Test champs: SA going 4-day ‘would be horrible’

David Gower (Getty Images)
David Gower (Getty Images)

A flawed beast … but one best judged, and potentially amended where necessary, after completion of the first cycle in mid-2021.

That was the main thread of opinions from two former England captains here this week, when probed about the ongoing, first edition of the ICC World Test Championship (2019-21).

David Gower and Mike Gatting were in the city as headline figures on a Lord’s Taverners charity-geared tour here, highlighting “Table Cricket”, a game designed to accommodate people with varying forms of disabilities.

While neither was averse to the idea of four-day Test matches forming part of future cycles in the Championship, Gower said he would prefer the concept to be limited to matches involving teams outside of the more traditional heavyweight nations – and Gatting stressed it would be “horrible” if South Africa started placing too much emphasis on shorter-duration Tests.

India currently lead the Championship table with 360 points from four series, and Australia second on 296; the Proteas are a long way adrift on a flimsy 24 points (in seventh) after two series, and massive ground to make up if they are to qualify for the maiden final at Lord’s between June 10 and 14 next year.

Gower shares the concerns of many, the world over, around the limited profile of the tournament.

“At the moment I would suspect that the public are somewhere between blissfully unaware and slightly confused,” he told Sport24.

“There are certain places where Test cricket is still well followed, like in the UK. They’ll go to the premier games … Ashes, India … with more speed and alacrity than they might do for some of the lesser nations. Test cricket largely does remain pinnacle in the minds of the core of supporters in the UK.

“Go away from the UK, and away from say India and Australia … for instance the Caribbean, and bearing in my own experiences of West Indies as an immovable force of the 1980s; an awesome side to play against there, full houses, fascinated crowds … yet go there for a Test match now and it seems like 10 people watching.

“(In the Caribbean) they are looking at other parts of the game for their excitement – that’s such a sea change.”

Gower said he would defer a decisive judgement on the Championship: “Look, I am happy to wait until the cycle is up, but at this stage, looking at the points table, it seems a very imbalanced entity - and this is an event meant to bring context for all, remember.

“The imbalance between, say, five-Test and two-Test series during it, doesn’t help too much. Same points valuations, yes, but still so much more effort involved for the former, at the end of the day.

“Theoretically, an advantage is that a dead-rubber Test, for example, now has a bit more at stake in terms of ongoing points toward the Championship.

“If the concept helps Test cricket even a little bit, then that’s something to (celebrate). To be fair, with my very minimal capacity, I haven’t come up with a better system yet.

“I’ll be fascinated to see what happens at the end of this first cycle, when we have this grand World Test Championship final, at Lord’s, and to see what the feeling is about it.

“I guess if England somehow get enough points together (to quality) that would add something to it … and the many Indians in the UK do come out to watch when India are playing there.

“I think it is sensible to allow nations to decide among themselves whether they want to play four-day or five-day Tests. If it has to be a binary option, I would certainly stick with five days, but four days in certain countries, under certain circumstances, is just sense.

“I mean, Zimbabwe struggle just to get any games … if they have a better chance of playing Test matches over four days, then I have no objection to that.

“But I’d favour five-days remaining sacrosanct among premier sides.”

Gatting, meanwhile, shared Gower’s reservations around the Championship’s marketing/promotion.

“I don’t think it’s been publicised as well as (it could) and I don’t think the scoring system is ideal … something that could be looked at.

“There’s lots of things swirling around with it: if it’s a product, is it the right product? I think we should have a Test Championship, but should it be nine teams, should it perhaps be two divisions? These things will need to be discussed after it has run for two years.

“Up until India playing New Zealand (recently, and crashing 2-0 there), it was already looking a lot like an India-Australia final in the making, and there are still quite a few months to go yet. But all of a sudden, there is a bit more interest.

“I think two divisions must be a major point of discussion, especially as lower sides are worried about money and more keen on playing some four-day Test matches. Maybe your Bangladeshes, Zimbabwes, Irelands may end up playing up in a different section.

“I feel that having nine participants (in the current, single structure) is a bit of an odd number, and sadly India (still) don’t play Pakistan. At the end of the day we all know who the best four sides most (regularly) are, even if New Zealand sometimes come around and change that trend, punching above their weight.”

Gatting added: “I see that, sadly, South Africa are among those wanting to play four-day Test cricket because of their financial troubles … that would be horrible.

“That said, I think they mean that more for when they play ‘lower’ teams, and that they still want to play five days against the other big three powers.

“I just don’t want to see the uniqueness of Test cricket lost among the echelons of the game; that would be so disappointing.”

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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