Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Get grassroots right and Test cricket will prosper

Test cricket isn’t in need of a refurbishment, it just needs a common sense approach to developing and marketing. Cricket administrators are missing the point: most international cricketers still see Test cricket as the ultimate form of the game.

Just ask Adrian Barath, who scored a debut century against Australia in the first test, and said afterwards that growing up, all he wanted to do was play test cricket.

From this we can see that player motivation is not the problem. It comes back to the organizers of the game.

They have become so focused on developing new cricketing nations, in particular China, and shorter forms of the game, that they have forgotten to develop the game in areas such as the West Indies – nations that are established but have fallen behind in the game in recent times.

It wasn’t that long ago that the West Indies were a powerhouse in the sport, with the likes of Ambrose, Walsh, Lara, Richardson and Richards. Now they hardly provide a challenge to the quality nations and interest levels in the region are at record lows, with the recent Test not making it onto live radio in the Caribbean.

If all other cricket administrators around the around take the same view of James Sutherland, CEO of Cricket Australia, who recently declared that the troubles being seen in particular in the West Indies are not of Australian concern, then maybe we do have a bigger problem than anyone thought.

Every cricketing nation needs to take responsibility for cricket as a whole and the way it is promoted and developed around the globe.

Instead of talking about removing some nations, including the West Indies, which has been suggested, we should be looking at ways to improve the standard throughout the world.

This includes the sub-continent, or more specifically, India, with their new-found power in the game, which appears to be only interested in generating more income by any means and at any cost.

India has no Test cricket on their calendar for 2010, preferring to focus on the shorter forms of the game.

Some people, including former Australian Test spinner Shane Warne, have called for a relegation system in Test cricket whereby the ten Test playing nations (including Zimbabwe) would be divided into two groups.

The argument does have some merit in that it could provide more competitive cricket on a regular basis, as well as making teams play for the win.

But let’s think about it from a development prospective.

There would certainly be a lack of interest from nations playing in the lower division and this would lead to a lack of development in the game in these nations due to the possibility of lower sponsorship and investment into the game.

Imagine if Australia and England were to be separated by this system. No Ashes series on a regular basis!

With all the problems being seen in Test cricket, political situations are not helping in the development of the game. Unrest in Zimbabwe has seen them lose their Test playing rights, whilst Pakistan have had to resort to playing series outside of Pakistan, including the current series against New Zealand.

The ICC, along with national cricket boards, cannot control any political happenings in countries, but need to look in their own backyard and start to work to make Test cricket an attractive sport again.

This begins with grassroots development and effective marketing.

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