Cricket news this past week or so has been dominated by the Anderson/Jadeja incident. Debate has raged over who pushed who, who said what, and who, exactly, threatened to knock whose fucking teeth in. To be fair, physical contact between opposing players is not a small issue, and the Indian players have a right to feel aggrieved that justice has not been done owing to a lack of reliable evidence. Perhaps the whole affair might convince some Indian team members (and commentators) to look back more sympathetically on the grievances held by some Australian players after the monkey-gate scandal. Both essentially boiled down to a debate over who said what, where clearly some members of one or even both parties were not telling the whole truth.
But this debate has not been the only newsworthy topic of the past few weeks. South Africa went back to number one on the Test rankings, although barely anyone bothered to actually notice. Sri Lanka are also taking on Pakistan in a Test series that even fewer people seem to care about. But perhaps the most interesting news of the past week barely caused a ripple at all: Paul Marsh stepped down as CEO of the Australian Cricketers’ Association. This in itself wasn’t terribly newsworthy, but what he had to say afterwards was.
The Anderson/Jadeja spat inevitably rather dominated news of Marsh’s retirement, given its obvious similarities with monkey-gate and Cricket Australia’s cosy (and mutually rewarding) relationship with the BCCI these days. Suffice to say, he wasn’t impressed by it all, warning that the monopolisation of power is creating an environment where the interests of cricketing bodies (and future revenues) are taking precedence over the interests of the players themselves. But that wasn’t the most interesting thing Marsh had to say. What was more interesting was his prediction of where this consolidation of power would eventually lead; namely that in a decade or so time, Test cricket will be played by only perhaps three or four nations, while the rest will prefer sticking to the short format stuff instead.
Honestly, at this point in time this feels less like a prediction, more a case of stating the bleeding obvious. Does anyone really doubt that the West Indies don’t give a shit about Test cricket anymore, and, if given the choice, would prefer to focus on their limited overs teams, and domestic T20 competition, instead? The same might be said of Sri Lanka. And if they are still willing to play Test contests, they encounter the same issue faced by Pakistan, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and New Zealand. Namely, that none of the big three wants to play them. In the near future, two Test series could very well instead become one-off exhibition games staged before the usual plethora of limited overs fixtures (like South Africa’s ‘tour’ of Zimbabwe). And then, as interest inevitably continues to dip, ditched altogether.
When even South Africa, the best Test outfit of the past decade, struggles to find opponents, you know things are in a bad way. Things look even worse for Ireland, who will probably find that all these years of painstaking progress towards full membership will have been a waste of time, since no bastard will want to play them anyway.
The current state of Test cricket is about as bad as at any time in living memory. A rebuilding South Africa are number one, followed by an Australian team whose legacy beyond last summer is yet to be determined. Pakistan are third, despite not having won a Test series since whitewashing England back in 2012/13. And a frankly woeful Indian team (particularly away from home) sits fourth.
Which doesn’t necessary mean the standard has to be terrible. The first Test of the Sri Lanka vs. Pakistan series featured perhaps the greatest ever finish to a Test match. It was at least the most batshit mental, as Sri Lanka, playing in front of a packed house that had turned up to see Mahela Jayawardene play his last Test at Galle, ran down a small fourth innings total, in the face of fading light and time wasting from Pakistan, moments before it began to bucket down. At which point the crowd, and Dean Jones in the commentary box, went completely nuts. Test cricket can still provide games like that, even though it took four days of drudgery to get there, and the game as a whole largely seems to have slipped under the radar as far as the rest of the world is concerned.
Focus in England in particular has been elsewhere, and the Anderson/Jadeja debate has given every impression of fiddling while Rome burns. What do England and India (and Australia) care about all the other Test playing nations? They are rich now, and they will still be rich when they are gone. It’s not that their current debate is unimportant, it’s just that it feels like the sort of controversy the idle rich like to distract themselves with when there are far larger (but much more mundane) issues they ought to be dealing with instead.