Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Freddie and the death of test cricket

Freddie Flintoff is gone. Thats a drag, because Flintoff was a good one to watch in test cricket. Enough has been written about his decline, his lack of performances since the 2005 Ashes, and the possibility that England will, in fact, do better without him in the Ashes. I want to just concentrate on the fact that Flintoff has retired from test cricket alone, and in fact, seems himself as becoming a top one-day or T20 cricketer in the next spell of his career. Significantly, he does not see himself playing county cricket either. The obvious worry, as noted by many other folks, is that this sort of retirement bears an uncanny resemblance to other decisions made by international cricketers who feel their bodies cannot keep up with a grinding international season that includes test cricket. These days, really, its hard to read any cricket news without coming away with the sinking feeling that it has serious consequences for test cricket.

What, if anything, could be done about this? Will less international cricket be scheduled? Fat chance. Will cricketers opt for the glory of the record books as opposed to the money of T20 (and the shorter playing hours)? Fat chance. Will a new generation of cricket fans vote with their feet and pay attention to test cricket? Fat chance. Will the power players in cricket set up a schedule that pays equal respect to test cricket, ODIs, T20s? Fat chance. Will the ICC pay attention to test pitches worldwide? You know the answer by now. Things aren't looking good, are they?

I suspect test cricket will end the way it started: with England and Australia playing a one-off test, either at Lords or Melbourne. Then we will have a little ceremony, where the "Ashes of Cricket" will be consigned to the Thames or the Yarra, and everyone can then turn around, walk back home, switch on the television and watch the night's T20 game. The poor attendance at the funeral will confirm what everyone knows even know, but is reluctant to admit: test cricket is dead.

Test cricket will have had a nice life of more than a 100 years. It'll have inspired a lot of literature, great cricket, intense fandom, and some of the most bemused expressions of astonishment by non-fans. But it couldn't get people to keep loving it enough to keep it alive. And in this world, its not enough to be lovable (just ask those lovely gazelles that keep getting chewed up by hungry lionesses on the savannah). You've got to have a Don Corleone looking out for you. No one has test cricket's back, and so, in this wilderness, its going to get brought down pretty hard.

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Blogger David Mutton said...

Samir, test cricket is doing ok (if not prospering) in England and Australia, in terms of audience numbers at least. I would love to hear your thoughts on why stadia are now deserted everywhere else in the world (except perhaps the Carribean)? From what I can understand it has been that way since around the start of the 90's. Is it just some societal shift in favour of shorter games? As for Freddie, it is seems that he and Symonds are the start of the trend towards players selling themselves around the international T20 leagues to the highest biddders.

9:50 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Too much attention is paid to the number of folks watching a Test match. Ticket sales contribute only a small fraction of the total money made by the Boards during the game. TV revenue from ads are worth many times more.

Here's my suggestion: Forget about charging admission for the spectators. Let the TV revenue be used such that every host automatically gets the money as if there were a full house. The hosts could be permitted to sell tickets for box seats, or the more hoity-toity higher-end luxury boxes but the general public can get in on a first come-first served basis for the rest of the stadium for free.

Test cricket is 5 days long. The crowds will come back if it is free (make money on food and beverage sales instead, stadia folks!), and TV honchos get five full days of revenue as opposed to trying to cram it into a 3 hour window during a T20 match.

No more "strategic breaks" required to compensate for revenue loss.

Also, think of how many former cricketers will be out of a job if they did not have the lunch, tea and close-of-play "discussion" panels to sit on.

10:54 AM  
Anonymous Krish said...

Geez, Sameer. You are a bit too pessimistic. For every Flintoff (a.k.a "experienced cricketer"), there will be many others who want to play for their country. Those who retire like this only provide opportunities for others to fill the gap.

11:42 AM  
Blogger Samir Chopra said...

David: There are big television audiences in India for test cricket but they are still smaller than those for ODIs etc. Most of the new fans in India are ODI fans. I suspect the same dynamic holds in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka etc. England and Australia have done a great deal to keep test cricket popular by treating the Ashes as prime property - five tests at a minimum, regular scheduling, not too much of it, and so on. These actions have had some effect in keeping folks interested in test cricket. India could have done the same with Pakistan or Australia but for various reasons it has not happened. What I wouldn't give to see a five-test series between India and Australia played at the major metropolitan grounds. But it won't happen - the BCCI will never think of it. And they can't because they don't care about test cricket.

JQ: All good ideas. I even wrote a post on Different Strokes suggesting the free admission. But it won't happen. When it comes to test cricket there is a total failure of the imagination, because, lets face it, no one cares that much about it, save for a few fans.

Krish: Au contraire. If I could evidence of a single action on the part of boards to preserve test cricket I would change my tune. But most worryingly, the most powerful man in world cricket, Lalit Modi doesn't give a damn. To address your main point, the next generation of cricketers would also rather play ODIs and T20s so I don't see any hope in that regard.

Cricket is bent upon making itself irrelevant. We had a unique product but in the race to keep up with the Joneses it will simply format itself out of existence.

11:53 AM  
Blogger David Mutton said...

Samir, one possible flaw in your argument is that England and Australia get pretty decent crowds for most test matches rather than just the Ashes games, although they are perceived of as the biggest contest.

As I have said before, ditch ODIs and play fewer but more intense games of test cricket. The strange situation we are in now (and I aint the first to notice this) is that players like Flintoff are making their name in test match cricket before jumping ship.

3:42 PM  
Blogger Samir Chopra said...


That is true; but what I mean by the role of the Ashes is that they frame test cricket in a positive light. The other series benefit as a result because they are perceived as being part of the same high quality product.

I agree about the business of ODIs and test cricket programming. Play test cricket as a marquee event; play T20s in bilateral settings and prestigious tournaments. My pessimism is based on my perception of a lack of imagination (and a certain amount of greed) on the part of administrators worldwide.

10:05 PM  
Blogger Gaurav Sethi said...

Cracker of a write Samir.

Speak later, off to watch some test cricket.

Jaunty, that was some comment.

3:22 AM  

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