ICC complicit as Australia’s selectivity poses threat to Test cricket

Al Hotchkiss

It is due to be confirmed shortly that Australia will tour Bangladesh, their first voyage to the land of the Tigers since 2017.

This is a change of plan. Originally, Bangladesh were due to travel, rather than host Tests which would count as part of the World Test Championship. Now they will host only T20 Internationals.

Australia was also due to tour in 2018, for two Tests and three ODIs, but in the May of that year, that series was cancelled. The reason? Why, as the famous writer Grantland Rice said: "The answer to all of your questions is money"

Coincidence? This appears unlikely.

It does not seem a stretch that the only reason to travel is for a tune-up for the T20 squad ahead of the T20 World Cup, due to be held in India. It must be a good idea – because England are already going over there at the same time for the same reason.

But Bangladesh miss out, again on the chance to play Test cricket in, and against Australia. They haven't played a Test there since 2003. Tamim Iqbal and Shakib Al Hasan have never played a Test in Australia.

If you're interested in how that looks for England players, the first player to make their Test debut in 2003? Number 613 – James Anderson. Bangladesh have not toured Australia for as long as Jimmy Anderson has played Test cricket.

It seems incredulous because England often go. But why not the others? The answer again is money.

The ICC was to change this with the World Test Championship (WTC). The aim to encourage Test cricket's continued importance amid an ever-increasing amount of international and domestic one-day variations. Aimed to "bring context to bilateral Test cricket", every game would count as points towards a "pinnacle event for the format".

The idea is as brilliant as it is fatally flawed, and Australia's change of tour plans is one of the reasons why.

Cricket Australia will tell anyone that their primary concern is, well, the future of Cricket Australia – why do we have to go and play a Test Series that we believe no one will watch at home, and we will lose money? They have an excellent point – we have an established world cricket trophy to try and win. We acclimatise to conditions in India by going there and this increases our chances of winning.

From the ICC's perspective, this surely is less than ideal behaviour – especially, when you factor in the idea that cricket wants to be an Olympic sport. It surely cannot reach the threshold of international take-up in IOC countries when the ICC can't make two of its nine current top level, Test-playing countries play against each other.

The concept of the WTC only works in two circumstances – either everyone plays everybody else, home and away, or you create mini-leagues, where teams play other teams of a similar standard. Either way, the agreements for these games must come under the auspices of the ICC itself. After all, it's the ICC's competition.

A look at the WTC table shows the nature of disparity – England are playing their seventh series within the Championship, having just played Sri Lanka's fourth, while Bangladesh are playing their third against the West Indies (playing their fifth).

If the ICC cannot ensure the fair playing of its own 'flagship' competition, then what is the point of the competition itself?

One may go even further – what's the point of the ICC? What is it growing? What is it nurturing?

There has been lots said about the behaviour towards associate nations – the closed shop, the old boys' club effectively refusing new membership. It seems the newer members are still being pushed around by the older, more established members

The ICC must consider the mission at the heart of its existence – in which the words lead, grow, promote, engage and build proliferate:

"We will lead the continued drive towards more competitive, entertaining and meaningful cricket for players and fans. We will grow the sport by creating more opportunities for more people and nations to enjoy it and increase the competitiveness of international cricket at all levels. We will promote cricket by delivering exciting and engaging global events, attracting new and diverse fans and building long-term successful commercial partnerships. And finally, we will continue to make considerable efforts to protect the integrity of the sport,"

The lack of effort, or lack of success in ensuring that cricket of the highest level is played by Australia, and others, in other Test-playing countries shows the ICC is unwilling, or unable to achieve its very nature for being.

If this doesn't change, cricket may not feel any different to some – England, Australia and India engaging in more tours of each other, but cricket will not be growing – in fact it will be dying from the inside out.