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England’s dramatic win over New Zealand proves Test match cricket can still hold its own against shorter formats

Rumors of the death of Test cricket abound, but it is alive and well after the exhilarating match between England and New Zealand at Trent Bridge, Nottingham, which ended in coruscating fashion on Tuesday. Under a new coach and captain, the first a former captain of New Zealand and the second born there, England’s approach has become fearless, adventurous and positive, even bordering on reckless. It certainly felt that way at times over the five days, all of which I was able to watch live in person.

This new, positive approach was taken up by the administrators who opened up the final, fifth day’s play to spectators for free. This led to what looked to be an almost full house comprising a very mixed, excited, appreciative audience, hoping for drama. They got it in abundance. After New Zealand and England had achieved parity in their first innings over the first three days, scoring 1100 runs between them — something that few would have predicted — New Zealand’s second innings closed to leave England to score 299 for victory in the remaining 72 overs of the match.

At tea on the final day, the equation had been reduced to 160 in 38 overs, the outcome seemingly in the balance. New Zealand were only one wicket away from eroding England’s batting, which needed to score at four runs per over, a rate not usual in Test cricket. What followed was an extraordinary display of batting by which England rampaged to victory in only another 16 overs. The irony is that leading the way was a man who had recently returned from playing in the Indian Premier League and who seemed to be finding it difficult to adjust to Test cricket. In effect, Jonny Bairstow turned the final session of a Test Match into a limited over run-chase, almost breaking a 120-year-old record for the fastest century made by an Englishman in Test cricket.

This was a day when the long and short formats of the game seemed to elide. I do get asked why it is that the approach to the short game is not transferred to Test cricket by players and coaches. The answer is complex. Some players are adept at both, others specialize. The balls used are different, with those used in Test cricket offering swing in the air and movement off the pitch, given favorable conditions. There are no restrictions as to where fielders can be placed or limits on the number of overs per bowler. All of this examines the technique of both batters and bowlers in much more detail and their propensity to take risk. Some coaches and captains will create an environment that encourages this and takes away fear of failure, others are not so inclined.

At Nottingham, risk was taken on and off the pitch. The England team took theirs and won; Nottinghamshire Cricket Club took theirs and opened the doors for free, gaining public relations benefits and assembling a multi-faceted crowd, many of whom would be more familiar with the shorter format. They will now be left with long-lasting memories of a famous Test match.

Another irony of this match is it that it coincided with the e-auction of the media rights for the next cycle of the IPL. As reported in previous columns, the IPL attracted around $2.5 billion for the current cycle between 2017 and 2022, with Disney-owned Star India pipping Sony Pictures to the prize of a composite TV and digital rights deal. In the next cycle between 2023 to 2027, the TV and digital rights were separated into four packages.

Bundle A, Broadcast, and Bundle B, Digital, were for the Indian subcontinent to cover 74 matches. In Bundle A, the auction resulted in Disney Star retaining the TV rights for around $3 billion, exceeding the base price of by 30 percent. In Bundle B, the base price was exceeded by 68 percent, as Viacom18 secured the rights for $2.62 million. 

The same bidder, a joint venture between TV18 and Paramount Global, based in Mumbai, also secured the non-exclusive Indian market digital Bundle C, which comprises 18 top games, for $417 million. Additionally, it will share Bundle D, which has both TV and digital rights, with Times Internet. Viacom will cover Australia, New Zealand, the UK and South Africa, while Times will cover the Middle East and North Africa region and the US. Together, these bids were worth $135.5 million.

The overall outcome of the auction is that, in the next cycle, the Board of Control for Cricket in India will receive a staggering total of around $6.2 billion, over double that generated in the previous cycle. The sum to be received for each match from TV and digital has increased from $8.47 million to $15.11 million. This compares with $17 million for each National Football League match and $11 million for English Premier League matches. In 15 years, the IPL has become the second wealthiest sports league in the world. It is also set to expand the number of matches during in the next cycle and, with it, the tournament duration.

This has implications for cricket around the world, especially for Test cricket. Already, the Pakistan Cricket Board has expressed concern. Quite what the BCCI is going to do with its burgeoning wealth is not clear. It claims that it is committed to international cricket, without specifying which format and how it will contribute. Will it keep the money for Indian cricket or spread it?

India has the depth of talent to be able to simultaneously field high-quality teams in different formats. Other countries may not want to take that risk, although, next week, England will field a completely separate team in a three-match One Day International series against the Netherlands concurrent with its third Test against New Zealand. The real issue is how to fit all of the various teams and formats into 365 days. What is apparent from this week in Nottingham is that Test cricket is not yet prepared to make way without a fight.                  

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