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

As the Test season begins again, the two oldest teams in the format are promoting the game in entirely different ways.

In Perth, the Australian side indulged in the age-old practice of crushing the opposition with relentless runs. Meanwhile, in Rawalpindi, England sprinted to a mind-blowing 506 on the first day of a record-breaking race.

This variety of effort has come at a time when Test cricket – beleaguered by the popular T20 craze – needs all the help it can muster. The fact that England’s record score in the first day’s test surpassed the precedent set by Australia in 1910 should dampen the enthusiasm of those who think running is a recent phenomenon.

As England captain, Ben Stokes did a lot to not only dramatically improve his team’s performance but also to raise the profile of Test cricket. Stokes has ruled England players batting free, but he also has fans anticipating something resembling a T20 run rate in the five-day format. This massive shift in approach came at a time when Test cricket, like the 50-over game, is suffering at the hands of the junior format. 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 officials: how many teams should play the tests? And why aren’t administrators working with players in a partnership to secure the future of the game?

Test cricket is a tough but rewarding game and players deserve the opportunity to participate in the format if they so choose. However, the tests are also embedded in the culture and this requires that the countries involved have a solid first-class infrastructure. Few teams have or can afford to build such an infrastructure, as it costs money rather than bringing return on investment. T20 leagues, which produce a healthy return, are much more palatable to administrators.

Therefore, it makes no sense to reward Afghanistan and Ireland, two recent recipients of test status, neither of which has the grounds or the infrastructure to reasonably expect that status. Unfortunately, Testing status is best confined to the eight nations that have a long-standing culture of the format.

If there is still a desire to expand the scope of Test cricket, consideration could be given to possibly including combined teams made up of interested players who represent non-Test status teams.

Teams must still meet infrastructure and financial requirements to qualify for testing status. This would require a second-tier competition, where teams that perform well could present their case for qualification to Test status.

The whole structure of cricket, especially the calendar, needs a thorough but positive investigation with the future of the game in sight.

There is also the glaring problem of the lack of partnership between players and administrators. It certainly shouldn’t be – as it is now – a matter of the administrators deciding on the program without any input from international players. If the international program evolved as a result of consideration of such a partnership, then it would be far more acceptable than the abomination that is the current schedule. T20 leagues appear faster than weeds in the summer and an already implausible schedule is heading for an almighty implosion.

T20 leagues now compete and star players sign longer-term contracts with expanding IPL clubs. These contradictions mean that there will be a growing problem of how to produce a greater number of marketable cricketers. In the current environment, some leagues will not be able to sign the limited number of star players available, which could potentially affect the ability to remain financially viable.

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

It’s great that Stokes and the England team have raised the Test match bar at a time when the game needs major promotion. However, alongside their considerable efforts, we also need the strong contribution of a quality partnership between players and administrators.

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