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Fri Sep 30 15:27:01 SAST 2016

A big bashing for Test cricket

Archie Henderson | 14 January, 2016 00:10
Archie Henderson. File photo
Image by: SUPPLIED

Just 13 days into 2016 and already the year promises to become one of the most eventful in cricket history.

Temba Bavuma showed that black South Africans can bat, Chris Gayle was exposed as louche rather than laid-back and Peter Nevill became the first batsman to be run out by a nose.

If you missed the latter, it happened in a T20 Big Bash match in Melbourne at the weekend when Nevill, playing for the Renegades in a local derby against the Stars, was out of his crease at the non-striker's end.

A delivery from Stars leg-spinner Adam Zampa had been driven straight back by Dwayne Bravo. The ball struck Nevill's bat and ricocheted onto Zampa's nose and into the stumps.

Melbourne also had its mundane. In another match in a city that can sustain two T20 teams, attendance at an earlier T20 derby tested the capacity of the MCG: 80 883 in a ground that can hold 90 000.

In Perth all four home matches at the Waca were sold out, the first time this has happened to any team in the Australian Big Bash.

OK, the Waca holds only 20000 but the Perth Scorchers are certain of a home semifinal and a team on fire. Australia's T20 numbers add up to a warning. The growing popularity of the Big Bash is a clear sign that circus cricket is becoming a real threat to Test cricket in one of the last two countries where the five-day game still thrives.

England is the other.

In Perth this summer only 40288 people turned up over the five days of the Test against New Zealand, at an average of just over 8000 a day. By comparison, a combined 39762 watched the Scorchers' first two Big Bash games. The average Bash attendance in Australia this summer is 22 500. That's more than any single day of the Tests in Brisbane, Perth and Hobart.

All of this puts the Big Bash among the top 10 best-attended leagues in the world and the money is rolling in.

Cricket Australia has already raked in A$1-million (that's R11.2-million) and the play-offs have not yet begun.

It's not just the money that will be the lure, the International Cricket Council's lack of resolve will contribute to the demise of Test cricket.

As Australia, England and India begin to tighten their rule of the game, circus cricket will appeal ever more to those players from other countries who are offered crumbs of Test cricket, such as the pointless tour of Bangladesh by the Proteas last year.

Free agency will appeal to more players than just Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo. It almost seduced AB de Villiers a short while ago, if you read between the lines of a recent non-interview.

At least the international players' association is aware of the dangers. It has called for radical changes to Test cricket, including promotion and relegation in a two-tier system.

A good start would be to simplify the Test rankings, which are so complex that the ordinary fan couldn't be bothered to work them out.

But still the ICC stalls, saying no changes can be made until 2019 when commercial deals run out. By then it could be too late.

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