The imminent death of Test cricket has been a topic of discussion for many years. From Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket to Andrew Symonds’ million-dollar bid in the first IPL auction to the hypothetical future of only three nations playing Test cricket, there has been longstanding concern for the traditional form of the sport and its survival in the face of growing popularity of shorter-format cricket.
Nearly two decades after the first international T20 match, signs indicate that Test cricket is still thriving. Recently, an underestimated Pakistan had Australia struggling at 4/16 on Day 3 at the MCG and later came close to chasing down a target of 317 before falling short by 80 runs. Meanwhile, Dean Elgar scored a clever 185 and a promising newcomer scored a confident 56 in his international debut as South Africa defeated India by an innings.
The fear for the future of Test cricket largely stems from the perceived dominance of three nations, Australia, England, and India, who are believed to only be challenged when playing against each other. However, the idea of this ‘big three’ being significantly superior is largely exaggerated, particularly as winning away from home remains a daunting task, as evidenced by Australia’s loss in Sri Lanka and England’s defeat by an inspired Kyle Mayers. Additionally, India has yet to win a Test series in South Africa.
Amidst the frequent occurrence of World Cups, especially in the T20 format, the international cricket calendar is filled with bilateral white-ball series leading into tournaments. Despite this, all-format players who struggle to balance a packed schedule still tend to prioritize Test cricket.
However, the main threat to Test cricket appears to be the oversaturation of franchise tournaments, particularly the IPL. With the recent launch of several new T20 leagues, including South Africa’s SA20, the UAE’s ILT20, and the USA’s Major League Cricket, there is a potential threat to the relevance of Test cricket.
One significant example providing evidence of Test cricket being neglected is South Africa’s touring squad for their upcoming Test series against New Zealand, which features seven uncapped players. This has led to criticism of Cricket South Africa for prioritizing financial benefits over the pinnacle of the sport.
Similarly, the West Indies’ Test squad for their upcoming series against Australia also reflects a prioritization of T20 franchise cricket over Test cricket, with notable players opting out to participate in the T20 circuit.
While Test cricket has survived through the decades, there is a concern that every country wanting its own IPL and providing underequipped Test teams may lead the format to ultimately die.