Wednesday, January 18, 2012

India's dereliction of duty to test cricket.

Test cricket is not in a good place and has not been for some time if truth be told. Crowds and general interest in the longer format of the game have been dwindling and countries such as the West Indies in particular and even Australia have been suffering in an exodus from the wider sport as the world media bombasts the global public with other sports with far quicker results.

Whilst test cricket remains hugely popular in Australia, it is only really in England - at smaller grounds - where sell outs for entire tests can be expected every time. Australia has a relatively small population and there is only so much that they can do. One suspects however that not holding tests that run their entire duration during the working week such as the recently in Sydney might be a good place to start.

Whilst this is all well and good, the reality of modern cricket finances means is that it is what India says and does that matters. The farcical ICC ruling allowing India to effectively veto the DRS system when they play is an indication of where the true power lies. The enormous (and welcome it must be said) success of the IPL has left many players reconsidering their attitude towards test cricket and it will only continue.

Only in the past week, M.S. Dhoni has indicated his time frame for retiring from test cricket. This will obviously allow him to extend his cricketing career in the shorter and more importantly most lucrative forms of the game. For a player to give up the shorter forms in order to extend his career is the supposedly elite form of the test match arena is several steps too far.

Sponsorships and endorsements are not formed by spending months at a time in places like New Zealand or Jamaica, they are made during two months of the IPL back home. It is hard to be too critical of someone like Dhoni in this day and age either such are the vast riches you would be asking him to waive.

India were until last Summer the number one ranked test team with a team of glittering if ageing stars especially in their batting order. Since then they have been utterly humbled by both England and Australia in two touring test series, or have they?

In the same twelve month period, India won the World Cup at home as well as handing out a thrashing to England in a limited over series, again at home. Now whilst India winning the vast majority of their matches at home whilst being far less successful on tour is nothing new, it is the manner of these defeats which makes one ask the question, do they really care?

Having watched both test series a couple of things stand out. Firstly losing to England last summer was no disgrace, they are a fine test side who had also hammered Australia down under prior to that.

This however is no great Australia team, and whilst they appear to have found some talent within the seam bowling ranks they are a thousand miles from being a great side. What you always get however from an Australian team is heart and effort and that is exactly what India are missing and there is the rub.

In both series, one against a good side with their tails up and one against a lesser team working very hard, India and especially their oft heralded batsmen have given the impression of simply not wanting to be there and that is biggest concern.

It could be wrong on the part of the writer to suggest this, it may well be that it is simply a class of batsmen who are either all horribly out of form or have simply grown too old at exactly the same time. Their performances at home in the short formats however suggest otherwise.

The openers Sehwag and the more youthful Gambhir have been awful in this latest series and have played poorly to get out. No one should ever question the application of Dravid who probably is simply out of form and Sachin has made a decent fist of things as everything falls apart around him. VVS has been dreadful and too often Kohli and Dhoni have refused to dig in and grind out a position and it was exactly the same in England.

India will point to injuries, Sehwag missed most of the England tour, Harbajhan went home injured also from England and Zaheer has been fighting his way back from injury, but again the thirst for limited overs action has removed the opportunities for rest.

Many England players and the likes of Ponting and Clarke have not particpated in the IPL one presumes for this very reason with England's central contracts in some instances prohibiting long periods of exposure to these types of tournaments. The likes of Andrew Flintoff - already hugely injury prone - could not resist and the injuries that resulted were inevitable.

It is hard to see the dedication to the art of test cricket that the likes of Dravid and Tendulkar have demonstrated in the past being replicated in the future and the sad truth is that without India's unstinting commitment to test cricket, its' long term future beyond being a side show is in serious doubt.

Great competitions like the Ashes one hopes would always endure but there are many sporting occasions around the world which whilst life and death to those involved offer nothing more than parochial idiosyncrasies to the rest such as the State of Origin rugby league matches in Australia, the Oxford versus Cambridge boat race and the Old Firm derby between Rangers and Celtic in Scottish Football.

Test cricket is in dire trouble in the medium to long term and it requires India's help to bring it back from the brink - No Nonsense.