New ICC chief Greg Barclay
It will be difficult for all countries to play enough matches with the Big Three, feels ICC chairman Greg Barclay. Image Credit: Twitter

Kolkata: It was nothing short of a warning signal sent out by Greg Barclay, the Chairman of International Cricket Council (ICC), about the future of the purest format of the game. Just when one thought that Test matches were enjoying more of a context with the second cycle of World Test Championship now on and the matches were becoming more result-oriented, Barclay’s views on the sidelines of the first England-New Zealand Test struck a somewhat jarring note.

Pragmatic, yes, as premier sporting events cannot be immune to the financial bottomline - and this is not the first time the man on the hot seat pondered the feasibility of five-day contests in it’s current volume. When the first edition of WTC ended in last June amid a mixed feedback, Barclay said it was still a work in progress and may undergo a transformation with time.

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What, exactly, is the logic behind the outgoing ICC supremo’s contention that there could be fewer five-day games played annually while women’s Test matches may become untenable in future? The biggest challenge for ICC, as it tries to draw it’s Future Tours Programme (FTP) for next eight-year cycle from 2023-31 is apparently that of the ICC events and surfeit of T20 franchise leagues coming in the way of squeezing in of bi-lateral series in any format.

The New Zealander also hinted that arranging series with the top-three cricket-playing nations - India, England and Australia - will get increasingly difficult with time. Now, this again raises visions of the ‘Big Three’ calling the shots as they are the biggest revenue generators as Barclay said that the other nations may get lesser opportunities to play enough cricket against these three countries given their hetic schedule.

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The Ashes series, along with the ones between the Big Three, are the only ones where a full five-Test series is played these days. Image Credit: AP file

Now, Barclay has given a caveat that it’s only ‘one man’s point of view’ but his assumption is that’s the way things will pan out in future. After being at the helm of affairs at a time when the sport faced it’s biggest squeeze in two years of the pandemic - he is surely aware of the critical issue of the balance sheet of the cricket boards. There are not too many boards who can claim to have their head above the water and no amount of romanticism about the five-day game on part of the fans may be of worth much.

It was less than two years back when the speculation of ICC mulling four-day Test matches did the rounds - a proposal which sharply polarised the cricketers’ community. While England and South African boards had reportedly backed such an idea amid talks that the governing body was contemplating such a move from the 2023-2031 cycle, it met with a strong reservation from influential figures in the game like the then Indian captain Virat Kohli or former Australian great Ricky Ponting. A reduction in the duration of Test matches, as the thinking was, that it would make it more feasible in terms of scheduling in these times of choc-a-bloc international calendar.

What will then work? The introduction of Pink Ball Tests, where superpower India became a late entrant from 2019, has also not yielded immediate results. While they are now agreeable to play matches under lights overseas, both day-night Tests played in India ended in less than three days and the exaggerated movement of the lacquered pink ball has become another contentious issue for the batsmen.

One thing is for certain, Barclay’s views will throw open another debate on the future of the five-day game. And this time, those with the media rights may have the final say!