Australian captain Pat Cummins and vice captain Steve Smith have both voiced their concerns around the future of Test cricket after an eye-opening move from rivals South Africa. The Proteas are set to tour New Zealand in February in what should be a mouthwatering clash between two proud Test cricket nations.
However, the South Africans will essentially send over a second-string side to New Zealand after the country's cricket governing body decided to prioritise their money-spinning home Twenty20 league (SA20) over February's two-Test tour. Any players with deals to play in the SA20 will be ordered to stay home and play in that instead of touring, in a move that is set to affect nine of the Proteas' incumbent Test XI.
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Many senior Aussie players have long harboured concerned over the longer form of the game, with the commercial opportunities for T20 cricket outweighing those at Test level for many nations. Cricket Australia faces somewhat of a tough sell for this home summer of cricket, with three Tests against Pakistan to be followed by West Indies touring for a second straight season.
It's across the ditch where the real concerns lie, with both Cummins and Smith admitting South Africa's decision to prioritise its own domestic T20 competition over Test cricket is a kick in the guts for the longest form of the game. "That's not really what you want to see for Test cricket," Steve Smith told AAP ahead of the summer.
"Ultimately it's their decision as a board around what's important to them. But it's not ideal." Australia's captain Pat Cummins is also concerned and says he finds the situation "weird" considering how much interest there is in Test cricket in Australia.
"I don't know what to think, it's disappointing to hear," Cummins said. "It's weird, because in Australia Tests are so strong. The crowds are great, millions of people watch each summer. It's really well supported.
The travel costs associated with sending Test squads around the world and the revenue that many countries take in from hosting Test series does not often stack up against the commercial appeal of domestic T20 leagues. Cummins says it does feel like less time and resources are being spent on Test cricket in other parts of world and he's worried that it could mean fewer Test-playing nations in future.
"It does feel like there's probably less countries than five or 10 years ago that are really putting all their resources into international cricket," he said. "I don't know the answer, but as a Test cricket lover, I hope there are 20 Test teams in another 10 years, not less."
Pat Cummins wants to see longer Test series
The vast majority of Test series scheduled across the next two years will be two-match affairs, with the exceptions generally being those involving Australia, England and India playing against one another. Cummins is adamant, however, that longer Test series are crucial to the survival of red-ball cricket.
"An Ashes series like we just had, that's very commercial," Cummins said. "You've got millions and millions of eyeballs plus packed stadiums. You'd hope that just like some T20 tournaments are very commercial, you've got to find a way to make a Test series commercial for some of these countries."
With more domestic T20 competitions popping up around the world, one solution that's been floated is around football-style international windows, to address the threat of lucrative year-round franchise contracts for players. "It might get to (windows) at some point," Smith said. "There's obviously lots of leagues popping up around the world and players want to be involved in them as well.
Aussie all-rounder Cameron Green thinks the answer lies in windows that would stop nations playing Tests during their own T20 league, but is not worried about the future of Test cricket. "If you ask those guys that are in that (South Africa) predicament if they'd play Test or T20, I think most of them want to play the Test cricket," he said.
"It's just a matter of a balancing act and being able to work together. Instead of scheduling matches when they know that T20 comp is on, maybe everyone needs to work better together and organise a drop in T20 games and Tests. It could combat that and still give players a break as well."
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