The next two weeks could be the life or death of Test cricket

With two key Tests just around the corner, it's time for the ICC to decide what it wants cricket to be.

More than 32 million people watched the IPL final just a few days ago in India smashing the previous Indian record by seven million. The 32 million adds to a tournament that had 16 billion unique views across the entire tournament before the final match.

Those kinds of numbers are leaving cricket in a precarious position with the quick rise of T20 leagues taking players, viewers and advertisers away from Test cricket.

Across the next two weeks, the ICC has two showcase pieces that are needed to bring people back to the longer form. Firstly, Ireland is set to play England in a one-off Test match at Lords before Australia and India go head-to-head for the World Test Championship.

The traditional cricket structure took a blow last week with Major League Cricket taking the central contract of England's Jason Roy with rumours of more players set to make the move to the US. Additionally, interest in cricket has come from Saudi Arabia with the goal of essentially setting up a LIV Golf-style cricket tournament.

Test cricket hasn't been in such a dangerous position since Kerry Packer's players went to World Series Cricket in the 70s.

If the International Cricket Council is to prove it's fit for purpose in its current form then something needs to change. The advertisement, the excitement and the number of games, especially between less well-off nations needs to be improved.

Ireland has played just three Tests in the last three years. In recent times we have seen the downfall of Test cricket in the West Indies, Afghanistan barely gets on the park and even South Africa is pencilled in for just four Test matches per year going forward with an IPL-owned T20 league being prioritised in the country.

In recent weeks the ICC revenue distribution for 2024-27 was released with countries unhappy with the model which sees India earn six times more than England and almost 4 times more than the bottom 92 cricket-playing countries which are receiving 11.19% of revenue between them.

That being said India does bring in somewhere near 80% of global cricket revenue. It must also be noted while overall percentages are down the overall amounts are up for all countries.

In regards to Test cricket, the biggest issue is that the bottom eight teams that play Test cricket are earning just 34.36% of the total ICC purse. That leaves countries like Ireland, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and even Sri Lanka and New Zealand in a precarious position. Leaving these countries to have a really hard look at what their futures look like.

"We're going to be playing a qualifier in Scotland in front of maybe 30 people against Italy, and it's more important than the Test match [against England]," said Irish Captain Andy Balbirnie.

For those who love Test cricket, the words might be hard to hear. But they are the truth, currently, there is nothing for Ireland to play for. If Cricket Ireland wants to keep the lights on and keep their operation going they simply need to qualify for the World Cups to stay alive. The reason for this is that qualifying for World Cups brings in extra funding while Test cricket only costs time and money for the Irish.

Test cricket should mean something and the World Test Championship provides that, but with so few matches set to be played by countries outside of England, Australia and India what does it look like?

Embed from Getty Images

The risk for Test cricket is that in five years it's just played between the big three countries with it being financially and practically impossible for boards that don't have money to throw around.

With a cost of more than a million US dollars per Test match, Afghanistan and Ireland could only host 3-4 Tests at home per year, and that's assuming every cent from the ICC went to hosting Test cricket, an obvious impossibility.

The ICC revenue distribution model should be used to ensure the future of the game, yet it seems to be going into the pockets of Indian cricket executives.

While it's easy to say India needs the extra money to fund the extra grounds and facilitates that come with a larger population it's hard to see that money being pushed through the system. With sponges being used to mop up the ground at India's state-of-the-art stadium the question needs to be asked.

Where is the money going?

Australia is of course far from innocent in all of this. Australia is yet to play Ireland or Afghanistan in Test cricket and has gone four years since playing Bangladesh and now 20 since playing Zimbabwe. Australia has played 96 Tests against England and India since last playing Zimbabwe.

Not everything is bad news though, cricket overall has never been in a stronger position. More people are playing than ever, more people are watching and with Major League Cricket set to start in just a few weeks new markets are being entered into. The question is now what does cricket look like going forward and who plays it?

The England v Ireland Test match and the World Test Championship between India and Australia provide a template for what cricket could look like going forward.

If there is still a desire for the ICC to see Test cricket it's not be spoken about loudly enough and the representatives from what is meant to be cricket's premier organisation need to be more vocal.