Good on James Anderson for fighting for Test cricket's future but others need to follow suit

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It was refreshing to see James Anderson actually go on record and reveal that he fears deeply for the future of Test cricket.

The England swing bowler, who is fifth in the all-time wicket-taking rankings in the format with 523 victims, has hopefully set a precedent that will now encourage other stars to speak out.

It’s sad to think, at 35, the Lancastrian will probably be the last man to reach that haul of wickets in Tests with the likes of an ageing Rangana Herath, out-of-form Stuart Broad and Ravi Ashwin, who has an astonishing record, way back in the standings.

Up to this point, too few cricketers have joined what now seems an age-old conversation over how to keep cricket’s most prestigious format alive.

There have been day-night Tests, the successful use of pink balls, the trial of a four-day match in South Africa last year and the inaugural ICC Test Championship set to commence in 2019, but ultimately the men out in the middle exercise a huge say.

Adil Rashid, Alex Hales and Reece Topley’s decisions to go it alone and sign purely white-ball contractual terms for the coming English domestic summer have been widely documented while the rise of freelance limited-overs specialists has gone through the roof.

There’s a real element of follow the leader here and it’s a dangerous trend with Test cricket facing its biggest period of adversity.

But, on the face of it, you can’t blame those players for pursuing riches in a sport where few make it to the summit.

Australia's Steven Smith plays a shot during day one of the first Sunfoil Test between South Africa and Australia at Kingsmead Stadium in Durban on March 1, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MARCO LONGARI (Photo credit should read MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images)

Empty crowd in Durban: No spectators in sight to watch South Africa and Australia on Thursday.

Playing Test cricket is still seen as the be all and end all for the previous generation and some of the current, but as for the next – it just won’t be. With T20 internationals and wholesale domestic leagues the world-over increasing and dominating television coverage, future players won’t be learning to block like Boycott but instead whack it like Warner.

It actually echoes, partly, that of teenage football fans or those in their early 20s, many of whom probably disregard footy before the advent of the Premier League and Champions League.

For all the hypothetical reasoning surrounding Test cricket’s decline and the governing bodies involved, player power, like in football, has begun to grip the game.

If more stars – like Virat Kohli, Steve Smith and AB de Villiers – talk up Tests, then that can only be a good thing.

The difference is Anderson’s heartfelt plea came from a man who has been red-ball exclusive for a few years now, and the IPL or Big Bash were never really true options. While he is still enjoying a very lucrative career in the game, it’s a different story for those now faced with making these types of decisions in their early to mid-20s. West Indies players, being a case in point, given the chaos with their board.

All the signs are pointing away from Test cricket. There are fewer lucrative deals, dwindling crowds (England and Australia aside), irregularity of series and a mismatch of sides. There’s not many reasons to get on board. Anderson is right, it’s very worrying indeed – and it’s only the players themselves who can turn the tide.

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Test cricket still the ultimate for England wicket-keeper Jonny Bairstow

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Committed to five-day format: Jonny Bairstow.

Jonny Bairstow prizes his Test career above all else – because it will always be his most important stage.

England’s one-day international opener, and Test wicketkeeper, excels in all formats – as 62 white-ball appearances for his country demonstrate.

But 50 Test caps stand most proud for the 28-year-old, who sees the obvious threat from Twenty20 franchise competitions to the wellbeing of cricket’s truest challenge.

Bairstow has the chance to help make history with a first World Cup victory for England next year – yet success and longevity in Tests remain top of his agenda.

He does not disparage ODI team-mates Adil Rashid and Alex Hales’ decision to relegate Test ambitions by agreeing white-ball-only county contracts.

But categorically, Bairstow will not follow suit any time soon.

He regards Test cricket as “absolutely” the “ultimate” – although its future is uncertain, as global crowds prefer shorter fixes and players are tempted by bigger money for shorter working hours.
Bairstow said: “If we’re not careful, there are going to be more and more people (giving up red-ball cricket).

“You’ve got lucrative tournaments… (to) go off for five weeks and earn a heck of a lot of money… (with) the strain and stress on the body of bowling (only) fours overs comparative to 24 in a day in Test cricket.”

He put himself in the mix for this year’s Indian Premier League auction but did not land a deal.

Had he done so, Bairstow would not have missed any England engagements – unlike Hales and Rashid, who cannot press Test claims while playing limited-overs only.

Pretty much sums up what that hundred meant to me… #ashes #daretodream #WACA
A post shared by Jonny Bairstow (@jbairstow21) on Dec 15, 2017 at 3:55am PST

“I won’t be going down that route just yet – we can put that to bed for the next few years at least,” he said.

“We need to back individuals’ decisions… you can’t force people into playing things.

“(But) I want to play all formats for England – I have put a lot of time and effort into white and red-ball cricket over a long period of time to get into the teams and play for England.

“That’s what I want to do for a long time.”

The unrelenting international schedule means even Bairstow needs an occasional break – which he took during last month’s Twenty20 Tri-series.

“I kept for a thousand overs in the Ashes, 6,000 balls before we even practised.

“You have to be managed – in some ways it’s not feasible to play every game and train every day, batting for hours in the nets.

“Otherwise you get complete burn-out of the squad in two years.”

Pretty much sums up what that hundred meant to me… #ashes #daretodream #WACA

A post shared by Jonny Bairstow (@jbairstow21) on

If asked to skip any Tests, however, he may not be so amenable.

“It’s something we’ve definitely got to cherish.

“I want to go on and play as many Tests as I can – because you get remembered for how many Tests you’ve played.”

In the immediate term, Bairstow will be helping England’s bid for a 2-1 lead in Saturday’s third ODI against New Zealand in Wellington.

He will be fit despite having twisted his ankle when, in a moment he likens to Glenn McGrath’s injury warming up at Edgbaston in the 2005 Ashes, he stepped on his own water bottle while fielding on the boundary in Wednesday’s win at Mount Maunganui.

“It’s one of those things – a freak thing like Glenn McGrath standing on that ball,” he said.

“I had just been signing a couple of kids’ autographs, I turned round and stood on the water bottle.

“(But) life goes on – I’m fine for tomorrow.”

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Nepal's Sandeep Lamichhane bags Caribbean Premier League contract

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Sandeep Lamichhane’s remarkable globe-trotting cricket career continued Thursday when he became the first Nepal player to be selected for the Caribbean Premier League Twenty20 tournament.

The teenage leg-spinner had already made history when he became the first Nepal player in the Indian Premier League, the original and still the wealthiest of the growing number of T20 franchise tournaments.

And Thursday saw the 17-year-old signed up by the St Kitts and Nevis Patriots during the CPL auction in London for a fee of $5,000.

He made his unofficial senior team debut as a 15-year-old in November 2015 against a touring MCC squad and so impressed his opponents he was invited to play in Hong Kong, where he met former Australia captain Michael Clarke.

An admiring Clarke then invited him to spend the following Australian summer playing club cricket in Sydney.

Lamichhane wasn’t the only 17-year-old leg-spinner to earn a CPL contract on Thursday, with Afghanistan’s Qais Ahmed signed up as well despite having played just one Twenty20 in his professional career to date, although he did impress many judges at the Under-19 World Cup.

The six CPL teams were warned off signing players from Afghanistan and England as both countries have fixtures while the August 8-September 16 event is in progress.

But such has been Afghanistan’s rise as a cricket nation that even players likely to be international reserves are attracting franchise attention.

Meanwhile West Indies’ Lendl Simmons and New Zealand batsman Martin Guptill were among those to fetch the biggest bids in the CPL draft, with Chris Gayle, Andre Russell returning from a one-year doping ban for a whereabouts violation, Dwayne Bravo and Sohail Tanvir also attracting the maximum price of $160,000 by their respective franchises.

Guptill, who struck a 49-ball century in a recent T20 international against Australia recently, had set his base price at $90,000.

Having represented the Guyana Amazon Warriors last season, Guptill was signed by the Jamaica Tallawahs on Thursday.

Tanvir, the highest-wicket taker in the previous edition of the CPL, was retained by the Amazon Warriors.

Former Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi, nicknamed ‘Boom Boom’ for his big-hitting exploits, will join Guptill at the Tallawahs after being signed on his 38th birthday.

Trinbago Knight Riders, the reigning champions, will be able to call on all-rounder Dwayne Bravo, big-hitting Australian Chris Lynn and Brendon McCullum, the former New Zealand captain, in their title defence.

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