Why two-tier Test cricket is a bad idea
Recently, there has been a lot of chatter about introducing two divisions in the ranks of countries playing Test Cricket. In other words, the 1st Tier would consist of the top 7 ranked counries in Test Cricket, and the 2nd Tier would consist of the bottom 5.
Matches would be played only between countries within their own division. Obviously, there would be opportunities for countries to move between tiers based on performance and rankings. According to Dave Richardson, the chief executive of the ICC, tiered cricket would provide “more context, and better value to the fans”.
With all due respect, Mr. Richardson, you are wrong!
Others have made the argument that it will pit the best teams against one another (in the top tier), punish stragglers, encourage performers, and pushes the Boards of lower tier teams to put in processes that will improve their game.
If you ask me, however, it is a bunch of rubbish – for the simple reason that the problem besetting Test cricket is not because the matches are not competitive. Test cricket has issues that are bigger than simply saying that people are bored whenever India plays Zimbabwe. But we’ll get to that in another piece.
So what happens if we divide Test cricket into two tiers? For one, the crowds in the 2nd tier teams will be bored of watching the same old ‘losers’ again and again. Do you think “Scotland vs Netherlands” has the same ring, as let’s say “Scotland vs Pakistan”?
Money follows crowds, and hence sponsorships will dwindle too along with popularity. Teams that are trying to break into the big league always need a little motivation to up their level of play, and that motivation is always provided by the opportunity to beat a top-level team.
Every team playing Test cricket today, started out from rock bottom. So it’s not like it’s a brand new concept. Multiple tiers or divisions make sense when there are tons of teams involved, like in Football. Cricket is not there yet, especially 5-day Test cricket.
How to fix the lack of competitive Cricket when weaker teams are involved
Dave Richardson claims it is impossible for a team like India to play Tests against every team out there. This is both right and wrong. The bigger reason why India cannot play more Test cricket is because they are busy playing a whole lot of T20 cricket throughout the year (which is much more lucrative), and cricket fatigue sets in after a while. So poor Test cricket gets sidelined.
So how do we fix the “lack of competitive cricket” when weaker teams are involved? First of all, team strength constantly keeps changing even for the same country. It’s not like the Ashes consistently provides high-quality cricket. There are/were plenty of series where a supposedly top-tier team played dismally.
Sri Lanka, which was a laughing stock in the mid-80s, quickly became World Cup winners in just 10 years. So for people to moan and groan whenever a team like Ireland, let’s say, takes on Australia, is just them being selfishly stirring the pot, and not thinking about the bigger picture.
It may be boring now, but in the long term, Ireland may become a big cricket superpower in no time at all, and might be Australia get relegated to the 2nd tier.
Shamya Dasgupta says – “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, they say. But why wait for things to reach breaking point?”
My response to that is – No, Test cricket is not broken. It just has to change with the times. So there is no need to unnecessarily complicate things. There are other tweaks that make much sense (Day-night Test cricket, for example).
Bottom line: If two-tier Test cricket becomes a reality, then the weaker tier quickly becomes 2nd class citizens of the cricket world, which is a bad news for the future of Test cricket. Sure, there are opportunities to bounce up and down. But can you imagine how hilarious it would be if India goes through a bad patch and ends up in the 2nd tier, and all of the sponsorship money moves there?
Think about that for a while.
Two-tier Test cricket is simply a “solution” that is looking for a problem that does not exist.