Now rejuvenated under coach Brendon McCullum and captain Ben Stokes, they will soon enough be back at the big table with Australia and India. Between them, they have the money, the clout and a tacit arrangement to play one another as often as they can while not being too obvious about it, and so add to their riches and clout.
What has happened to the rest? South Africa actually began the year brightly, winning six of their first seven Tests, including an innings win over England at Lord’s. But they’ve imploded since, losing four Tests all by wide margins. Nine of their Lord’s 11 played in Brisbane, eight in Melbourne, so it’s not simply a loss of manpower. A malaise has set in.
New Zealand, the reigning Test champions, are languishing. Pakistan, though glad to be playing at home again, keep losing there. Sri Lanka are dealing with generational change and the West Indies are what they were in Australia recently, uncompetitive. Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are also-rans.
If it was any other sport, it would be split into two divisions. The divide is as much economic as cultural. As seen this week, one Indian Premier League club can afford to pay Cameron Green for a month’s work more than what you imagine Zimbabwe can offer their entire squad for a year.
Meanwhile, South Africa reportedly are touring Australia without even a data analyst, an essential in any modern pro sports team, and it is showing in the naivety of some of their cricket. They must read about the broadcast money now on the table in Australia and weep.
The rich get richer, the poor poorer. As national boards seek new funds, T20 leagues are springing up everywhere. But it’s still two-tiered, which means that while South Africa flounders, accomplished veterans Faf du Plessis are playing in the Big Bash League. So are Kiwis Trent Boult, Colin de Grandhomme and Martin Guptill while their Test toils in Pakistan. The landscape is all askew.
It’s going to get worse and it might not get better. Next year, Australia will play four Tests in India, then in all likelihood play India again in the Test championship final at Lord’s before playing England in five Ashes Tests. The mint will be in full production.
Australians might easily turn a blind eye. Their team is playing brilliant, brave and enjoyable cricket. New stars are emerging to complement old favourites.
Apart from a hiccup against India two years ago, they are again unassailable at home and can even begin to entertain pretensions to a rare victory in India in February. More than 150,000 passed through the gate at the MCG this week and the ratings are solid.
We’re all right, Jack. But are we? If Test cricket is under threat, it’s not because it is a dated, inferior or unpopular game. The threat to Test cricket is that it is running out of tests.
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