James Anderson has admitted he fears for the future of Test cricket as players and spectators favour the shorter formats.
While Anderson, a veteran of 134 Tests, insists a career as a T20 specialist would never have appealed to him, he concedes younger players could be seduced by a format of the game that is, as he puts it, “easier on the body and brain and a lot easier on the pocket”. As a result, he feels it appears “less likely” that all three formats of the game will survive.
And while Anderson defended the ECB’s apparent prioritisation of white-ball cricket in recent times – “what the ECB did was the right thing as our white-ball form was horrendous” – he has also called on the governing body to do something to ensure Test cricket isn’t “pushed to one side”.
Anderson’s comments are, in part, inspired by recent announcements from Alex Hales, Adil Rashid and Morne Morkel who have all committed themselves, in the short term at least, to a future outside Test cricket. But Anderson was also alarmed by the paucity of spectators attending the first day of the Test series between South Africa and Australia in Durban.
“That’s potentially the most exciting series around the world,” Anderson says, “but crowds around the world seem to be dwindling.
“It’s a really tricky time for cricket. And yes, I do worry that it could become a one-format game. People have asked for a long time if three formats can survive and, the more time goes on, the less likely it looks. I’d hate to see it. I’d hate to see cricket being a one-format game.”
Although unsurprised by recent developments he feels there is a danger such prioritisation of T20 cricket will “set an example” to young players.
“I am not surprised at all. I thought it would happen with the way contracts have gone and I am sure there will be other people that follow in the future,” he said. “There are incentives in white-ball cricket now, especially being able to play all the Twenty20 stuff around the world. It’s getting quite lucrative in terms of the money you can earn.
“The danger for us is that it becomes, not an epidemic, but popular among players to do this. I do worry if more and more players do this, whether that sets the kind of example we want for younger guys coming through into the game. Will they want to go on and play Test cricket and put in the hard graft of playing five days on tough pitches? Or will they want to go forward in a game that would potentially be more lucrative for them?
“If you speak to the young guys coming through, the chance to play Test cricket is still what motivates them. I just worry they will get caught up in T20 as it’s easier on the body and brain. And a lot easier on the pocket as well.”
Might the ECB have done more to prevent the trend? By pushing Championship cricket into the margins of the season, creating a window of white-ball cricket in mid-summer and offering white-ball central contracts they have at least opened themselves to the accusation of prioritising the shorter formats.
But while Anderson agrees it would “definitely” help England if they could play more Championship cricket in mid-summer, he is sympathetic to the administrators’ juggling act when it comes to scheduling the season and feels a greater investment in white-ball cricket was necessary. He does, however, urge the ECB get the balance right.
“From an England point of view, they had to put money into white-ball cricket because our performances in World Cups has not been good enough,” Anderson said. “What the ECB did was the right thing as our white-ball form was horrendous. That World Cup in 2015 was dreadful and something needed to be done. They’ve gone about it the right way.
“But we have to be careful not to go too one-day. We have to find a balance because there is such a legacy of Test cricket in this country and we can’t lose that. These competitions around the world are fantastic to watch but, as good as they are, I would hate to see Test cricket suffer more than it is at the minute.
“There has to be a balance and I hope Test cricket doesn’t get pushed to one side almost. With the new T20 competition coming in as well in 2020 there is a danger that there is this huge focus on white-ball cricket so I just hope that the ECB are aware of this – I’m sure they are – and are willing to do something about it.
“In an ideal world, yes, we would definitely play more four-day cricket in mid-summer. But the actual logistics of doing that, when you have a T20 competition to fit in and you want to do that round the summer holidays, are quite tricky? Do you put the 50-over stuff in at the start when it’s going to be 180 v 160 on green seamers? Do people want to see that? I definitely think we have to play more four-day cricket in the height of summer but the actual logistics behind that are quite tricky.”
Despite the incentives – both financial and in terms of stress on the body – Anderson is adamant that, even if he was starting his career now, he would not be seduced into a future as a T20 specialist.
“I was brought up in an era where Test cricket was the pinnacle,” he says. “Even as a teenager that’s all I wanted to do. One-day cricket I enjoyed, but it was always Test cricket for me that interested me and the reason why I wanted to play.
“I have always played cricket to challenge myself. I have always wanted to improve and succeed at the highest level. And for me, the highest level is Test cricket. It has just got that extra something about it. It is tougher mentally, it is tougher physically and when you win a five-day game you feel a real sense of achievement. I certainly wouldn’t get that from bowling four overs for 56. So no, I would absolutely not go down that route.
“There is still a huge amount of support out there for all three formats. When we play Test cricket in England there are lots of kids who watch a full day’s play. I am sure there is still interest out there.
“From an England perspective, we need to start winning series more consistently to give people that ambition. And it’s the players’ duty, first and foremost, to champion all three formats when we get the chance. All we can do as players is try to promote the game. Then it’s down to people to keep coming to watch.”