Highway snobbery: why Ramiz Raja and other pundits are wrong about ‘mismatched’ series

When India are bowled out for 36, they can’t play pace. When England lose inside two days, they can’t play spin. When Zimbabwe lose by an innings…they can’t play at all?

Speaking on his Youtube channel after the 2nd Test in Harare, former Pakistan opener and long-time commentator Ramiz Raja trotted out several Test cricket myths in a remarkably concise mix of hindsight, doom-mongering and, worst of all, snobbery.

“Such mismatched series should not take place. Test cricket is already under pressure and very few people watch it. If you show them such one-sided matches, then they will switch to watching football or other sports. A three-day Test match is a joke.”

Hindsight: “We shouldn’t have played them.” Hand the administrators your crystal ball next time and save them the trouble.

Doom-mongering: “Test cricket is dying.” More people have access to Test cricket on TV, streams, radio coverage and Internet text coverage than ever before, and, thanks to a new golden age of fast bowling and the end of an era of flat pitches, you can count the number of bad men’s Tests over the last five years on the fingers of two hands.

Snobbery: “Why do we have to bother playing them?” Because it’s a sport and that’s what you do.

Australian journalist Malcolm Conn outdid even Ramiz for sheer concentration of wrong per word:

Fewer Tests? Zimbabwe have played as many Tests in the last five years as England have scheduled this year alone. More meaningful Tests? Zimbabwe are excluded from the World Test Championship, the first serious attempt to give Test cricket context and a standardised calendar. More A tours? An A tour is preparation for senior international cricket, not a substitute for it.

A certain standard? An earned privilege? How dare anyone presume to define what that standard is, or that they get to decide when a team has reached it? And even if we take the argument at face value, a team cannot be expected to improve to the required standard without playing better resourced teams.

An administrator’s whim? It takes only a cursory reading of Test cricket’s history to know that the ‘right’ to play it has only ever been granted by an administrator’s whim. The whole concept of teams being forced to seek permission to play multi-day cricket and call it a Test is the result of over a century of accumulated administrators’ whims.

Anyone can be wrong. But there is no excuse for being this wilfully blind, and if this piece is reading like a takedown of Conn, we are using him here to illustrate an attitude that pervades the highest levels of cricket administration and has done for the sport’s entire history, to its immense harm.

Cricket, in short, is addicted to elitism.

The ICC began life in 1909 as the Imperial Cricket Conference, funded by a South African diamond baron, ruled by England and Australia, and open only to countries ruled by the British Empire. In 1965, it became the International Cricket Conference, open in theory to the world, but England and Australia retained veto power – a power England used to try and stop Zimbabwe playing Test cricket in the first place – and the president and secretary of the MCC were automatically appointed to the same roles at the ICC.

In 1993, the ICC became theoretically democratic, and in 1997 gained its first president of colour, India’s Jagmohan Dalmiya, who had just organised the successful and lucrative 1996 World Cup. But since then, the BCCI has used the power granted it by its huge and phenomenally monetisable fanbase not to reform or overthrow the feudal system, but to sit atop it.

This has been even more marked since 2014 and the Big Three power grab, in which India, England and Australia reserved senior leadership positions and hosting rights to ICC tournaments for themselves, allocated themselves a disproportionate chunk of ICC funding, and cut the number of teams in the men’s World Cup.

While the Big Three’s stranglehold has since been broken, it continues to cast a long shadow, and with the BCCI now tightly bound up with a nationalist Indian government, those who seek to globalise and rationalise cricket are fighting against overwhelming odds. Any concessions to rationality – the World Test Championship, an independent ICC president, the accession to Test status of Afghanistan and Zimbabwe, mooted expansions of the men’s ODI and women’s T20 World Cups – have been hard won and bitterly opposed.

Commentators and writers do not make policy, but they do influence opinion. Cricket needs those who profess to love it to use their passion and their platform to fight for more opportunities, not less – because otherwise, there is no possibility of cricket shaking the addiction to elitism that continues to stop it becoming a truly global sport.