The attention of the cricket world in recent weeks has been focused on whether the IPL can be played this year or not. And if so, will it become the curtain raiser for the T20 World Championship, scheduled in October, or replace this tournament, as some quarters have mooted.
The issue got an unexpected twist last week when the president of the Sri Lanka Cricket Board offered to host the IPL. Silva claimed his country would likely recover from the ravages of COVID-19 before India, and since they had enough world quality infrastructure, they could host the mega event.
Silva’s statement came on the heels of the BCCI deciding to suspend the IPL indefinitely. Mind you, this does not negate the prospect of playing the tournament in 2020, but only keeping all options open, just in case there is a dramatic turnaround to the current gloomy global situation.
Several experts – including former England captain Michael Vaughan – have mooted that the IPL should be played in India in September and early October – even at the cost of other tournament/series elsewhere if cricket resumes.
Vaughan’s contention is that the IPL is simply too important for cricket to be summarily scrapped. Some others have suggested that to accommodate the IPL, it might make sense to replace the T20 World Championship with it this year and provide Australia the right to host this in 2022.
When you consider that Australia is pushing for a 5-Test series – instead of 4 – against India in end 2020, it seems that something could be brewing. However, these are not the only issues at stake in cricket in these troubled times. Equally important, if not as headline-worthy, is what happens to the World Test Championship that began with so much promise in mid-2019 and now appears to be languishing.
The IPL issue is undeniably vital, for the good health of not just the BCCI, but all cricket boards (barring Pakistan), which stand to gain one way or the other. But in the brouhaha about the League, the Test Championship crisis should not be brushed under the carpet. It took over a decade for the ICC to convince all cricket boards about the need and worth of the Test Championship.
Mooted first in 2010, the proposal was on a roller-coaster ride till the championship commenced last year after the World Cup. This, after two earlier attempts – in 2013 and 2017 – had been scuttled. The version which was approved had glitches and bugs. For instance, every series was designated to be worth 120 points. So, if it was a two Test series, like the one between India and New Zealand, each Test carried 60 points.
A four Test series meant 30 points for each Test and in a five-Test rubber, 24 points each. This did not marry into the ebb and flow of a Test series, which contributes so much to the romance of the five-day game. The sequencing of series raised a lot of questions and, quirkily, there were also series’ that were not part of the Test Championship! It was something of a rigmarole, but at least there had been a start.
Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Test Championship hit a massive roadblock as some countries started objecting on grounds that they might not have adequate opportunities to make a bid for a place in the final, scheduled at Lord’s in mid-2021. Former Pakistan captain and current chief coach and chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq was the most significant voice in asking for the Test Championship to be scrapped because of this crisis, and restart when the situation improves.
Some other countries like Sri Lanka, West Indies and South Africa have supported this, however mildly. As things stand, the teams that would suffer the most if the Test Championship is scrapped are India (top of the table with 360 points from 9 matches) and Australia (296 points in 10 matches).
Third placed New Zealand have 180 points but have played only 7 matches. In comparison, Pakistan have played only 5 matches yet, Sri Lanka 4 West Indies and Bangladesh a measly 1 each. With virtually no prospect of Test matches being played anywhere in the world till at least September, it has thrown the Test Championship out of whack and these countries asking for a restart are not illogical.
As I write this piece, a video call meeting between the ICC’s top management and cricket heads of various countries slated for Thursday had still to commence. Dubbed as a ‘contingency meeting’ to address several matters arising because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Test Championship’s future is also on the agenda.
A solution that meets universal approval needs to be found. Hopefully, this will not be at the cost of the Championship itself. Rather, effort should be made to tide over this extraordinary crisis that has gripped the world. A fresh commitment to the Test Championship, with some obvious wrinkles removed, would be a boon.
The writer is a senior journalist who has been writing on the sport for over 40 years.