Despite the rising popularity of limited-over formats and the rise in viewership of Twenty20 Leagues, Test cricket still remains the preferred format for the fans, the MCC World Cricket Committee announced on Saturday (March 9). MCC conducted a survey in more than 100 countries and found that over 86 per cent of fans placed Test cricket ahead of one-day or T20 cricket.
The committee, after it's annual meeting in Bengaluru, announced that more than 13,000 fans were contacted in the survey with the majority of them from England, India, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Sri Lanka. One of the key factors resulting in the rise of popularity were the away series wins by teams in the last year. New Zealand's win against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates, England's win in Sri Lanka, India's win in Australia and the Sri Lankan whitewash on South African soil have made for gripping viewing. "What we want to make sure is that Test cricket is a priority for every single country. I was staggered by the statistics. Which is great that there is interest in there. I like that because I thought it wasn't that popular," Shane Warne, who was attending his first meeting after being elected last year, told Cricbuzz.
"It's now how we get the people to attend the games. It's about how can we better the in-stadium experiences, the pricing of the tickets, how can we get the families involved - all those sorts of things. For India, maybe try Day-Night Tests here. In actual fact, the state of Test cricket is very healthy. There are a lot of people watching and the TV rights are going for a lot. There' so much interest in Test cricket that it warms the heart."
Kumar Sangakkara felt the onus is now on the administrators to make use of the rising popularity and solidify the future of the format. "With superstars like Virat Kohli leading India to a first-ever Test series win in Australia and winning three ICC awards, including 2018 Cricketer of the Year, there's a real opportunity - and responsibility - for us all to cement the future of our superb longer form," he said. "And great Test series like the Windies' win over England and Sri Lanka's win in South Africa show there's huge competition amongst the top countries at the moment and it makes for exciting competition. It is brilliant news fans are backing the great cricket being played the world over."
Mike Gatting, the chairman of the committee, went on to praise the efforts of Kohli and Faf du Plessis in making Tests popular. "Having the support of stars such as Virat Kohli and Faf du Plessis will encourage a whole new generation to follow Test cricket. Virat has expressed his commitment to maintaining the position of Test cricket at the top of the sport, while off the back of South Africa's one-wicket defeat to Sri Lanka Faf insisted such matches demonstrate Test cricket is still the number one format," he stressed. "When you have high-profile leaders like Virat and Faf being part of hugely exciting series, it shows what Test cricket can be. It is easy to see why the format is viewed as the pinnacle of our sport and we want to see it future-proofed and that could include looking at more day/night Tests, which we can see there is a big demand for, especially in Asia."
The committee has also put forward the recommendation for the use of one brand of ball across the globe in the ICC World Test Championship. While the Dukes ball is the preferred one in England and in the Caribbean, a lot of countries - including Australia, South Africa, Pakistan and Sri Lanka - prefer using the Kookaburra ball while the SG ball is used in India. Kohli, during India's Test series in England, had suggested the Dukes ball was most suitable for the longest format. "The Dukes ball, I think, is the most suited ball for Test cricket. If there's a situation I would vouch for that to be used all over the world because of the consistency of the ball and how the bowlers are in the game at any stage ... even the spinners, because the seam is so hard and upright," he had said.
"What we discussed was now that we have the ICC Test Championship, it should be fair for everyone. Let's get all the balls - the Dukes, the Kookaburra, the SG ball - and work out what the best ball is. Our recommendation is that the same ball should be used in all the Test Championship matches starting with the Ashes later this year. Whatever ball that is," Warne revealed.
The members of the committee also threw their support behind the inclusion of women's cricket - in the T20 format - in the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022. Suzie Bates, the former New Zealand captain, felt the move will bring in new fans and more opportunities for the players. "Multi-sport events like the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics attract and inspire a different audience, so it's an enormous opportunity for women's cricket to win new fans, as well as being a chance for the Commonwealth Games to build on one of their core values - equality - and create more opportunities for female athletes," she pointed out. "Having Women's T20 at Birmingham 2022 would be a game-changer."
The last time cricket was played in the Commonwealth Games was in 1998 and the final decision of its inclusion is expected by September this year by the Commonwealth Games Federation. "It's a hugely exciting time for women's cricket after two great World Cups in two years and it's up to the cricket world and Commonwealth Games Federation to build on that momentum and bring cricket into multi-sport games," Warne said. "What's more, including women's T20 in the Commonwealth Games will demonstrate that the sport of cricket is inclusive, dynamic and with plenty of opportunities for growth."