x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Two-tier structure for Test-playing nations must be relegated

The notion that poorly-performing teams must be demoted does not take into account commercial realities and the game's rich history.

Brendon McCullum and his New Zealand side have endured a tough time in South Africa so far. Anesh Debiky / AFP
Brendon McCullum and his New Zealand side have endured a tough time in South Africa so far. Anesh Debiky / AFP

Tom Moody, who won two World Cups as a player and then coached Sri Lanka to the final in 2007, expressed his thoughts on Twitter. "How have New Zealand ended up like this, once a team with real fight & character to a team with little direction & soul?"

Others were not so kind, calling for Test cricket to adopt relegation and promotion to keep the likes of New Zealand on their toes.

Such knee-jerk reactions ignore both commercial realities and the game's rich history.

A few years ago the great fast bowler Michael Holding, an integral part of the greatest team to play the game, was asked whether he gave any credence to the theory that the lure of American sport had contributed to the decline of cricket in the West Indies.

"It's called the circle of life," he replied. "No team stays on top forever.

"The West Indies had poor spells before we dominated for 20 years as well."

If Test cricket had promotion and relegation, the once mighty West Indies would be in the second division now, having won 24 and lost 69 Test since January 1, 2000.

Away from home, their record is abysmal, with just nine wins and 42 defeats.

Even that ratio is skewed by seven wins against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

It also smacks of double standards that talk of relegation comes up only when New Zealand, the West Indies or Bangladesh are struggling.

In the 1980s, when Australia won only one "live" Test out of 19 – two wins in Sydney came after the West Indies had already clinched the series – no one was talking about relegation.

When England won just five Ashes Tests out of 27 against Australia in the 1990s – two of them being dead rubbers at The Oval – there was no talk of demotion.

India have lost 10 of their last 12 Tests against Australia and England.

Would anyone want them demoted to division two, with the financial implications that entails?

New Zealand tied a two-match series in Australia just over a year ago. They drew in Sri Lanka recently.

With a bit of luck in Bangalore, they might even have drawn their two-Test series in India in 2012.

In South Africa, they have just come up against a team who are by far the best in the world at the moment, a team with no real weakness.

Before you ridicule New Zealand's displays in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, pause to think of what South Africa did to England at The Oval, where they racked up 637 for two.

Also think of the fiasco that is New Zealand's coaching and management, a "brains trust" whose poor man-management skills have resulted in the team's only world-class batsman staying at home.

Little thought seems to have gone into the promotion-relegation idea.

If New Zealand, Bangladesh and the West Indies could only play against each other, who would sponsor those matches or buy the television rights?

What incentive would there be for young players if there was no prospect of playing at Lord's, Melbourne Cricket Ground or Eden Gardens?

In recent times, mainly because of the security situation at home, Pakistan have also been on the unwanted list.

With their pace attack and the skill of Saeed Ajmal, they are likely to push South Africa harder than any team has in recent times.

As for New Zealand, who won more than they lost in the 1980s (17-15), including a 10-2 record at home, they just have to wait for their fortunes to change. And not sabotage their chances along the way.

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