Kemar Roach: The next generation’s love of Test cricket is already gone
West Indies fast bowler Kemar Roach has expressed his concern over the future of Test cricket in an exclusive interview with the Wisden Cricket Weekly podcast.
Roach, who has played Test cricket for West Indies since 2009, also called for the ICC to intervene to safeguard the future of Test cricket.
The Test game is increasingly dominated by the sport’s ‘Big Three’ of India, Australia and England as poorer boards have seen their Test fixture card shrink while also facing an increasingly difficult battle to prevent from losing their most gifted players to financially more rewarding T20 leagues around the globe.
West Indies, for example, have seen their average number of Tests each year drop from 12 – as it was in the first six years of the 21st century – to just and average of 7.2 over the past six years.
According to the current Future Tours Programme, South Africa aren’t set to contest a three-match series until late 2026. At the other end of the spectrum, almost half of India, Australia and England’s Tests come against each with all three set to contest five-match series home and away against each other in the current FTP.
Roach, who sits fifth on West Indies’ all-time Test wicket-takers’ list, believes that the ICC needs to act in order to preserve the Test game for more than just the game’s most financially secure nations. “Of course, of course they should be [doing more],” said Roach.
“They’re the governing board of cricket. A lot of people, a lot of articles are out that a lot of players [feel this way]. Ricky Ponting says he’s concerned about Test cricket and he’s one of the legends of the game. There’s a lot of concerning factors that should be taken seriously. But it’s a governing body. They’re in charge of what happens next. We can talk as much as we want, but if they don’t want to do anything about it, then that’s where we are.”
The 35-year-old quick admitted that not only is he worried about the future of Test cricket; he believes that a younger generation of players have already lost their love for the format, and that some current players don’t think Test cricket for the “smaller” nations is “feasible”.
“It is worrying,” said Roach.
“There are a lot of franchises around the world, cricket all year around in terms of franchise cricket. And let’s be honest, people are looking after livelihoods now, so they’re chasing dollar, they’re chasing money. And it’s understandable. Cricket is a very short career. I can understand why people do that. So Test cricket now, obviously for the small nations like West Indies, and I guess South Africa now, teams aren’t getting much Test cricket. Only the big nations like the Indias, Australias and Englands get their 10 to 15 Test matches a year. But in terms of the smaller nations, some guys don’t think it’s feasible.
“You only play six Test matches in a year. That’s not good. For me, my last Test match was against India. That was in July. And I’m not playing another Test match until January next year. So that’s a long, long layoff. If you’re going to Australia [West Indies’ next Test series in early 2024], that is probably the toughest tour you can ever go on. So it’s a long, long layoff. And I don’t think there’s any emphasis on improving Test cricket, I don’t think people who are in charge of cricket are making an emphasis to improve it. Franchises have taken over. And that’s the fact of it. And players are more going towards franchise cricket. I have a love for Test cricket. I think if you’re a good Test cricketer, you can play any format. That’s my belief. Once you’re a good red-ball cricketer you can play any format.”
In recent years as franchise opportunities have exploded around the world, West Indies have not had all of their most talented players at their disposal in Test cricket.
Shimron Hetmyer is one IPL regular who made a promising start to his Test career in his early 20s but hasn’t represented West Indies in Test cricket since late 2019. Nicholas Pooran, arguably the most gifted of West Indies’ current crop of batters, has not only never played Test cricket, but has only played five first-class matches by the age of 27.
Talent retention is a problem not exclusive to West Indies. South Africa wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock announced his retirement from Test cricket at the age of 29 and after this year’s World Cup, will only play T20 cricket.
The Proteas are also set to send what will at best be a second-string side on their tour of New Zealand in early 2024 due to a clash with their own domestic T20 competition, which in their board’s view, must retain its best players to maximise revenue.
Roach believes that the next generation’s love of Test cricket may already have dissipated.
“I think it’s gone already to be honest with you,” said Roach.
“I think it’s gone already. I think a lot of youngsters are more into T20 cricket, that’s what they’re excited about. Young, current professionals. For some of the ones that I know, Test cricket isn’t feasible. They don’t look at it as feasible. And it’s bad. It’s bad. When I grew up, that’s the only thing [red-ball cricket] I knew. Obviously, T20 cricket wasn’t big at that time. But now the ability to play and make a lot more money than you would make playing red-ball cricket, I think guys are looking at that more than, actually, the love of the game. And obviously, what you can achieve in a career or create a legacy is all about… the franchises might be more attractive financially or entertainment-wise so a lot of younger guys are moving towards franchise cricket, which is killing Test cricket I will say.” (Wisden)