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Dark days for Test cricket even as T20 brightens the game

19 June 2018 - 16:58 By Telford Vice
Dinesh Chandimal of Sri Lanka celebrates his century (100 runs) during day 1 of the 2nd Test between West Indies and Sri Lanka at Daren Sammy Cricket Ground, Gros Islet, St. Lucia, on June 14, 2018.
Dinesh Chandimal of Sri Lanka celebrates his century (100 runs) during day 1 of the 2nd Test between West Indies and Sri Lanka at Daren Sammy Cricket Ground, Gros Islet, St. Lucia, on June 14, 2018.
Image: Randy Brooks / AFP

Test cricket has added to its slate of teams for the first time in 18 years in recent weeks‚ but one of those sides were hammered by the kind of margin that suggests they don’t belong.

Not that the established sides are doing a great job of flying the flag for the oldest format‚ what with two of them embroiled in ball-tampering scandals since March.

These are dark days for Test cricket‚ which is losing relevance and stature in a sport that is skewing steadily towards its T20 incarnation.

Salt is being rubbed into that widening wound by the fact that Australia’s Steve Smith and David Warner — both damned as ball-tamperers in South Africa in March — will play in the Global T20 Canada‚ which starts on June 28.

Sri Lanka captain Dinesh Chandimal has since also been charged with illegally changing the condition of the ball in a Test against West Indies in St Lucia.

Unlike the Australians‚ who used sandpaper‚ Chandimal’s contraband was‚ allegedly‚ a sweet in his pocket.

The grand old game was in a happier place as recently as May‚ when Ireland became the first team since Bangladesh in 2000 to play their inaugural Test — against Pakistan in Dublin.

Rain washed out the entire first day and Pakistan won by five wickets on the fifth‚ but Kevin O’Brien’s 118 will keep Irish eyes smiling for years yet.

There was less for Afghanistan to celebrate in Bangalore last week‚ when India batted for a day and a session and then dismissed the debutants twice in the remaining two sessions to win by an innings and 262 runs.

“We were surprised with the match ending in two days because our team is good‚” Afghanistan’s captain‚ Asghar Stanikzai‚ said of his side’s rude awakening to the reality of how tough Test cricket is to play competently‚ never mind successfully.

The Afghans‚ who have played 98 one-day internationals and 66 T20s since 2009‚ were clearly outclassed.

That will fuel arguments that Test cricket should remain trapped in the amber that was set in November 2000‚ when Bangladesh became the 10th team to be allowed to play in whites for up to five days.

Even that is debatable considering the Bangladeshis have won only 10 of their 106 Tests while losing 80. Much the same applies to Zimbabwe‚ who have won 11 of their 105 matches and lost 67.

That means‚ for some‚ that the world of Test cricket should have stopped growing in 1982‚ when Sri Lanka were inaugurated as the eighth member of the club.

Others will want to peg that date at 1952‚ when Pakistan played their first Test.

How about 20 years earlier‚ which saw India’s elevation?

Now the Indians drive global cricket’s economy — and an important part of the engine they have created to do so is the Indian Premier League‚ the archetypical T20 tournament.

But the snobs should consider a few truths before they try to stop anyone but England‚ Australia‚ South Africa‚ West Indies‚ New Zealand and India from playing Test cricket.

For decades the South Africans were allowed not only to keep fielding all-white teams‚ but to refuse to play against anything except all-white teams.

The West Indians are an embarrassment to their own proud history‚ losing almost 54% of the Tests they have played in the past 20 years. From 1970 to 1990 they lost less than 16%.

And the first team to be bowled out twice in a day were shot out for 58 and 82 by England in Manchester in 1952.

They weren’t‚ of course‚ Zimbabwe — who are nonetheless the only side to suffer that fate twice — Bangladesh‚ Ireland or Afghanistan.

Instead‚ they were the team that defines the game as we have come to know it.

That’s right: India. Try telling them they don’t belong.

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