West Indies in Australia: The Australian Test Match Squeeze

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chris_gayleThe coming Australian international cricket season will see Australia play three tests against both West Indies and Pakistan in the crazily short time frame of just fewer than two months. That is, in just 54 days, Australian cricket administrators have scheduled 30 days of test cricket (assuming of course that all tests last 5 days). This back-to-back scheduling, which is grossly unfair on touring sides and is heavily influenced by a congested international cricket schedule, is a sign that test cricket, especially against lesser cricketing nations, is slowly being pushed to the side in favour of the shorter forms of the game.

The first test of the Australian summer, the Brisbane test, usually starts in the first week of November. However, this year it has been pushed back about three weeks, due largely to the scheduling of a meaningless seven match one-day series between India and Australia that didn’t finish until November 11.

It says a lot about the international cricket schedule when a test series is delayed by over two weeks due to a one-day tournament.

What is crazier still is that instead of using the delay to get in valuable practice matches, the West Indies chose to play just one four-day game against Queensland in the lead up. Such a lead-up game could be seen as adequate if they had recently just played a test series against a quality side, but alas, their last test series was in July. Against Bangladesh. And they lost two-zip!

To be to fair, many of the West Indies best players chose not play in that series because of a dispute with West Indian cricket authorities over player contracts. While this lessens the rebuke on West Indian cricket, there is little comfort to be taken from the fact that the likes of Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Chris Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan have not played test cricket since May, when the team was beaten by an innings and 83 runs by England at Chester-le-Street.

Since then, they have played one-day and T20 cricket and will arrive on Australian shores a team bereft of confidence. Speaking earlier this month, West Indian great, Brian Lara, stated that West Indian cricket had suffered badly because of the player strike.

‘What’s happened over the last six months must have an effect on team spirit and the guys gelling together,” Lara said. ”West Indian cricket is still in limbo at the moment and it’s hard to assess what is going on. For the last six to eight months we have been playing with a very substandard team. It’s hard to find a position of where we are at.”

Within the month the West Indies will find out where they’re at, and according to Shane Warne and Dennis Lillee, this will be a long way short of troubling Australia. In all likelihood a West Indies that has not played in a test together since May will do well to make a test against Australia last 5 days, let alone actually win one.

This brings us back to the question of the scheduling of test matches this summer. Such a congested playing schedule doesn’t say much for the confidence of the administrators that any of the test matches will actually go the distance. It rather seems that organisers are trying to shuffle the matches through as quickly as possible in the hope that by doing so, they will be able to avoid the fall-out that a heavily one-sided contest will bring upon test cricket in this country.

This might be in the interests of broadcasters, who want to get to the extravagant and relatively more competitive forms of one-day and T20 cricket, but is it fair on the West Indies and Pakistan? The answer is a demonstrable no.

One thing that touring teams need to do to be successful in Australia is properly acclimatise to the Australian conditions.  One four day match against a State side is pathetically inadequate. Three matches over the course of two-three weeks would have been much more favourable to getting players both match fit and accustomed to Australian conditions.

The ICC need to give greater recognition to the fact that cricket pitches are not football pitches: they vary greatly around the world, especially between Australia and the Sub-continent, and without the ability to come to grips with local conditions, touring sides will be at a significant disadvantage.

Such congested scheduling, and the one-sided cricket it is likely to produce, has been going on too long and each time a one-sided result happens, it is a spear into the side of test cricket’s credibility.

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