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A Dangerous Summer

18 August 2011

5:41 PM

18 August 2011

5:41 PM

This England cricket team is rather like the great German football sides of the past: a collective rather greater than the sum of its parts. Hard, determined, efficient, ruthless, organised and together. There’s quality too, for sure, but that’s not what stands-out. They thoroughly deserve their success.

Nevertheless, their success comes at a price. Or, rather, much as one relishes the novel notion that England might be the best side in the world at present, there is a gloomier picture to be considered too. India’s feebleness in this series, combined with the nature and preferences of their governing board, is bad news for the future of Test match cricket.

It’s evident, I think, that cricket now needs India to be strong. More importantly the game needs the Indian Test team to be strong. The forthcoming one-day series between the sides will be telling and, most probably, depressing. Few England supporters, I fancy, much care whether England win or not; many Indian supporters will view it differently. For them, I fancy, it is not just an opportunity to save face after the humiliations they’ve endured in recent weeks but, instead, a chance to reassert their superiority in the form of the game that matters most to most Indian fans and, worse but clearly, to the people who notionally run Indian cricket as well.

India’s rise to the "Number One" spot in the world rankings was a Good Thing. Suddenly they had a position to protect and a standard to uphold. Hastily-arranged series against South Africa and Australia (though the latter, alas, was only a two-match affair) showed that, for a time anyway, the status of Test cricket in India had risen. This was encouraging.

Now, however, with India eclipsed it’s not foolish to fear that Indian cricket will turn away from test cricket. It’s their ball and if they can’t prevail over five days they’ll only play – or place their emphasis on – the abbreviated forms of the game. Test cricket lost it’s AAA rating in India some time ago. Success in limited overs cricket and continued failure in Test matches may lead to the latter being downgraded to junk bond status. That should trouble everyone else.

Perhpas this won’t happen and it could be that it’s too gloomy a prognosis. Nevertheless one can’t help but suspect that once the golden trio of Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman retire their successors, raised in a different world, may not appreciate the weight of history and technical demands that make Test matches different. The next generation may not be impressed by the idea that true immortality can only be won on the five-day field.

Even if young Indians remain enthused by Test cricket, their Board of Control may not be. We know there are some who already consider Test cricket little more than an inconvenient anachronism. The money and the razzamatazz lies elsewhere and following the money is always tempting. So cricket badly needs a strong, competitive Indian test team.

England, by contrast, are set fair. Though one should never presume that matters will continue as they are the number of evidently-talented players being produced by the counties now bodes well for England’s continued success. Test cricket too has rarely been healthier in England than it is now. When England played India at Lord’s in 1967, for instance, only 12,000 spectators came to watch the first day. And if you watch faded video of the 1981 Ashes you may be struck by the number of empty seats. Changed times indeed.

So much, so good. But the future of Test cricket demands constant vigilance and, most of the time, protection from those administrators who claim to value it above all else. That being so we should hope that India find the wherewithal to recover from this feeble tour and challenge England, Australia and South Africa for top dog status. If they don’t then we may one day look back upon this happy summer and see that it was also a dangerous time for Test match cricket.

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