For any cricket fanatic, Test matches are the ultimate and most satisfying form of cricket. The thrill of an evenly poised five-match test series can never be matched by the popcorn entertainment provided by a T20, which sooner or later becomes a bowler bashing contest.
Thus, for a hopeless Cricket romantic, Test cricket remains the holy grail of the sport, one in which every aspect of the game is tested – through and through. That Test cricket makes for a riveting and an even contest between a batsman and a bowler, means only elite teams, those who can sustain the pressure for complete five days, get a chance to compete in this format of the game.
The ICC makes it a point to vet the performance of a particular team so that they can prove themselves in the longest set-up of the game. Any aspiring test team needs to have a definite domestic competition to churn out good, quality players apart from a regular playing squad. And this begs us to question what criteria needs to be fulfilled by a team in order to get a test status by the ICC.
The current system put in place by the ICC is quite comprehensive. Apart from some basic formalities like a competitive domestic competition and infrastructure capabilities to host five-day matches; in order to qualify for playing in test matches, an associate nation team needs to compete in an ICC Test Challenge.
The current structure of the tournament is this – An associate nation needs to compete and win the Intercontinental Cup, which is a two-year first class competition for associate nations. The associate nation which wins the ICC Intercontinental Cup gets a chance to compete with the lowest ranked test team once every four years in the ICC Test Challenge.
Since the system was put in place recently, the inaugural ICC Test Challenge will take place in 2018 as the current edition of Intercontinental Cup ends in 2017. The format of the ICC Test Challenge is quite fair as the two teams, lowest ranked test team and the winner of the ICC Intercontinental cup, compete in two five-day games at home and two five-day games away.
The Test challenge is unique in a way because it is not meant to relegate the existing full-member test teams and thus acts as a forward-looking inclusive-tournament for the game which has had just 10 test playing nations in 140 years of cricket.
This format not only gives significance to the Intercontinental Cup but also provides equal opportunity to all the associate nations for playing in the longest form of the game. Now, some of the better performing associates like Ireland, which has won four Intercontinental trophies since its inception in 2004, have a real shot at Test cricket.
The previous criterion to award teams test status was questionable
Although the criterion now is well defined and comprehensive, it wasn’t always the case. Earlier the conditional rule for playing in the test matches was to defeat five regular test playing nations. Once a team achieved that feat it would then be in the hands of an internal ICC committee which would take the call as to whether the team deserved the full-member status or not.
Not only was the earlier system shabby and translucent, the factors taken into account by the ICC internal committee remained ambiguous and, therefore, led to a haphazard process of granting test status. The case in point is the Bangladesh test team.
Bangladesh was awarded test status in June 2000 because of the international pressure in an obscene rush after their victory against Pakistan in the World Cup in 1999. They neither had the required bench-strength at the time nor any significant experience of touring outside Asia to deserve that status. And the results as of August 2015 speak for themselves; of the 93 test matches played by Bangladesh, they have lost 71 and won just 7, which accounts to a win percentage of just 9.8%.
This, however, is not without any precedent. India, for instance, gained the test status in 1932 and remained a punching bag for bigger teams for almost 50 years thereafter. India won 35 tests out of 196 with a winning percentage of just 17.85. And Bangladesh, in essence, is following that trail, more or less.
While it remains to be seen whether Ireland or for that matter Afghanistan can be consistent enough for the next three years, the current ICC policy of granting test status to associate nations is a step in the right direction. The ball in now in associate nations’ court and they will need to maintain a churn rate of international cricketers higher than that of the lowest ranked test teams in order to go in through the elite test door.
Whether they stay relevant or get lost in an obscurity of their own administrative maze is yet to be seen as it is just a matter of strong will to make it to the longest format of the game.Published 20 Jan 2016, 00:02 IST