Amidst the furore that is the Australian ball tampering scandal many of us have failed to notice that a rather enthralling test series is about to draw to an equally dramatic close in Johannesburg.
After four 5 day games and countless hours of cricket that has produced some captivating moments the game looks to be tipping in favour of the hosts, although the prognosis has changed almost daily since the first ball was bowled in Durban at the start of March when Australia stole a 118 run win to kick-start the series.
It is a result that typifies the beauty of test cricket, a game which uses its ability to keep changing in order to provide weeks of non-stop drama. But in a day and age where people don’t have the attention span it is a quality that is being largely overlooked. People prefer cricket to run like football games these days, eschewing the complexities in favour of the easy-to-follow ball slogging bananza that is 20:20.
Nowhere is this trend more evident than in India, where the IPL has unified the three pillars of Indian culture by delivering Bollywood action in a condensed cricket format with all the religious furore that surrounds the game. As one writer put it, along with the Big Bash the IPL has created a generation of “globe-trotting slog-merchants, jet-setting from payday to payday’. Chris Gayle and so many other great batsmen, who have retired from Test cricket prematurely to take part in IPL or Big Bash, are a case in point.
On the domestic front this winter we have seen the first signs of a major exodus away from test cricket. Adil Rashid will only play white-ball cricket for Yorkshire during the 2018 season and Alex Hales also effectively retired from the red ball game. But as test captain Joe Root pointed out, it is less an issue involving these two players and more one that the game faces as a whole.
Right now cricket faces the quandary of having to satisfy demand for three formats of the game, and so it is only natural that players will look at how to maximise their potential in an ever-crowded calendar. The extent to which national cricket should facilitate the shorter formats plays a big part in this debate, with Trevor Baylis suggesting it should be left for the franchises to battle it out. I for one agree, but if T20 was to disappear from the cricket scene then so too would the television cameras, and they would be leaving at a time when cricket needs them the most. So what is the solution?
A friend put it to me that the drama caused by the recent Australian scandal is a good thing for test cricket because for the first time in a long time the cameras are on red ball cricket and not its short-form counterparts. It is preposterous notion on first thought – if anything it is likely to lose the game millions in television rights deals – but the more you think on it, the more you have to accept that that is where the game is going.
Without scandal test cricket seems to have become a game that struggles to attract much interest these days, and that’s a really sad thing. But perhaps we’re being faced with a new normal, where villains and breakdowns translate to clicks and views. It’s the Hollywoodization of cricket, and it may be here to stay.