We've had twenty20 aplenty, now it's time for cricketers to face a real Test
WITH the cheap thrills and expensive salaries on offer in twenty20 cricket, Test cricket has never been in greater danger.
Poor attendances overseas, too many one-sided matches and the shortening attention spans of an increasingly shallow public have all been blamed for the falling appeal of the longer form of the game and the resulting popularity of one-dayers.
As witnessed this past week, good Test cricket remains one of the most exhilarating sports around, never more so than when played in front of a full house at the home of cricket, with an estimated 135,000 spectators filing through Lord's to watch England play South Africa.
The first Test may have ended in a draw, but no other sporting contest offers up so many different phases of play, in a venue as serene as Lord's on a midsummer's day, and in no sport except Test cricket at its best can one witness two countries battling it out for months on end, the lead changing hands several times – in each game and in the series overall – and still end up equal.
Imagine the recent Wimbledon final but spread out over several weeks, each set lasting five days, both sides playing at the height of their powers, pushing each other to their mental and physical limits, until one of them blinks. That's what happened in the 2005 Ashes and on England’s last tour of South Africa.
Only last week, Australian captain Ricky Ponting expressed his fears over the future of Test cricket, calling for a tournament-style Test world championship. "I think the logistics of it is going to be the difficult thing," he said.
There was an opening for just such a tournament – a real Test world championship – during the first half of the next English summer. The England and Wales Cricket Board, however, had other ideas over how to plug the gap left by Zimbabwe's withdrawal.
They have decided to invite Sri Lanka over for two Tests and three one-day internationals, a team they've met five times in the seven years from November 2000 to December 2007, playing 15 Tests. The Lankans are a great people who produce fantastic players, but six series in under nine years smacks of overkill.
The ECB should instead have taken the bold decision to stage an inaugural knock-out Test championship. With every country bar none free from mid-April to late May next year – save for a one-day tri-series in Sri Lanka which they’ve scrapped anyway – the timing is perfect.
My plan is for three groups of three, based on the world rankings, with the group winners and the best runner-up – determined by net average – progressing to the semi-finals, followed by a final at Lord's. If drawn, the two semis could be decided by a bowl-out and the final could be made a six-day or timeless Test.
The only problem, of course, is the Indian Premier League, which this year ran from April 18 to June 1 and lasted 45 days, with next year set to be even longer, lasting no less than fifty days from April 10 to May 29.
Indeed the 2009 IPL is threatening to derail the propsed Sri Lanka series, with contingency plans being drawn up for a shadow to be sent over should stars like Kumar Sangakkara and Murali refuse to come to England.
So we're back to square one?
Not if the boards pull rank, or if next year's IPL is cancelled. The time is there but the political will is lacking. Greedy cricketers who dance to the tune of businessmen like Sir Allen Stanford - the Texan billionaire who is staging a series of £500,000-a-man winner-takes-all contests - are in danger of killing Test cricket, the very pinnacle of the game.
It isn't too late; there's still time to tell Stanford where to stick his millions.
• For full details of my proposed Test world championship, including dates, seedings and venues, please e-mail me: email@example.com
• More pictures from day three of the first Test
• More pictures from day five of the first Test