The launch of the Test Championship took place this week with the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston kicking off a two-year competition which, it is hoped, will add much needed vitality to the game’s greatest format and provide context to the lower profile bilateral series as well as encourage players to stay longer in international cricket and play the game by which they will always be judged and remembered.
At the same time, the imminent arrival of the Euro T20 Slam has provided yet another reason for the game’s best players to consider the most efficient way of maximising revenue during the best years of their careers.
The European tournament comprises six teams – two each from Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands. Having initially being dismissed as a desperate attempt by the minnows to clamber aboard the T20 gravy train, it is now being seen for what it really is – a serious venture with the potential to attract players away from the Caribbean Premier League and even from their national teams.
The Edinburgh Rocks, Glasgow Giants, Rotterdam Rhinos, Belfast Titans, Dublin Giants and Amsterdam Knights will play each other over two rounds of matches at three venues before semi-finals and the final. The tournament will start at Amsterdam’s VRA ground before moving to The Grange in Edinburgh and finishing at Malahide in Dublin for the concluding group games and the finals.
There is no shortage of big names, despite the CPL overlapping. Shane Watson, Brendon McCullum, Rashid Khan, Shahid Afridi and Martin Guptill will line up alongside or against Chris Lynn, Luke Ronchi and world cup winner captain Eoin Morgan – and there are a bunch of South Africans, too, including wrist spinners Imran Tahir and Tabraiz Shamsi and all-rounders Robbie Frylinck, Jon Jon Smuts and Dwaine Pretorius.
Dale Steyn will feature for head coach Lance Klusener’s Glasgow Giants while Herschelle Gibbs will take charge of the Rotterdam Rhinos. Gibbs was most peoples’ last guess at coaching material during his playing days but, following successful stints as Kuwait’s national coach and mentor of the Rajasthani Heroes in the Dubai T10 League, his ‘glamour’ appeal has become a desirable commodity.
The signing of 24-year-old Titans fast bowler Corbin Bosch by the Dublin Chiefs is interesting for a couple of reasons. It confirms a desire by the teams to win, not just sign ‘big names’ and put bums on seats. It also opens up the possibility that even more young South Africans will be exposed to the lucrative, international T20 market and, with the prospect of Kolpak contracts ending in county cricket in 18 months time, could persuade them to pursue a freelance career even before experiencing an international one.
Even a couple of years ago it was just about possible to play domestic T20 cricket for a full 12 months because Dirk Nannes managed it when Zimbabwe still had its own tournament. Now it is undoubtedly possible – the more adventurous might even consider a visit to the Himalayas with a gig in Nepal’s Everest League.
The Ashes will always be the Ashes – even if the players do have names and numbers on their backs this year. The rivalry and intensity won’t change, and I suspect the popularity of the contest won’t either. The Test Championship has not been created for the benefit of the Ashes. But it has been created to provide meaning to just about every other bilateral series played everywhere else in the world.
The Ashes is Test cricket’s oak-paneled boardroom but, for the workers on the factory floor, the incentive and motivation provided by a championship structure (albeit a flawed one in which each team plays only six of the other eight teams in a two-year cycle) is still very welcome.
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