Сricket

Ponting’s timely call for central Test funding must be heeded

As he has a habit of doing in the commentary box, Ricky Ponting has articulated the vital next passage of play in Test cricket.

Rather than a bowling plan or a field setting, this time it is an off-field course that Ponting has identified, and one which has the potential to save the game’s oldest and purest form from shrinking to a pursuit for only four or five cashed-up nations.

South Africa were cornered this summer.Credit:AP

Broadcast audiences for Australia’s domineering victory over South Africa were among the biggest non-Ashes numbers in years, outstripping even those for home series against India in 2018-19 and 2020-21.

When Cricket Australia negotiated its broadcast rights deal with Foxtel and Seven over the summer, it was from Test cricket’s uplift in audience that virtually every dollar of rights value improvement came from.

Yet the poverty of the Proteas’ cricket, particularly their batting, illustrated how the drain of players to Kolpak deals in English country cricket and to Twenty20 franchise leagues had sapped one of the game’s richest wellsprings of talent over the past 30 years.

For Ponting, it led to genuine concerns about the future of Test matches, and soon after that to a clear idea about the solution – central assistance to help financially challenged nations pay their players a competitive salary to prioritise Tests.

“I’ve never been worried about Test cricket until I’ve seen this team here. Absolutely,” Ponting told Melinda Farrell for Wisden Cricket Monthly. “The West Indies, you can trace that back 20 or 30 years, so you can understand their demise, but it’s harder for me to understand South Africa being this. If that is the best group of players that they’ve got then I think it’s an issue for the world game, for sure.

“I think the obvious answer is trying to find a way for the ICC to fund some of these series. So it’s not just the big ones playing against themselves, because these guys right now, the West Indies and South Africa, probably need the money more than ever. So you would think the governing body would get involved there and somehow try and help them out.”

The notion of changing Test cricket’s financial model from one where all nations are meant to fund themselves by selling broadcast rights to home games has floated in the ether for some years.

It was one of the ideas discussed around the time the World Test Championship was being pulled together, before being deemed too difficult. And it would be likely to require a greater degree of involvement by the International Cricket Council than has been allowed by its member nations for some years.

But the time for doing anything else is running increasingly short due to the rise of T20 franchise leagues and their vast wads of cash for globetrotting soldiers of fortune.

What is emerging in ways that most administrators are starting to realise is a clear and present danger for all countries who wish to play Test cricket, not just those with financial challenges in the present moment.

Without trust that more than two or three other nations will be able to keep playing regular Test cricket and funding their teams and players, holes begin to become visible in the cyclic global calendar.

A strong example of this is provided by how Cricket Australia sold its broadcast rights into India last year and then Australia in January. The governing body secured 20 home Tests against India and England, shared across four tours: India in 2024-25 and 2028-29, and England in 2025-26 and 2029-30.

That’s a lot of certainty a long way out, so far as Australia’s biggest series are concerned. But what about the rest? So far, the 2026-27, 2027-28 and 2030-31 summers are just about devoid of opponents, save for a single visit by New Zealand.

It’s due to this yawning gap that collective solutions need to be found. There is money around, of course. The ICC’s $US3 billion ($4.2 billion) deal for global events is due to be divided up at the board’s next meeting in March. India, Australia and England will each have a significant say in how that looks.

What becomes increasingly necessary is some sort of pool for needy nations, along the rough lines that Ponting has outlined. Otherwise his commentary insights may increasingly be limited to the burgeoning circuit of Twenty20.

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