A warning about the enemy within
As I watched the Australian team leaping around the WACA in celebration of their comprehensive win over India in the third Test I was reminded of a speech by Winston Churchill in 1941 in which he said “Hope has returned to the hearts of scores of millions of men and women, and with that hope there burns the flame of anger against the brutal, corrupt invader. And still more fiercely burn the fires of hatred and contempt for the filthy Quislings whom he has suborned.”
Churchill's reference to Norwegian politician Vidkun Quisling was a warning about the ‘enemy within'.
Test cricket is under threat like never before and the greatest threat is not from other sports or forms of entertainment as much as it is from within.
T20 cricket has captured the hearts and minds of millions of supporters around the world but, more dangerously for Test cricket, it has captured the hearts and minds of some administrators and, with it, the hearts and wallets of the players.
Who in their right mind would want to play for five days, generally under a hot sun, when one can make millions for a few hours of cavorting under lights once a week?
A four-over stint, usually in two or three spells, has to be more attractive than three six- or seven-over spells a day over five days. To not have to steel oneself to bat for five or six hours in a backs-to-the-wall situation may be seen as preferable to some.
I am pleased to see a resurgent Australian team after the disappointment of last summer, but to see India roll over meekly in two-and-a-half days rings loud alarm bells for me. Are the Indian players really hurting or are they just saying what some, like me, want to hear?
More worrying is the suggestion that the administrators back home are not concerned about another shattering series defeat abroad. India is the powerhouse of the game. With that comes responsibility. Cricket needs strong leadership from India. Test cricket most of all.
If Test cricket is to remain the bench-mark for judging the best players; if Sachin's career is to mean anything, then we need India to show that they care by demanding more of their players; home and abroad.
It is not enough to say that Australia won because of their home conditions. Sure, most teams perform better at home, but, the best teams win away as well.
Australia and the West Indies have been the best teams on the road historically, not because they produced wickets to suit them at home, but because of the diversity of wicket styles at home.
In Australia for instance, Perth has always bounced, Brisbane has seamed while Sydney has offered turn. Adelaide and Melbourne have been more batsman-friendly albeit with challenges of their own as the pitch deteriorated.
This has produced players who are adaptable and able to play on a variety of pitches abroad. Bounce, spin or seam did not faze them because they had experienced all of these variations at different levels of domestic cricket, as they developed.
India must take note.
It is worrying also that India will not play any Test cricket now until later this year and will not tour for almost two years. That says that Test cricket, and getting better at touring, is not high on the priority list. This is not what we want to hear from India at this time.
I believe that the three formats are compatible, but I also believe that cricket without Test cricket as the true measuring stick is not cricket at all. As custodians of the game the current administrators must regard Test cricket as the supreme form of the game and find a way to give it the respect, priority and space to prosper. The shorter formats must fit around it rather than dominate — as they threaten to.
If we don't give Test cricket that reverence, then the game will not have to worry about competition from the outside.
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