Cricket for Americans: 7 Feb. 2019: Recessive

Now, I am no economist, but I do believe that the best way to make a recession happen is for “experts” to talk about how they are worried one might be on the horizon. People hear that, they get worried, they stop buying, and boom: recession.

Which is why I take umbrage with ICC Chairman Shashank Manohar’s comments today, as reported by Cricinfo: “… Test cricket is actually dying to be honest.” The best way to kill Test cricket, is to say it’s dying, over and over again.

But it’s almost more than that.

Manohar made the comments in relation to the World Test Championship, due to start (finally) after this summer’s World Cup, and how it might just be the shot in the arm Test cricket needs. He went on to back up his statement using television ratings and the like.

Fine. I get it. T20 does get better ratings, but not for the reasons that Manohar thinks. His reasoning is that people don’t have the time these days to tune into a five day match. Bullshit. They never did. And while the ratings might be down for Test cricket, people are still watching golf tournaments, which are more or less four day matches.

No, Test cricket’s ratings are down because the ICC and national boards invented a format in their own game that actively competes with it. Will people choose a three hour match over a five day one? Maybe, if you shove it down their throats. Which is more or less what they are doing, as domestic T20 leagues run rampant across the globe and boards actively neglect to develop batsmen who can succeed in the game’s longer formats. This, in turn, has decreased the quality and competitiveness of the matches.

What other sport would do that? Imagine the NFL or the MLB creating flashier formats that would compete with their legacy products in a market they have fully cornered?

Only cricket.

And so, yeah, Test cricket is in trouble, but it’s the ICC that put it there, purposefully, in their relentless pursuit of profit, profit, profit. And it’s things like ECB “hundred” that are only going to make the situation worse. The World Test Championship feels like a grasping at straws, not an actual solution. If it fails, and it could fail, then the ICC could be, like, “well, we tried, shrug” and they are off the hook.

It almost feels like it’s too late now. The World Test Championship is closing the barn door after the horse has run.

And here’s the thing: cricket fans like Test cricket. They will watch it, but only if the matches are worth watching. It’s not the format that’s the problem, nor is it the lack of a tournament, it’s the fact that Test cricket — despite putting up a couple classics now and again — has been slowly degrading in quality. The home team mops the floor with a visiting team, repeat ad nauseam. Changing who plays what and where isn’t going to fix that, it’s about making an actual investment in the players who play the matches, it’s about honing great Test bowlers and batsmen, not side-circus show ponies who can hit sixes, it’s about not creating new formats that actively compete with the first class game. And on and on and on.

Test cricket doesn’t need a shot in the arm, it needs the poison killing cut off at its source.

And that source is cricket’s governing bodies. They are letting the game eat itself alive. It’s insane when you think about it.

First step? Stop telling the world that Test cricket is dying.

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