It seems that the war of words in the Ashes has begun this week. A piece on cricket.com.au has new Southern Stars’ coach, Matthew Mott, speaking out against the points system which took England to victory in 2014 – whereby the single Test match was worth 6 points, compared with 2 points for each ODI and T20.
This series, the Test has been downgraded to 4 points, and Mott is reported as saying: “I think it’s a fairer system looking at it, the weighting of it is just about right. Whether you win or lose that Test match, it doesn’t really disadvantage or advantage you in the whole scheme of things.”
It’s a view that seems to be held by many people – in particular since England retained the Ashes in 2014 despite losing both the ODI and the T20 components of the series 2-1 to Australia. Presumably this is the main reason for the downgrading of the Test match this time around.
But was 6 points for the one Test really “unfair”, as Mott believes? When the multi-format points Ashes was first announced back in 2013, the Test was awarded 6 points in order to place it on an equal footing with the other two formats, which were (and still are) both worth 6 points each in total (2 points per game).
It’s worth remembering that the Ashes had previously always been contested only across the Test format, just as they are in the men’s game. It therefore made sense to consider the Test equally valuable to the ODIs and T20s.
Why the change? The main argument in favour of making the Test worth 4 points, as compared to 6, seems to be that it means that neither side can gain a huge advantage if they win the Test. It’s perceived that winning one game shouldn’t put you further ahead on points than winning two ODIs/T20s does.
Of course, you have to wonder if Cricket Australia (for I strongly suspect it was CA who pushed for the downgrading of the Test to 4 points), not to mention Mott himself, would still think that 6 points for a victory in the Test was “unfair” if Australia had won at Perth (which they could so easily have done), and taken a 6-0 lead in the series last time around.
Leaving that aside…while I can see that downgrading the Test does have the potential to keep the series alive longer, especially now that it’s being played between the ODIs and T20s, I’m still not sure I agree that the Test should only be worth 4 points.
Test cricket was so-called for a reason – because it was felt to be the ultimate test of cricketing superiority, and for good reason. It’s much harder to sustain cricketing excellence across 4 (or 5 in TOG*) days than it is across 40 or even 100 overs. Anything can happen in a T20. That’s not the case in a Test.
And despite the fact that the commercial focus in women’s cricket from the ICC and the boards now seems to be on the T20 and ODI formats, Test cricket is still considered the pinnacle by pretty much every female cricketer in the world. It’s surely a problem if winning in the pinnacle format, as Mott himself says, “doesn’t really disadvantage or advantage you in the whole scheme of things”.
It seems to me that the real solution is to play two Tests, worth 3 points each. That way, the Test format would still have equal weighting across the series as a whole, but we could avoid the accusation that, by gaining 6 points from just one game, a team didn’t really deserve to win the Ashes.
Whether the boards – in particular CA, who have resisted a two-Test Ashes series for almost a decade now – are amenable to considering this next time around is, of course, another story.
*TOG – The Other Game (aka men’s cricket)