x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Two-tier Test system in cricket will not help 'lesser' nations

Those that have watched Mohammad Ashraful at his exuberant best will testify as to what a travesty his Test average of 24 is.

Bangladesh batsman Mohammad Ashraful has a Test average of just 24. Lakruwan Wanniarachchi / AFP
Bangladesh batsman Mohammad Ashraful has a Test average of just 24. Lakruwan Wanniarachchi / AFP

They are both 28, but one has been playing international cricket for nearly half a decade longer.

He, the prodigy who made a Test century on debut when just 17, scored another in his 58th Test as Bangladesh fought bravely for parity against Sri Lanka.

It was just his sixth in 58 games, testament to a career that has had more false dawns than sunny days. Those that have watched Mohammad Ashraful at his exuberant best will testify as to what a travesty his Test average of 24 is.

Alastair Cook has played 30 Tests more, and scored four times as many hundreds. While Ashraful's career has become a byword for wasted promise, Cook is now mentioned alongside Michael Clarke and Hashim Amla any time the discussion centres around the best batsman in the world.

The mistake we make all too often is to compare Ashraful with Cook.

You may as well contrast the performance of a scooter with that of a sports car.

And that is no reflection of Ashraful's ability, but acceptance of how skewed cricket's playing field is in favour of those from the big four nations - India, England, Australia and South Africa.

Consider these numbers. Cook, despite making his debut so much later, has played 41 Tests against India, Australia and South Africa.

Ashraful's tally of caps against the big four is just 20. Of those, only eight have been away from home - two apiece in Australia and South Africa, and four in England.

He has never played a Test in India. If he and other Bangladeshi batsmen stutter in challenging overseas conditions, keep those numbers in mind before you condemn them.

Calls for a two-tier Test system are a joke precisely for this reason. The powerful teams play each other home and away often enough.

The "lesser" nations - those not so appealing to the broadcasters and sponsors - are given the odd tour as an afterthought.

Sri Lanka did not tour South Africa between 2002/03 and 2011/12. They first played a Test in Sydney last January.

Pakistan, who lost 3-0 to South Africa last month, do not visit any of the major nations now until 2016. Quite how you can expect Asad Shafiq, Umar Akmal and Azhar Ali to develop on Cook or Clarke lines is a question no one has an answer for.

The two-tier system also makes no sense when so many teams are so inconsistent. India were No 1 in the Test rankings for 20 months between 2009 and 2011, but were then whitewashed 4-0 by both England and Australia.

England in turn were thrashed by Pakistan in the UAE and by South Africa at home. Australia are halfway to a 4-0 hammering in India right now.

South Africa aside, there is no team that can make a claim to greatness. The "lesser" nations have all had their moments in recent times.

Sri Lanka beat South Africa in Durban in 2011.

New Zealand, who bossed England in the opening Test of their ongoing series this week, drew a series in Australia in 2011.

They also came close to upsetting India in Bangalore at the start of the season.

In the post-Muttiah Muralitharan era, Sri Lanka are not the indomitable force they once were at home.

But if Ashraful and Mushfiqur Rahim can inspire a draw in Galle - Bangladesh have lost their previous eight Tests in Sri Lanka - it would be a big and much-needed blow for cricket's Davids, ignored and even shunned by the Goliaths.

 

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