The Changing Landscape of Test Cricket: Kemar Roach Reflects on Its Future
West Indies fast bowler Kemar Roach has expressed his worries about the future of Test cricket in an interview with the Wisden Cricket Weekly podcast. He’s concerned that the influence of cricket’s ‘Big Three’ – India, Australia, and England – is making it harder for smaller cricket boards to maintain Test cricket. These smaller boards face challenges like reduced Test schedules and the lure of financially rewarding T20 leagues.
For instance, West Indies used to play 12 Tests a year, but now it’s down to just 7.2 Tests per year. South Africa won’t play a three-match series until 2026, according to the current Future Tours Programme. On the other hand, India, Australia, and England often play against each other, featuring five-match series at home and away in the current FTP.
Roach believes the International Cricket Council (ICC) should step in to protect Test cricket, especially for smaller cricketing nations. He thinks that the ICC, being the governing body, needs to address the concerns raised by players like Ricky Ponting. He’s also worried that younger players are losing interest in Test cricket, and some current players from smaller nations find it unfeasible.
In essence, Roach is calling for action from the ICC to ensure the future of Test cricket is more secure and appealing to players from all nations.
“It is worrying,” said Roach. “There are a lot of franchises around the world, cricket all year around in terms of franchise cricket. And let’s be honest, people are looking after livelihoods now, so they’re chasing dollar, they’re chasing money. And it’s understandable. Cricket is a very short career. I can understand why people do that. So Test cricket now, obviously for the small nations like West Indies, and I guess South Africa now, teams aren’t getting much Test cricket. Only the big nations like the Indias, Australias and Englands get their 10 to 15 Test matches a year. But in terms of the smaller nations, some guys don’t think it’s feasible.
“You only play six Test matches in a year. That’s not good. For me, my last Test match was against India. That was in July. And I’m not playing another Test match until January next year. So that’s a long, long layoff. If you’re going to Australia [West Indies’ next Test series in early 2024], that is probably the toughest tour you can ever go on. So it’s a long, long layoff. And I don’t think there’s any emphasis on improving Test cricket, I don’t think people who are in charge of cricket are making an emphasis to improve it. Franchises have taken over. And that’s the fact of it. And players are more going towards franchise cricket. I have a love for Test cricket. I think if you’re a good Test cricketer, you can play any format. That’s my belief. Once you’re a good red-ball cricketer you can play any format.”
In recent years as franchise opportunities have exploded around the world, West Indies have not had all of their most talented players at their disposal in Test cricket. Shimron Hetmyer is one IPL regular who made a promising start to his Test career in his early 20s but hasn’t represented West Indies in Test cricket since late 2019. Nicholas Pooran, arguably the most gifted of West Indies’ current crop of batters, has not only never played Test cricket, but has only played five first-class matches by the age of 27.
Talent retention is a problem not exclusive to West Indies. South Africa wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock announced his retirement from Test cricket at the age of 29 and after this year’s World Cup, will only play T20 cricket. The Proteas are also set to send what will at best be a second-string side on their tour of New Zealand in early 2024 due to a clash with their own domestic T20 competition, which in their board’s view, must retain its best players to maximise revenue.
Roach believes that the next generation’s love of Test cricket may already have dissipated.
“I think it’s gone already to be honest with you,” said Roach. “I think it’s gone already. I think a lot of youngsters are more into T20 cricket, that’s what they’re excited about. Young, current professionals. For some of the ones that I know, Test cricket isn’t feasible. They don’t look at it as feasible. And it’s bad. It’s bad. When I grew up, that’s the only thing [red-ball cricket] I knew. Obviously, T20 cricket wasn’t big at that time. But now the ability to play and make a lot more money than you would make playing red-ball cricket, I think guys are looking at that more than, actually, the love of the game. And obviously, what you can achieve in a career or create a legacy is all about… the franchises might be more attractive financially or entertainment-wise so a lot of younger guys are moving towards franchise cricket, which is killing Test cricket I will say.”
Roach also expressed his disappointment around West Indies’ failure to qualify for next month’s World Cup in India. West Indies, winners of the 1975 and 1979 World Cups, failed to make it out of this summer’s World Cup Qualifier and will subsequently not take part in a men’s World Cup for the first time.
“I know the guys are pretty disappointed about that,” said Roach. “But it says a lot to us about what we need to do to improve our cricket back home. I’ll be honest with you, the quality of cricket back home and the infrastructure is not great. And a lot needs to be done. People need to sit down and have serious conversations in terms of making things happen. Not just talking about it but making stuff happen in terms of improving cricket in the Caribbean. This is definitely an eye-opener. Obviously after our struggles in recent T20 World Cups, that’s all a build-up of what has been happening back home and it’s now transparent everyone is seeing it now. I really, really hope that for the next four years, the people who are in charge of West Indies cricket really sit down and have a serious, serious conversation and start acting these words in terms of improving the cricket and there’s a lot that needs to be done a lot of simple things that need to be done on.”
In terms of what needs changing, Roach said the priority should be to improve the quality of pitches to aid the development of West Indies’ best young players. “Oh boy, you could be here all day,” said Roach when pressed on what he’d change if he were in an administrative role. “Simple things, man. The pitches need to improve. We’ve been known for our fast bowlers for years, long before us. And there is talent, there is some serious talent in the Caribbean that wants to improve that wants to get better. But we don’t have facilities, we don’t have the pitches to accommodate that. So for me, that is definitely the first order if I was president or if I was in charge of West Indies cricket.”