli their spokesperson.