Ready…Steady…Cheer Up!

Hurray! With the anti-climactic conclusion of the 3rd Test against the West Indies in Sydney, the worst summer of Test cricket in years has finally come to an end. Surely the outlook for Aussie Test cricket fans can only improve.

It’s been a rough summer. Only one of the six Test matches played in Australia since November – the day /night Test against New Zealand in Adelaide – was worth watching. The Black Caps are a good team, but the pitches at the Gabba and WACA in the 1st and 2nd Tests were unrecognizable in their flatness, which offered little to the bowlers. The 2nd Test in Perth, in particular, was probably the worst Test match I’ve ever seen.

The result of the West Indies series was painful and entirely predictable. I have some sympathy for Cricket Australia, because when the summer schedule was determined years ago, they had little idea of how far West Indies cricket would plummet. It is consensus now that the West Indies should never be invited back for a summer series.

There is a lot of chat about the allegedly dim outlook for Test cricket. Some of this reflects the huge success of the Big Bash League. My kids and I are enthusiastic converts to the BBL – they like the entertainment factor whereas I am impressed by how much the skills of the players have improved in the T20 format – but there is of course no reason why Test cricket and T20 cannot co-exist.

But for this to happen we need two things: a) a better standard of opposition and b) better Test wickets.

Well, one down, one to go.

As far as the quality of the opposition is concerned, the Australian Test team is now poised to face a succession of teams who will challenge it far more than the West Indies could, at least until the 2-Test tour of Australia by Bangladesh in August 2017:

Australia: Test schedule*OpponentNo. of TestsWhere
Feb-Mar 2016NZ3Away
July-Aug 2016Sri Lanka3Away
Oct-Nov 2016S Africa3Home
Dec 2016 -Jan 2017Pak3Home
Feb-Mar 2017India4Away
Aug-Sep 2017Bangladesh2Home
Feb-Mar 2018S Africa4Away
Jun-July 2018Zimbabwe2Away
Dec 2018-Jan 2019India4Home
Jan-Feb 2019Sri Lanka2Home
Mar-Apr 2019Pak3Away
* Source: ICC Future Tours Program

In February, Australia will play three Tests in New Zealand, where the conditions will present plenty of challenges and where a series victory is anything but a foregone conclusion. After a brief trip to South Africa in March (where it appears the itinerary will consist only of a few shorter format games but no Tests) and the T20 World Cup in India, Australia will have two months off before the West Indies hosts an ODI tri-series with Australia and South Africa.

Australia’s next major series will be its tour of Sri Lanka in July (three Tests, 5 ODIs and 2 T20s) before South Africa and Pakistan visit over the 2016-17 summer for three Tests each. Sri Lanka will be no pushover in their own backyard. South Africa is always a tough team to beat, even though they might arguably have slipped a bit lately. Even Pakistan should not be taken lightly when they visit Australia – the conditions will obviously suit the hosts, who will be favourites, but Pakistan have been playing some good cricket lately.

With this box ticked, we’re left with the other major problem afflicting Test cricket in Australia: the dull state of our Test pitches, especially since the 2014-15 series against India (see our previous post ‘Flat Pitch Emergency’). Cricket Australia boss James Sutherland has acknowledged the problem but how long will it take to address, and why is it so bloody difficult to prepare a decent wicket anyway? More about that in future posts.

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