Two more countries – Afghanistan and Ireland – were included in the list of Test-playing countries by the International Cricket Council (ICC) on Thursday, June 22, increasing the number of 12. It was after 17 years (the last being Bangladesh in 2000) that more countries got the right to play Test matches.
Understandably, both the Asian and European sides that have put up decent performances in limited-over games of late were ecstatic over the development. But how much does the inclusion of these teams as Test sides help cricket?
The decentralisation of cricket has not helped the game's quality for sure. While the quantity has been increased, the standard of the game, especially in Tests, has been mediocre to say the least.
Bangladesh and Zimbabwe's records in Tests are shocking
To look at the records of Bangladesh in Tests, the side has played 100 games in 17 years but won just nine of them of which again, five have been against Zimbabwe and two against a hapless West Indies.
The team which had made its Test debut before Bangladesh – Zimbabwe – have played 101 Tests in 25 years (even a poor playing rate) and won just 11 of them (six against Bangladesh).
Even Sri Lanka's Test records look ordinary despite winning 50 and 20-over world cups
Sri Lanka, who were the youngest Test-playing side till the time Zimbabwe came in, have won 81 out of 258 games played since 1982. Out of these 81 wins, 27 are against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe which means the islanders success rate comes down to 23 per cent from 31 per cent when the two lesser opponents are ignored. The best of these three times by far, Sri Lanka are yet to win 10 Test matches against any of the top five sides in the ICC Test ranking at the moment, namely, India, South Africa, Australia, England and New Zealand.
So, going by the unimpressive records of these three teams in Tests, what's the merit in including Afghanistan and Ireland in the longest format of the game?
Good show in limited overs does not guarantee an excellent Test side
It is being presented that the two nations' excellent performance in several tournaments, including the 50-over World Cup over the last few years, spoke for their claim for Test-playing status. But going by Sri Lanka's record of limited success in Test cricket despite winning the 50-over World Cup in 1996 and World T20 in 2014, how much significant is the connection between Test and slam-bang cricket?
Cricket has seen globalisation like any other game today but the horizontal expansion of the game has not helped the Test format. The performances of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe have been so ugly that many a time, questions have been raised as to why they were even given the rights in the first place.
Muttaiah Muralidharan has taken so many wickets against a clueless Bangladesh and Zimbabwe that had those not been there, his 92-wicket lead over Shane Warne would have gone to the latter's favour. And here, we are adding more toys to play with for the big boys by inviting two more minnows.
The entries of Afghanistan and Ireland also put the great Sachin Tendulkar's records at a danger of getting eclipsed. Just like the Master Blaster erased Sunil Gavaskar's more qualitative feats because of a quantitative boom of cricket, especially in one-day version in the 1990s and 2000s, his own records that till now seemed unsurpassable, would also be gone since the batsmen will have two more soft opponents to milk runs.
Why not have tiers in Tests?
Test cricket needs to have a tier structure if we want to protect its rich past reserve. Or else, both the game and those who made it great in the past will be facing an existential crisis in the days to come. The teams can be promoted and relegated as per their performance but allowing all sides to play everybody else in the circuit would make the noble game look a farce. A scorecard reading 1000 for the loss of one wicket will not be a good advertisement for Test cricket and it will be destined to die.
So, we need to decide: Are the new teams for the game's development or is the game for the new teams' circus?