The end of Test cricket debate resurfaces as AB unsure of his Test future
De Villiers' comments on uncertainty has only thrown light on something that had always existed, but never taken seriously.
All the glory that surrounded Test cricket has been waning over the past few years, with lesser and lesser people turning up to watch matches, and players, at the same time, also opting for various other avenues to earn money rather than play Test cricket for their country. At first glance, we are all convinced that Test cricket is in rude health.
A format of the game, which garnered support from both, the young and the old, has been pushed to the sidelines with both players and spectators being interested in the shorter formats of the game only.
The West Indians in trouble against Australia is a very apt example, as, when the national team faced some of their most humiliating losses in the past few years, the cream of the Caribbean was involved in the Big Bash, which throws up big bucks to players.
De Villiers’ comments
Then, the recent comments from newly appointed South African Test captain AB de Villiers, where he committed himself to no more than the upcoming two games of the Test series against England, shows that the money on offer in T20 leagues is ruling the roost and the money on offer from international cricket is not enough to quench the players’ thirst.
The stark difference between the money stoked up by the two cannot be denied and Test cricket, as a business, is a sick, old man, which will die anytime soon.
What else can you infer from the South African captain's pre-match comments wherein he said that he is not sure if he will continue to be the Test captain beyond the next two Tests and wants a break?
"There have been a few rumors floating around, and in most rumors there is always a little bit of truth," he said during the pre-match press conference. "It's not just in the last while; it's for two or three years I've been searching for the right answers, to play a little bit less cricket in one way or another, to keep myself fresh and to keep enjoying the game.
“Every now and then in the past few years I've found myself on the pitch not enjoying myself as much as I should be, and that raises concerns within myself. I've been searching for answers and speaking to people and obviously that's leaked a bit."
At a time when people might have expected him to celebrate his promotion to captaincy, he instead admitted that he will have to consider his future priorities given the demands of international cricket and his earning potential elsewhere.
"I'm still very committed, to the job I'm not sure - obviously the two Test matches, for now, are all I'm focusing on and then there's a nice big break of six months before we play Test cricket again.
“Lots of things can happen before then so I don't want to commit myself too much to everything before that. But for now, I'm as committed as I can be and very, very hungry to make a success of the next two Test matches," de Villiers had added further.
AB cannot be blamed if he does walk away, however uncomfortable may that thought seem, but once you take players like him and Dale Steyn out of the equation, the entire spectacle of Test cricket is diminished. Test cricket is meant to be the zenith of cricket, not any other format.
ICC Big Three to blame for downfall
The downfall of Test cricket can be blamed on the Big Three of the ICC, who handle the cricketing affairs. They have split up profits amongst themselves, which saw other boards not getting enough money to pay their players and match the payments which players get from the various domestic leagues.
Countries like West Indies and Zimbabwe that used to be prominent forces in cricketing fraternity once stare down the barrel as all their players participate in leagues which pay over ten times the salary paid by the national board.
So, De Villiers’ decision isn’t flawed if he wants to provide his family with the best, and he can get the best if he is offered big money.
For example, De Villiers is contracted to Royal Challengers Bangalore until the end of 2017 on a deal worth Rs 9.5 crore (US$1.5 million) which stands at a hefty sum of 23.45 million rand in South African currency, which is at least ten times more than his national contract which is believed to be between 2 and 3 million rand.
A short-sighted ploy to keep all the money to themselves and promote big leagues has come back to bite the big three. South Africa, West Indies, and Sri Lanka, who have been unable to pay their players anywhere near the market rates, have lost their finest players.
Youngsters growing up in India nowadays dream not of representing their country, but clubs like Mumbai Indians or Kolkata Knight Riders. As the standards of Test cricket fall like the one-sided and facile series between Australia and West Indies, we have the beginning of the end.
Investment in other Test playing nations can help improve the game
If the ICC or, at least, the powerful trio key to running it had, instead of rewarding their own boards for the money they earned, the foresight to invest in the nations who needed the financial help, this situation could have been avoided.
If Cricket South Africa (CSA) were helped to compensate for the weak rand and the competing demands of T20 leagues, they might have been able to retain the likes of De Villiers and Steyn far more easily. And had the ICC nurtured non-Test nations and dared to contemplate promotion and relegation in Test cricket, they could have developed a growing, global market.
Regrettably, narrow-mindedness and egotism prevailed. Even if Test cricket doesn’t die in the next few years, it is likely to wither in an unprecedented manner.
Alastair Cook, the England Test captain has been reluctant to be drawn on Test cricket's bigger issues, but he did gently nudge the administrators into action. He also gave his support to day-night Test cricket - England will almost certainly play their first day-night Test on the next Ashes tour - and a redrawn Future Tours Programme.
"The people who run the game have to know the responsibility on their shoulders and push it forward the best way they can," he said. "I don't think Test cricket is going to die, but there are certainly elements of it you can improve. Day-night cricket looked a good success. I'm not sure it will work in England, but it can work.”
For example Jos Buttler, if he enjoys a successful IPL, he will start to earn sums, which could never be replicated by international cricket. While there is no reason he wouldn't continue to play white-ball cricket for England, he could also be forgiven if he considers the challenge of red-ball cricket an unnecessary obstacle to reaching greater heights as a T20 specialist.
And couldn't Ben Stokes, be forgiven for seeing that happen and wonder if his own future would not be better served as a T20 pro?
It is not said that either will pick that route- both are committed to Tests- but until the governing bodies can ensure that international cricket pays more than domestic cricket or, at least, the two can co-exist, the talent drain on Test cricket will continue.
The shame of all this is that the format remains as entertaining as ever on a given day. To see Stokes or Temba Bavuma bat in Cape Town was to see sport at its best: brilliant and instilled with meaning beyond finance. This series, played between two fine sides, should be an advert for the game.