SYDNEY: Some days of international cricket are more equal than others. Cricket Australia’s chief executive James Sutherland has revealed how three hours of a single Twenty20 international are worth as much to India television broadcasters as five days of a Test match, a market reality that underlines the parlous state of the game’s longest form without context.
Speaking to The Grade Cricketer podcast, Sutherland said that “alarm bells” were ringing for Test cricket all round the world, in spite of the sold out crowds and strong television ratings expected for this summer’s Ashes series between Australia and England. The ICC recently, and at long last, approved plans for a World Test Championship to begin in 2019, but Sutherland said the slide of the five-day game’s value was creating major headaches around cricket’s future.
“In many ways there’s so much doubt about Test cricket and its future I think and in some parts of the world it really is in a desperate state. That’s partly because it’s just not commercially viable,” he said, when asked how he saw Test cricket looking in 15 years’ time. “There are some really significant warning signals in some parts of the world.
“As a starting point if you go to India, the country where there is supposedly the most lucrative commercial market, the current valuations on a Test match, five days of Test cricket, is exactly the same as the valuation on a three-hour Twenty20 international match. That’s a perspective on what the market in the biggest country in the cricketing world sees as the value of Test cricket, and that has a significant flow-on impact to other countries.
“So the alarm bells are ringing for Test cricket and that’s one of the reasons why I think this context around Test cricket is so important with this league championship. In 15 years’ time I sincerely hope that this league will create extra relevance and drive and importance for Test cricket, ideally the championship has significant incentives for countries and players to stay involved in Test cricket, and the rewards and recognition from that will also be seen and reflected in fans coming and continuing to stay connected to the game.”
Apart from the creation of the Test Championship to foster “third party” relevance and context to matches for fans not supporting either of the competing teams, Sutherland has also been an advocate for day-night Test matches to have more of their span played at a time when greater audience sizes are available both at the ground and on television.
A third area in which he said the game could be enhanced is by the preparation of more bowler-friendly pitches in Tests, so that the balance between bat and ball is more even than that often seen in the ODI and T20 formats dominated largely by batsmen. “Money is basically a function of fan interest and support and there’s a lot of romantic connection to Test cricket and rightly so,” he said. “But Test cricket has to remain relevant and contemporary for the modern-day fan and I think it’s challenged by the fact there are two other forms of the game that are alternatives.
“So context and relevance is particularly important. I’m not saying there’s any silver bullet solution so I’m not suggesting it’s that, but it’s another reason why we’ve been very strong in trying to introduce day-night Test cricket to time shift it into more available hours for fans to engage with cricket, and I think there are other things that need to be looked at, including pitches to ensure there is a better balance between bat and ball.
“What I’m talking about there is actually giving more advantage to the bowler in Test cricket to make the game more interesting, because the one-day game and T20 game in terms of pitches and conditions heavily favour the batsmen. I think to even that up a little bit for the bowler would make for more compelling Test cricket.”
Having just witnessed the women’s Ashes Test at North Sydney Oval, Sutherland said there was little prospect of more long-form women’s matches being scheduled. “World cricket — ICC and its member countries — have decided that the best format by which to promote the women’s game is the T20 format,” he said.
“That’s the primary format and we continue to hold on the men’s side Test cricket as the primary format and the game that we want to preserve and make the ultimate form. We won’t see a lot more women’s Test cricket in the future but hopefully it will continue to be part of the Ashes at least.”