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Thursday, August 11, 2005

... and On the Other Side of the Coin...

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The integrity of Test cricket has been brought back into question this week, following New Zealand's incredible thrashing of Zimbabwe in their 1st Test clash in Harare.

Early on, you would be forgiven for believing it was going to be a contest. The Kiwi's were 5/114, and must have been gearing themselves up to have a bowl that afternoon.
Enter Brendan McCullum and Daniel Vettori. Both scored centuries, and along with help from the tail, New Zealand were able to declare at their overnight total of 9 for 452. Not a bad recovery, one would think.
Day 2 ended early. Not because of poor light, or wet weather, or even riots. No, it ended early, because Zimbabwe were unable to cope with the 'lethal' New Zealand bowling attack, and lost their entire 20 wickets in less than a day. That's right. TWO innings, not one. All out for 59 and then 99. Not since the days of uncovered wickets and 'The Demon' Spofforth and 'Terror' Turner have Test matches been concluded in under two days. But here we are, the fifth-rated Test nation giving the ninth-rated Test nation a bollocking. And on their home turf, as well.

If history is any guide, the International Cricket Council will do little to find a solution to the apparent decline in the standard of some Test nations. It appears as though it has been posted into the 'too hard' basket. Perhaps moving their headquarters from Lords to Dubai will clear their thinking a little.

No one is denying that exposing fledgling nations to international cricket through the One Day format, via the ICC Trophy and World Cup, is an excellent concept. The more intelligent format for the qualifying rounds of the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies will also (hopefully) bring with it more competitive matches, and less blow-outs. The One Day format also, on occasions, provides upset results, such as Bangladesh defeating Australia in England two months ago. For heaven's sake – Zimbabwe have made the Super Six of the past two World Cups, and Kenya made the semi-finals in 2003!
But Test Cricket is a different ball game. You don't get five overs of Michael Clarke to slog at in the middle overs – you get 30 overs of McGrath and 40 of Warne. When 50 overs have been bowled, Ponting will keep pounding at you until you can dismiss him. And when you wake up sore on the third morning, you can't have a replacement – you have to go out there and do it all again.

A properly-convened two-tier system in Test cricket can work. Those deemed to be second-tier nations can still play each other, building up their own rivalries. They would also be scheduled to make tours of the major nations. For example, Bangladesh would tour Australia, playing first-class matches against all the state teams, as well as, say, two five-day clashes against an Australia A team. As a result, Bangladesh are exposed to good, hard first class cricket, in differing conditions, while Australia's first class cricketers have the opportunity to press their own selection claims against International opponents. With first-class matches being squeezed out of International programming in the modern age, due to so much more International cricket being played, it would be a great opportunity for the First Class teams around the world to still get matches against International teams.

Whatever the case, let's hope that this week's result is the last of its kind. The game of cricket doesn't need to have such one-sided results occurring. There are enough of those involving Kiama...

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