Throughout the ages cricket has been known for it’s enduring partnerships; Hobbs and Sutcliffe; Lawry and Simpson; Greenidge and Haynes; Tendulkar and Ganguly and that’s only a few of the revered opening combinations.
On the bowling side there’s the infamous bodyline duo of Larwood and Voce, accompanied by some of the most feared pairings in the game; Hall and Griffith; Lillee and Thomson; Roberts and Holding; Marshall and Garner. Then there’re the wily combinations of O’Reilly and Grimmett; Laker and Lock and the evenly balanced one of Warne and McGrath.
These are all well known pairings that don’t even require first names to be easily recognised by cricket fans. Nevertheless, cricket has seemingly overlooked the most important partnership and it’s time this over-sight was rectified for the future good of the game.
That’s the partnership which should exist between players and administrators. It was obvious during the recent acrimonious dispute involving the players and Cricket Australia that the most important ingredient missing from the negotiations was respect.
Hopefully, following this unseemly dispute there will come the realisation that for the game to grow in the future this has to be a partnership. Not necessarily one where both sides are in total agreeance, but one where respect is at least a high priority.
In my experience of dealing with and then watching cricket administrations from afar, they’ve always suffered from one major failing; the lack of understanding for what it takes to play the game successfully at the highest level.
In general, administrators are loath to heavily involve ex-players in the running of the game. The easiest way for administrators to overcome this flaw is to utilise the knowledge that is readily available by acting in partnership with FICA, the international players’ body.
A classic example where this would work really well is the current discussion on the merit of four-day Test matches. This is a worthwhile subject for debate at a time when Test cricket is floundering, engulfed by a tidal wave of T20 leagues.
The only way four-day Test cricket will become a reality is by administrators consulting with players to ensure they are on-side. The four-day Test match is a concept that has to be sold, not foisted on players like a compulsory school uniform.
Four-day Test has a lot of merit. Matches could run from Thursday to Sunday with the likelihood of a result on the weekend, which would appeal to television companies. Starting a Test on a certain day of the week is helpful to fans, as is two weekend dates. And four days of play would allow more rest in between games for players and may also assist in helping to de-clutter an abundantly unwieldy schedule.
However, to achieve a viable framework for four day Tests it’s going to take compromise from both players and administrators. This would comprise the main thrust in selling the concept to the players.
I understand that the first reaction of some players is to retain five-day Tests. That’s basically the way the game has operated since the second World War and it’s understandable the current players would want similar opportunities to their predecessors.
Nevertheless, rapidly improving technology and the all-encompassing nature of the internet has dramatically changed society. To remain relevant, Test cricket needs to change gears from a gentle jog to a high-speed sprint to keep up with the times.
The first point to make in selling this concept to the players would be to underline the need for Test cricket to reflect those changing times. To do this the administrators have to convince the players that they are genuinely interested in preserving Test matches and appreciate that cricketers generally desire the ultimate challenge the longer version presents.
Given a lot of thought and the mood to innovate, Test cricket could rebound in the 21st century. However, to achieve a desirable result it will require a combination of expert cricket knowledge and solid business acumen; the basis for a sound partnership.
(Ian Chappell, former Australia cricket team Test captain, writes for Hindustan Times exclusively)