England start a two-Test series against Bangladesh later this afternoon. The last time the Tigers toured the British Isles, in 2005, they lost Tests at Lord's and Chester-le-Street before lunch on the third day. England, fresh off their success at the World Twenty20, have rested Stuart Broad and Paul Collingwood, and decided that now is the time to give Eoin Morgan free rein as a Test cricketer. The games will not be sold out, and whatever crowd they attract will pale into insignificance next to those for the "neutral" Tests in England later in the summer between Pakistan and Australia.
Pakistan will also play a one-day series against England at the same time the World T20 Champions League is being staged in South Africa. The clash of dates with the last fortnight of the county season means that no English teams will be able to take part in the tournament. The Professional Cricketers' Association have expressed their dismay at the development, and insisted the International Cricket Council should provide a window for the competition in future.
Last year's Champions League had no representatives from Pakistan, then the T20 champions, and this year's will feature only sides from India, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and West Indies. The exclusion of Rajshahi Rangers, the Bangladeshi T20 champions, is a reflection of how the country's stock has dwindled since the halcyon days of 2007 when they upset both India and South Africa in the 50-over World Cup.
Given the we-play-because-we-have-to approach which is the subtext for the Bangladesh tour of England, it is time to ask the game's administrators what gains accrue from such scheduling. The top players are more than happy to skip such tours, and with the TV companies that now grease the wheels of the international game only interested in a handful of iconic bilateral series, you can only wonder how long the Future Tours Programme will last.
The Indian Premier League (IPL) and the Champions League already take up seven weeks in the calendar, and over-burdened players have already made it clear where their priorities lie. The die was cast back in July 2008 when MS Dhoni, the India captain, opted to skip the Tests in Sri Lanka after a hectic few months that had included six weeks of the first IPL. India lost 2-1, with Dinesh Karthik and Parthiv Patel responsible for wicketkeeping gaffes galore, and Dhoni was back to lead the one-day side to a comfortable series win. Only a handful of players are likely to pass up fat IPL contracts so that they can be well rested for international commitments. And why should they?
A hard-hitting editorial in the latest issue of Australia's Inside Sport said: "With its overflowing stadiums and hefty cheque-books, the IPL is globalising cricket along the franchise model that underpins all the other major team sports across the globe. "Cricket can't happily rest on its outmoded calendar of forgotten Tests and saturation pyjama tournaments. IPL is the future. And ignoring the tournament won't change this fact."
Sport has always attracted most attention when it promises an even contest, or when it appeals to tribal and parochial instincts (England against Australia, for example). Unless you are Ian Bell and you average 244 against Bangladesh, there is little to look forward to from an English point of view. Bangladesh have lost 57 of their 66 Tests, and even those sympathetic to their cause struggle to find an argument in favour of them continuing in the Test arena. In the shorter versions of the game, the gulf in class is more easily bridged. In Tests, the chasm is a yawning one.
You already have sports like basketball where an NBA title is worth far more than World Championship success. Footballers regularly skip friendly internationals so as not to offend their clubs. The Test matches at Lord's and Old Trafford will be an anachronism in more ways than one. Cricket needs to ponder other options if it is to stay afloat in the modern world. @Email:email@example.com