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The ICC's Test schedule

By Thaleel bhai
November 1 2004

Just over an hour ago, an enthralling test series - the type to attract a cricketing purist, with plenty of ebb and flow on both ends and top class cricket from both sides - just concluded, while leaving viewers feeling that there was so much more that could have taken place. After dominating the first day of the first test, Pakistan were then forced onto the back foot as Sri Lanka came back to win the test with a stunning batting performance in the second innings. Pakistan didn't make the same mistake twice, capitalizing on a good first innings performance with the ball with a massive lead - and even then, at tea time on the 5th day, it looked as if the test could have gone either way. With the series 1-1, and Pakistan and Sri Lanka looking fairly evenly matched, one could not help but feel sorry that there wasn't a deciding test for this series.

This same problem has been the case for quite a few test series in the recent past - a South African tour of Pakistan recently ended 1-0 after two tests, with South Africa having adapted to conditions and found form by the second test (which would have set up a thrilling finale for the series), and a New Zealand-India series last year ended drawn 0-all, before either team could make any impact on the series. The big issue seems to be with the ICC's ten year schedule for cricket rankings, where each team is required to play every other test team in four series within a ten year span, two home and two away.

As a result of this requirement, cricket boards are forced to fit more and more cricket into each year - and with meaningless ODI tournaments taking place too frequently, less time is available for test series to be played while giving players enough time away from cricket. A major cause for the lapses in schedules that are so apparent today are cricket boards giving more importance to some series than others (with the Border-Gavaskar and Frank Worrell trophy now being contested in 4 test series, while the Ashes are contested every 2 years in 5 match series). While major series such as these deserve more time and matches over which to be played, other series - considered slightly lower in stature by the boards - are being reduced to 2 matches each, due to the lack of time available - and the only losers are the fans.

The lack of time given to boards to organize schedules in has created a degree of oversaturation in cricket, with some series being played almost back to back, before an unusually long gap. Take the Wisden trophy, for example - in March, England toured West Indies for 4 tests... and just over 3 months later, West Indies toured England for a similar series. By then, fans were probably sick of seeing England beat West Indies - but both teams now will not play each other for another 3 years until the Windies tour England in 2007. There's a similar set up with the Border-Gavaskar trophy, with two test series being played within a gap of 10 months and being followed by a 3 year break.

And this pattern runs throughout the ICC schedule - after England tour South Africa this December, they next host the Proteas in June 2008 - and again tour six months after that. India are scheduled to similarly host South Africa in October 2008, and will then tour a few months after that. It's clear that the packed schedules for test and one day cricket force these sorts of timings - but what's more is the way some series are being set up. As South Africa are touring India in a few weeks' time, they will only have a limited period of time in which to play what traditionally has been a four test series with England. With both boards inclined on a four test series, despite a lack of time, two sets of back to back tests are being played, with a two day gap between the first two, and a similar gap between the final two - which puts unnecessary stress and pressure on the teams involved.

Teams are given inadequate time to regroup and rethink after a crushing loss, and for viewers, there's a feeling that as soon as one test ends, a second one begins - which might be enjoyable to some, but monotonous to many others - and certainly doesn't benefit the players.

The end result of this is detrimental to cricket from almost every aspect. Players are overworked or given overly demanding schedules, which are leading to injuries becoming more and more frequent, while test series schedules are being skewed - with inconsistent gaps between each series, and more often than not now, test series being too short for fans to be satisfied with the cricket on offer. The ICC needs to open its eyes to this and realize that there some things are more important than the ranking system - namely the game itself. If changes aren't made soon to the schedule, cricket will be the main casualty in the long run.

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