The 2005 Ashes series put cricket back on the map. The game went on to flourish over the next six or seven years with competitive test series and Twenty20 bringing the game to a wider audience. Are we now seeing a rebirth of cricket in 2017?
Ah, the game of cricket, one for the purists. This has changed dramatically over the past 20 years with Twenty20 making the sport far more attractive to newcomers. The Indian Premier League transformed the game into one packed with heavyweights, bludgeoning the ball out the ground. That said, all the six-hitting and wicket-tumbling in the world could never match the competitiveness of the 2005 Ashes.
England had failed to beat the Australians, the world’s best at that time, in nearly 20 years. The firepower of Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff was matched by the experience of Ricky Ponting, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, providing us with the greatest test series ever seen.
With T20 coming to the forefront, test cricket has taken a back seat in recent years. This year however, steps have been taken to get more people into the game at the highest level. For the first time in 17 years, new countries have been given test status, those being Afghanistan and Ireland.
With Bangladesh only recently becoming competitive in the past two years (winning just three test matches in their history not including Zimbabwe), and Zimbabwe still strides behind the rest, this should finally provide more competitive cricket for all. It will undoubtedly raise the profile of the sport in both Afghanistan and Ireland. And will also provide an incentive for other associate nations such as the Netherlands and Scotland that Test status can be acquired.
The ICC have slowly championed the introduction of day/night test cricket, once again to make the game more accessible. The changes include a pink ball which will be unpredictable for both batsman and bowler, and the opportunity for spectators to still make the game after work.
Having been first trialled in 2009, the second Ashes test in Australia this December will be a day/night game. A recent round of County Championship fixtures were entirely day/night fixtures, and although attendances were low, plenty of wickets fell. It still remains to be seen whether it is here to stay, but at least the ICC are looking at ideas to alter to game for the better.
In England, a new city-based T20 competition is to be introduced in 2020, following suit from the IPL and Australia’s Big Bash. This should allow more foreign stars to come over and play, as well as provide plenty of revenue for the ECB through bigger crowds.
Whether this will damage county cricket remains to be seen, with traditional domestic cricket struggling all over the world. Along with this, live international cricket will return to free-to-air television for the first time in well over a decade in England, with the BBC broadcasting both the new T20 competition as well as England International T20 matches.
Finally we get on to the on the pitch matters, and looking at the current standard of cricket around the globe. We no longer have the Brian Laras, Ricky Pontings and Sachin Tendulkars who took the game up a notch, but we do have Joe Root, Virat Kohli and Steve Smith who are dominating the game across all three formats. T20 was not at the level it is now 10 years ago, and it is incredible for modern day players to adjust their tempo from format to format.
The recent Champions Trophy perhaps highlighted the impact of T20 cricket on the longer game with scores getting bigger and bigger. The tournament was perhaps the best we have seen, with Bangladesh now a competitive force and Pakistan swiftly turning around their fortunes to win the tournament.
England would have been disappointed that having perhaps the most destructive batting line-up that they didn’t reach the final, wilting to a Pakistani masterclass with bat and ball. The recent One Day Cup Final perhaps showed that the 50-over format is currently the most exciting, almost becoming an extended T20. Alex Hales’ superb unbeaten 187 showing what he failed to produce during the Champions Trophy.
So tomorrow brings back test cricket in England. South Africa are the visitors to Lords, and without AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis and Dale Steyn, their side does look a little light. They should not be underestimated though with Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada all ready to perform.
The England side is looking in good shape ahead of the Ashes series this winter, but the task for this summer in the two series against South Africa and West Indies will be to nail down an opening partner for Alastair Cook and perhaps have more spinning options for the harder tracks of Australia. There is also the anticipation of Joe Root’s first series as captain, and a good summer with the bat and in the field will give him the confidence and belief for the Ashes.
So cricket is heading into the right direction, but we would need a scintillating series to get the game on the map. With Australia in the midst of a pay dispute, we may not have to rely on an Ashes series to give us that thrill for a whole summer. One thing’s for sure is that it will involve the current England side with so many exciting players. T20 and One Dayers may have the power, but you will never be able to replicate the ‘test’ of test cricket.