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The beginning of the end


An interesting thread in the build up to the second test between England and the West Indies has been the verbal sparring between the two captains, Andrew Strauss and Chris Gayle.

The private slanging match started with Strauss criticising Gayle’s decision to arrive in England, fresh from the IPL, just two days before the first test. The England skipper claimed Gayle had ‘crossed a line’ and he wouldn’t have any England player doing the same.

But Gayle was equally quick to respond, telling Strauss to mind his own business. But it was what he said about test cricket in general that made more interesting reading:

"I wouldn't be so sad if Test cricket ended. Maybe Andrew Strauss would be sad if Test cricket dies and Twenty20 comes in because there is no way he can make the change. So tough luck.”

Not the words you would expect to hear from an international test captain ahead of a test match. Gayle later corrected his comments, saying that test cricket will always have a future, but was that a case of too little too late?

Gayle let slip an attitude towards the longer form of the game which must be growing among the younger generation of cricketers, and certainly will continue to do so if players like Gayle continue to have that attitude.

The bright lights, shiny kits and no little money in ICC World Twenty/20 does contrast sharply with the stuffy, formal image of test cricket. This image hasn’t been helped by the low crowds seen both at Lord’s and at Durham in the opening two tests of the English summer.

The sight will be different in July when the Aussies arrive and Ashes cricket betting starts in earnest, but test cricket in England can’t survive on one test series every four years.  Something needs to be done to preserve cricket’s ultimate competition to prevent it from being swamped by 20/20 razzamatz.

It has to of course start with preparing competitive pitches and running as far away from dead batting tracks as possible. It moves on to marketing, fixture scheduling or perhaps something else more creative. Currently test cricket is standing still while the rest of the cricket world is speeding up. If it is allowed to slide any further more and more players who share Gayle’s attitude will quit test matches in order to concentrate on the shorter forms of the game - especially if the cricket calendar continues to become more and more crowded. If that were to happen, the test would become a suddenly secondary competition, merely quickening its demise.

More 20/20 would no doubt make the players richer than ever before, but with no test matches the game itself would be much poorer.

(Tom Mallows is a born and bred Lancastrian who now lives across the pennines in Yorkshire. A cricket fan since 1994 his earliest memories of the game are Devon Malcolm's destruction of South Africa in 1994 and Dominic Cork's hat-trick against the West Indies in 1995. He is eagerly, yet nervously, awaiting this summer's Ashes series.)

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