Why Afghanistan could be the last new-entrants to Test cricket
It was 2000 when Test cricket gave birth to another baby. Bangladesh arrived on the Test arena becoming the 9th team to play the longest format of the game after starting their red-ball journey against India at Dhaka. Thereafter, we spent a lot of time wondering when we will have another addition to this format.
The long wait finally came to an end on June 22, 2017, when the ICC awarded Afghanistan and Ireland Test status. Ireland were chalked in to play their first Test against Pakistan at Malahide in May 2018 while Afghanistan's maiden test was scheduled a month later against India at Bangalore.
Performance of Ireland and Afghanistan at the Intercontinental Cup
Ireland have always been a powerhouse in the Intercontinental Cup (ICC's 4-day first-class cricket tournament of the Associates) holding 4 titles to date, most by any team. Afghanistan made a late entry into the tournament but have taken giant strides. Playing their first Inter-continental Cup in 2009-10, Afghanistan have made it to the final in every single of the 3 editions that they have played. They hold two championship titles (2009-10 and 2015-17) and have ended up as Runners-up in 2011-13.
However, considering the ceasing popularity of Test cricket, there is a chance that we may not see another team playing the red-ball game. A lot of factors including the shifting focus to the shorter versions of the game, unwillingness of the players to commit themselves to first-class cricket, growth in the number of 'freelance T20 cricketers' across the globe and reluctance of certain cricket boards to host some countries for test matches because of the lack commercial feasibility play a part. We will take a brief look at each one of these factors in this article.
Advent of formats shorter than T20
Test cricket is dying a slow death. With the advent of formats which are shorter than T20s like T-10 tournament, there will come a time when T20 will start to look like a longer format. The patience level of crowds have dropped drastically over the years and now all they want is a 'crash-bang' result every ball. The emergence of formats like T-10 and the 100-ball tournament of the ECB which was in the news recently will encourage more nations to adopt the same approach which will give another reason to discard Test cricket.
Commitment of players only to T20
Secondly, the increasing number of cricketers wanting to commit themselves only to T20 format is a matter of serious concern. Several noted cricketers like Adil Rashid, Colin Munro have opted to not sign the first-class contract for their state sides to focus on the abbreviated forms of the games. Last year, Mitchell McClenaghan refused to sign NZC contract to play T20 leagues all over the globe. This does not set a good example for 21 and 22 year-olds and very soon these young lads would lure to follow the footsteps of these senior pros and give up on the longest format.
Commercial feasibility issues
Further, the cash crunch issue is doing no good either. Cricket Australia recently refused to host Bangladesh because of lack of 'commercial viability' and the ongoing West Indies vs Sri Lanka Test series which is being played mostly in front of empty stands is happening because of financial aid from the ICC. All this will only discourage nations to host Test matches and play smaller teams, thereby hindering their progress because of lack of exposure.
Lack of progress on the part of other countries
Also, at the moment, there is a wide gap between Afghanistan/Ireland and the other teams playing the Intercontinental Cup. In the 2015-17 edition of the tournament, the first two spots on the points table were secured by Ireland and Afghanistan with 121 and 109 points respectively and the third (Netherlands), fourth (Hong Kong) and fifth (UAE) teams were sitting on 72, 59 and 47 points respectively which clearly shows that the gulf is too vast at the moment. These teams will have to take giant strides rapidly before test cricket becomes obsolete if we are to see another nation in the white clothing in international cricket.
All in all, it looks unlikely that we will see another new entrant to the test cricket anytime soon, maybe even never! It is time for cricket fans to start looking at things differently, for test cricket is too beautiful format to lose out on many new emerging nations.