x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Future for cricket Tests and one-dayers not looking too bright

India was just awarded the 2021 Test Championship and 2023 World Cup but the popularity of the Twenty20 game may drown them out.

Despite rain interruptions, a packed crowd watched the Champions Trophy final last month. Andrew Yates / AFP
Despite rain interruptions, a packed crowd watched the Champions Trophy final last month. Andrew Yates / AFP

Among the several outcomes of the International Cricket Council's meetings in London at the end of June was the allotment of the 2021 Test Championship and the 2023 World Cup to India. For now, that news will likely please the sponsors. But the reality is that we really do not know if any sort of market will exist for either tournament a decade down the line.

The Test Championship was originally planned for 2013 and then postponed by four years to allow one last staging of the Champions Trophy, won by India last month. We still do not know what shape or form it will take.

Apart from England, Australia and India, the other nations are playing less and less Test cricket. The ICC has recommended a minimum of 16 Tests per team in every four-year cycle, but whether that will be complied with is anyone's guess.

With the schedule so skewed in favour of three teams, it will take some very gifted mathematicians to come up with a qualifying formula that is fair to all. Even if they do, the idea of playing the final stages in England and Wales may not be to everyone's liking.

Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that all three of Asia's established sides – India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – manage to qualify. Playing off for the title in what might be a wet and cold June in England places them at a considerable disadvantage. And while they look a formidable side for the moment, let us also suppose that England's fortunes decline before 2016, or whenever the qualifying cut-off date is. Will anyone bother turning up to watch these matches?

The 2023 World Cup will have to deal with a very different challenge. By the time it is played, Virat Kohli, the best of India's new generation of batsmen, will be nearly 35. Kohli's age group is the last of its kind, which grew up loving a game played over five days or 50 overs a side.

By 2023, the Indian Premier League generation, which was introduced to the game via Twenty20, will be knocking on the door. Will 50-over cricket matter to them, or will it be the unwanted middle child squeezed out as T20 competitions continue to mushroom around the world?

India's Champions Trophy success may have been celebrated, both in the stands at Edgbaston and by millions back home, but there is little doubt that the appetite for one-day cricket is not what it once was. A couple of the games against England earlier this year were played in front of packed houses. At others, it was possible to see swathes of empty seats.

With the IPL having extended its tentacles even to non-traditional venues such as Ranchi, Raipur and Dharamsala, fans in India's interior no longer see a 50-over game as the sporting highlight of their calendar. Test attendances are already a fraction of what they were a decade ago, and 50-over crowds are going the same way.

These events may be part of the calendar, but none of us can say for sure if they will end up being played. With the Ashes being treated like the golden goose – there are 10 Tests before next January, in England and Australia – and 50-over series being scheduled without rhyme or reason, we have not been doing the longer forms any favours either.

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