India, Australia and England boards should do more for Test cricket- CWI CEO Johnny Grave


The boards of India, England and Australia must work closely with the ICC and act decisively to change the economics of Test cricket or risk more instances of under-strength squads going out on tour.

That is the warning from Johnny Grave, the Cricket West Indies CEO, who was responding to criticism aimed at his board and Cricket South Africa for sending inexperienced Test squads to Australia and New Zealand respectively.

“The revenue-share model is completely broken,” Grave said. “If we really want to operate as a cricketing community we are only as strong as the weakest team, and we’ve got to change the mindset of bilateral cricket.”

In 2018, Cricket West Indies put forward a paper regarding T20 leagues, which asked for a cap on the number of overseas players in leagues, and a fee for home boards. Those suggestions were greenlit last year, but it was too late, according to Grave.

The regulations are not retrospective and exclude the ILT20 in the UAE (which allows nine foreign players in the XI), the Major League Cricket tournament in the USA (six) and the Global T20 in Canada (five). That means the horse has bolted and is perhaps beyond reining in.

“If those regulations had been in place, the ILT20 probably wouldn’t have had the enormous effect it has had on bilateral international cricket in January because it wouldn’t have had as many international players, therefore wouldn’t have got the broadcast revenues and probably wouldn’t be offering players the kinds of money they are offering,” Grave said. “And then by consequence, South Africa wouldn’t necessarily have had to compete and invest so much in their international talent for the SA20 in the same window.”

The West Indies squad includes seven uncapped players (Photo: CWI Media)

Grave spoke about the impact on South Africa – who he has a “huge amount of sympathy for” – because their case is starker. They will send an entirely makeshift Test squad, including a debutant captain, to New Zealand, while the majority of their first-choice Test team is engaged at the SA20.

When South Africa announced this squad, several Australians, including former captains Steve Waugh and Michael Clarke, criticised them, questioning whether the integrity of Test cricket could be retained. West Indies were also referenced at that point. Like South Africa, West Indies have seven uncapped players in their Test squad in Australia, and some of their highest-profile players are not making the trip.

“They [West Indies] haven’t picked a full-strength Test team for a couple of years now,” Waugh said to the Sydney Morning Herald. “If the ICC or someone doesn’t step in shortly, then Test cricket doesn’t become Test cricket, because you’re not testing yourself against the best players.”

That someone, Grave says, should include Australia. “As an example of this is that CWI has spent over two million dollars sending teams to Australia in the last four months and whilst CA have received all the economic benefits from those series, we’ve seen zero dollars back. Is that really fair, reasonable and sustainable?”

Since September 2022, West Indies have played six women’s internationals and seven men’s internationals in Australia, incurring a sizeable cost.

“We took a women’s team there and we won a T20I against all the odds, and match fees and international air flights cost us three-quarters of a million dollars.

“We’ve got a Test team there, an ODI team and a T20I team, which will cost us another million-plus dollars in terms of match fees and airfares. We spend more on airfares than anyone else in the world.” Grave said.

“In percentage terms we will spend more than anyone on red-ball cricket so I would argue against any narrative that the West Indies aren’t interested in Test cricket.”

Former West Indies Test captain Jason Holder (Getty Images)

Much of the Australian coverage has focused on the absence of Jason Holder, who opted out of the Tests to play in the ILT20, and is arguably West Indies’ most decorated and recognisable cricketer today.

There is a sense that without him, and given the inexperience of the rest of the squad, West Indies’ chances of ending their 27-year losing streak in Australia are unlikely, but Grave refused to pin West Indies’ fortunes on any one player.

“We are not going to throw money at any player in order for them to say no to the Franchise leagues or force them under contract to go and play Test cricket or ODI cricket. If you want to go play ILT20 or SA20 instead of going to Australia this year, good luck and best wishes, here’s your NOC.

“We genuinely hope that for any of our current T20 players that they play well in these overseas leagues and work hard because it is part of their individual preparations for the T20 World Cup. But when you come back from it and if you want to play Test or ODI cricket, then you have to accept that someone else was selected to take your place and depending on how they performed and what your preparation and performances have been will depend on whether you are selected again or not.”

“Every player has a choice to make. As a board, we are going to be consistent. We are not going to force any player to do anything they don’t want to do. We respect their ability to make choices.”

While the West Indies board has not always seen eye to eye with their players on the club-versus-country argument, the marketplace has changed and their administrators appear to be changing with it.

The Australian position is different. In the past, players such as Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc have opted out of the IPL to focus on national duties, cushioned by handsome compensation from their boards. Grave was clear West Indies can’t do that.

“We don’t have the ability to compete with the leagues on purely salaries and even if we did we wouldn’t have any money left for grassroots cricket and other crucial programmes in our system that need our funding.”

That means West Indies are likely to lose a lot of players to leagues and can only hope to ensure they keep developing new ones to take their place.

“We play red-ball cricket at Under-17 level, U-19 level, we have A-team tours, we just played an academy series, and our first-class cricket system will cost more than any other place by miles,” Grave said. “We have to put people up in tourist accommodation, we have to [use] hugely expensive regional flights just to be able to have one first-class game. We don’t have a host broadcaster so to produce Test cricket along with hawk-eye and all the cameras is very expensive but we are still very committed to the red ball game.”

South Africa are in a similar position. Their first-class competition is not sponsored, is not broadcast, and has been bloated by expansion to a 15-team, two-tier system. Cost-cutting measures have included a reduction in the number of four-day games played – from ten to seven for top-tier teams.

A recent South African Cricketers’ Association report claimed most former and current senior players believed standards had declined. But the red-ball game has been left in a state of neglect as CSA launched the SA20 in a bid to become self-sustaining outside of the ICC. It has worked for them financially because the tournament turned a profit in its first year and has attracted new sponsors for its second, but that success is backfiring on the national team.

Last year CSA had to forego an ODI series in Australia that left South Africa’s World Cup qualification hopes hanging by a thread, and then played one against England in the middle of the SA20.

This year they are potentially sacrificing World Test Championship points against New Zealand, and next year they continue to play only two-Test series to ensure the SA20 has a clear window. Grave understands their position, because he wants the same for the Caribbean Premier League.

“The CPL is a fantastic product and we will always want to have an exclusive window so we don’t plan for the West Indies play international cricket ever again during the CPL. We want all our best players playing because we want that competition to be the absolute best it can be. We also want all the fan attention to be on that tournament when it plays. The average age for CPL fans is fairly young and the gender balance is probably more female than male. Those are the kinds of stats that any sports league would love to have. I hope the SA20 becomes like the CPL, so that anyone who says cricket in South Africa is dying – you can say look at the SA20.”

But can you say something similar to anyone who says Test cricket is dying in West Indies and South Africa? Only if the other boards help them to revive it.

“Hopefully the South Africa series has woken up the Australian media to the realities of what it’s like to operate Test cricket, and unless the boards change the economic model, I don’t think Test cricket will thrive outside of the Big Three,” Grave said.

“I don’t think it will die either. But it could be and should be so much better. If the South Africa situation can restart sensible conversations about how we position Test cricket, we would certainly welcome that and give it our full support.” (ESPNcricinfo)


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