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Ian Chappell – It’s time to restrict Test cricket to the countries with the infrastructure for it

With the testing season kicking off again, the format’s two longest-serving teams are promoting the game in completely different ways.

In Perth, the Australian team indulged in the time-consuming habit of knocking the opponent down with ruthless scoring. Meanwhile, at Rawalpindi, England sprinted to a stunning 506 on the first day of a record-breaking run.

This variety of effort came at a time when Test cricket – besieged by popular infatuation with T20 – needs all the help it can muster. The fact that England’s record score on the first day surpassed Australia’s previous test score in 1910 should dampen the enthusiasm of those who think helter-skelter run-geting is a recent phenomenon.

As England captain, Ben Stokes has done much to not only significantly improve his team’s performance, but also raise the profile of Test cricket. Stokes has decreed England players bat freely, but he also has fans expecting something akin to a T20 run rate in the five-day format. This huge change of approach came at a time when Test cricket, like the 50-over game, is suffering among the juniors. Despite Stokes’ highly commendable approach, the game still requires answers to some tough questions.

There are two big questions that seem to be overlooked by those in charge: how many teams should play tests? And why don’t administrators work with the players to secure the future of the game?

Test cricket is a difficult but rewarding game and players deserve the chance to take part in the format if that is their choice. However, testing is also steeped in culture and that requires the countries involved to have a strong first-class infrastructure. Not many teams have or can afford to build such an infrastructure because it costs money rather than providing a return on investment. T20 leagues, which provide healthy returns, are much more acceptable to managers.

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Consequently, there is no point in rewarding Afghanistan and Ireland, two recent recipients of Test status, neither of which have the grounds or infrastructure to reasonably expect that status. Unfortunately, testing status is best limited to the eight countries that have long had a culture of the stature.

If there is still a desire to spread Test cricket’s reach, eventually incorporating combination teams composed of interested players representing non-Test status teams could be considered.

Teams must still meet infrastructure and financial requirements to qualify for test status. This would require a second tier competition where teams that perform well can make their case for qualification for Test status.

The entire cricket structure, especially the schedule, needs a thorough but positive inquisition with an eye to the future of the game.

There is also the glaring issue of the lack of partnership between players and managers. Surely it should not – as it is now – be a matter of the administrators determining the program without any input from international players. If the international program were to evolve as a result of considering such a partnership, it would be far more palatable than the abomination that is the current scheme. T20 leagues are sprouting faster than summer weeds and an already unlikely program is about to suffer an almighty implosion.

T20 leagues are now clashing and star players are signing long-term contracts with growing IPL clubs. These contradictions mean that there will be a growing problem of how to produce larger numbers of marketable cricketers. In the current environment, some leagues will not be able to sign the limited number of star players available and this could ultimately damage the ability to remain financially viable.

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These are all issues that need urgent attention, but the most important is to ensure that the players have a voice in the future of the game.

It’s great that Stokes and the England team have raised the bar for a test match at a time when the game requires extensive promotion. However, in addition to their excellent efforts, we also need the strong input of a quality partnership between the players and managers.

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