This week will see another bilateral Test series come to a close.
England have won back The Ashes.
But so what?
Does it mean anything?
How can we judge the value of an Ashes win? It’s not as though Sachin Tendulkar, Wasim Akram or Martin Crowe could ever compete in the series.
All have made less runs and taken less wickets in the Ashes than Scott Borthwick.
The most watched sporting event in the world occurs every four years.
It is called the FIFA World Cup.
It means something.
Even in non world cup years, every international team fights to qualify for other events that mean something. The European Championship. The Asian Cup.
Breaking it down another level, clubs battle for league domination on an annual basis.
It all means something. Every team has the ability to play in the finals if they are good enough.
Every match means something.
T20 is no longer the new kid on the block.
It is the future.
It is the only format of cricket that somewhat mirrors the success format of football.
It utilises franchises to participate in annual leagues that award a clear winner. The competitions have a start and an end. They are finite. There will be a winning team. The matches all have context.
Players are free to move about via drafts and trades. A World Cup is held that allows virtually any country to qualify to participate in should they be good enough.
Test cricket has none of this.
A World Test Championship was once floated as a way to give context to the oldest format of the game.
The top four ranked teams would face off every four years to decide a champion.
It potentially clashed with domestic schedules or the IPL. It potentially didn’t involve India or England at any given point in time. It potentially may have been hard to sell the broadcast rights.
It was shot down.
In its place, the Champions Trophy was resuscitated.
The irony is that it currently is the best ICC competition.
The best 8 teams is a knockout competition.
Just like the semi final stage of a football World cup.
A proven formula.
Kumar Sangakkara bows of of Test cricket this week a champion of the format.
But how can one judge whether he had team success?
Chris Gayle is a World Champion in T20. Aravinda de Silva is a World Champion in ODI’s.
There has never been a World champion in Test match cricket. There have been champions of the format, but never has a team been crowned the best in the world at the end of a tournament.
Instead, we settle for a system that no one understands. We trust it tells us who is the world’s best at any given point in time.
Test matches under this system mean little. Nominally, team rankings points are earned. Nominally, a mace can be won. Is that exciting? Does it add context?
Sri Lanka beat England away last year. A 1-0 series win. Amazing stuff. But it means little.
Bangladesh could well beat Australia this October. It would be amazing. But again, it means little.
For without that climatic end to a competition, Test cricket is nothing more than a relic living off sentiment.
And sentiment has a dying shelf life in the modern world.
We can judge team success in domestic and international T20 and One Day matches. Someone every year wins a trophy and periodically holds up a World Cup.
In the Test format, this doesn’t happen. For the business case doesn’t stack up.
Yet Test cricket isn’t about business cases. It is about the history and legacy of the world’s second most popular sport.
It is the only format where champions are made and players are truly judged.
For if you don’t succeed at Test level, the sport doesn’t truly rate you. Ask Michael Bevan. Ask Rohit Sharma.
Yet paradoxically, the format of cricket that provides the most context about a player’s worth provides the least context about their team’s worth.
In football, reputations are made and lost in World Cup finals.
Maradona, Pele, Zidane and Ronaldo.
All chased the same dream. Their country holding aloft the cup symbolising they achieved something as a team.
The Border – Gavaskar, Hadlee – Chappell or even the Ashes don’t mean the same thing.
There are many reasons why Test cricket may soon be dead.
This is the main one.
The game has no context.
[Tweet “Every Test match is a dead rubber. “]