Testing Times for Test cricket

Twitter: love it or hate it, it has its uses. The power of social networking has been demonstrated once again by the cricket campaigners from Testing Times, who are crusading for the preservation and protection of Test and first class cricket around the world.

Testing Times was formed by a small group of cricket fans on a Facebook page called Forward Point at the end of October 2011. Their creation was motivated by frustrations at the England schedule for summer 2012, and in particular that of the three Test matches scheduled between the top two ranked Test teams in the world; England and South Africa. This short series makes way for a five match ODI series against Australia, the third limited overs series between the two teams in as many years, home and away.

Following comments from England Test captain Andrew Strauss in the Times newspaper regarding his fears for the future of Test cricket, Testing Times was formed. Initially they created a Facebook page. They then harnessed the potency of twitter, setting up an account that they used to tweet anyone and everyone involved in cricket, requesting a retweet and signatures for an online petition.  Famous names to show support included James Anderson, Jonathan Agnew and Lalit Modi.

The twitter campaign has exceeded all the expectations of Rebecca Duffy from Testing Times:

“The Twitter response was awesome,” said Rebecca. “I set it up at 3pm and by 9.30pm we had over 700 followers! It’s an overwhelming success so far! I don’t think we thought anyone would listen to us at all but we’ve clearly captured the public feeling…we intend to see it through to whatever conclusion transpires.”

So encouraging was the initial support received that it spurred on Testing Times, and they began to form solid goals and objectives. Their short-term goal is to get 28,000 signatures on the petition (a number based on the capacity at Lord’s), and encourage the ECB to amend the schedule for next summer. Long term, they hope to convince the ICC to place a greater focus on Test cricket around the world.

Quite rightly they decided to build up some substance to their campaign before heading straight to the ICC. So they set their sights on the still daunting but more local target of the ECB, and in particular the issue that motivated their creation: the summer schedule 2012.

To demonstrate the thought that has gone into the campaign, the group put together a suggested revised schedule, incorporating a fourth Test against South Africa. The one off ODI against Scotland, strangely stranded in the middle of the South Africa Test series, has been moved to the end of the Test series, sensibly providing a warm up game for the ODI series. Reasonable, given that the teams for the two formats can be so different, and are led by different captains.

As the number one Test team in the world, England should be setting the example to the rest of the world in stressing the importance of the longer format of the game. After all, in England Test matches are well attended.

However, it is unlikely that the ECB will accept that they have made errors in the scheduling of next summer, let alone consider making any changes to it. Decisions have been made for financial reasons, and therefore suggested alterations motivated by a love of the game are likely to fall on deaf ears. Test matches do not always last for five days, and five ODI’s can be spread around to satisfy some of those counties who desperately need international fixtures to pay off the huge debts incurred in upgrading their facilities. A devotion to Test cricket doesn’t line the pockets of those set to benefit financially from the schedule.

England are playing one less Test match to accommodate the five match ODI series against Australia as part of a reciprocal deal with Cricket Australia – the return leg will be played in Australia in 2015 as preparation for the next World Cup. They are however, playing 15 Test matches in 2012, more than Australia (12) and South Africa (11).

With tickets already on sale for next summer, it’s far too late for changes to be made. However, the ECB cannot completely ignore such a valid and supported campaign, and continued support for the cause may lead to changes further down the line.

“We have to be realistic,” concedes Rebecca Duffy. “There’s a very real possibility that the ECB will take one look at our petition and laugh in our faces. Were certainly not kidding ourselves that 28,000 signatures on an e-petition alone is going to make the ECB perform a costly U-turn.

“But what it may do at the very least, is put it into the heads of the administrators that there is a very strong sense of anger from the cricket-loving public about how Tests are being handled, and about the international calendar which seems, increasingly, to revolve around the ODI circus.”

Testing Times, and the majority of their supporters, are not against limited-overs cricket, unless it is at the expense of Test cricket. Their view: that ODI’s and T20’s should be included as a part of a tour, not the centrepiece, and certainly not a tour in their own right, as with England’s recent trip to India.

As suggested by Testing Times, it is a sad thought that famous, thrilling Test matches from the history of the game that are still talked about with a passion by cricket fans (think Headingley 81, Edgbaston 05) might eventually become a thing of the past, in favour of the more commercially viable shorter formats of the game. To support testing times in their plight against such an occurrence, sign the petition at:

http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/testingtimes

Follow @TestingTimesXI on twitter or‘Like’ their facebook page www.facebook.com/testingtimes

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