LONDON // As England get set to meet India in Test cricket's 2,000th match on Thursday, the sport's rulers say they are confident the game's longest format will survive to reach at least another thousand, despite signs of decline.
The Lord's Test is one of the highlights of the UK's sporting summer, and ticket sales for the 2,000th Test are likely to be very high.
India, with the biggest following of any cricket nation, will put their No 1 Test ranking on the line against the host nation, and the match is thick with subplots, too.
Sachin Tendulkar, the India batsman, will have his first chance to score his 100th international hundred after missing out on it in the World Cup final in his home city of Mumbai, in April.
Intrigue also surrounds the return of Duncan Fletcher, the incumbent India coach, to England, the nation whom he made a cricketing force again during his time in charge, which ended in some acrimony four years ago.
However, not all Test matches are regarded as such must-see events. India arrived on these shores from a tour of the West Indies which they won easily, despite fielding a largely second-string side.
The matches in the Caribbean were played out in front of paltry crowds, and the West Indies are not the only side struggling to attract support.
When Pakistan played a nominal "home" Test series against South Africa in the UAE last year, the grounds were deserted, despite admittance being free.
While the numbers of people watching the Test game has declined, its commercial pull has also diminished, falling behind the two limited-overs formats.
However, Haroon Lorgat, the chief executive of the International Cricket Council, said five-day cricket remains the "pinnacle" of the sport, and insists the inception of a new Test championship will help arrest dwindling interest.
"We have always said it is not the format that is the issue, but the lack of context," Lorgat said yesterday.
"Bilateral series would have a lot more meaning if you were aspiring to play for something at the end of it.
"We are hopeful that in 2013, the top four will be involved in a play-off, which will be two semi-finals, then a final which will determine a world Test champion.
"Already we can see the amount of interest which has come out of the rankings table. At the moment, between the Australians, Sri Lanka, South Africa and England, one of those teams will drop out of the top four."
Discussions have taken place to decide how to ensure the final would produce a result. Lorgat is in favour of playing a match which is not restricted to five days.
"You have to determine a winner," he said. "The final may well be a timeless Test match. We are still trying to determine if there will have to be a winner, or if a draw will be the end result.
"I would favour a winner because you would want somebody to be the Test champion."
ICC Greatest Test side
Ahead of the 2,000th Test match, between England and India, the ICC asked fans to vote for their greatest Test XI
1. Virender Sehwag (India)
2. Sunil Gavaskar (India)
3. Donald Bradman (Australia)
4. Sachin Tendulkar (India)
5. Brian Lara (West Indies)
6. Kapil Dev (India)
7. Adam Gilchrist (Australia)
8. Shane Warne (Australia)
9. Wasim Akram (Pakistan)
10. Curtly Ambrose (West Indies)
11. Glenn McGrath (Australia)
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