Ashes: T20 is the cash cow but Test cricket remains the career yardstick

Cricket fans cheer as Australia hits the winning runs during play on Day Five of the First Test match between Australia and England at the Gabba in Brisbane on Nov 27, 2017. PHOTO: AAP

As England and Australia prepare to play a day-night Ashes Test match for the first time, here's something to ponder. The fact that the Brisbane Test, a resounding 10-wicket win for Australia, ebbed and flowed with an unpredictable rhythm for much of the first four days is a shot in the arm for the five-day game.

The first Test between these two countries was played in 1877 and in this, the 140th year of the rivalry, the game now has more platforms than ever before.

Yes, the majority of Test cricketers also play one-day internationals, represent their countries in Twenty20 (T20) tournaments and don the colours of the big-money Indian Premier League, but the original, unabridged form of the game is still, notionally at least, the ultimate platform for players in white flannels, rather than coloured uniforms.

There has been some peripheral discussion about experimenting with a four-day Test match as the longest form of the game seeks to strengthen its financial appeal. Remember, though, that there are other landmark events that run longer than a Test. The Tour de France lasts about three weeks. And the America's Cup is a prolonged series of races - the 2013 Cup comprised 17 races between Oracle Team USA and Emirates Team New Zealand in September that year.

Tests are now played - sparingly - in the day-night format, with a pink ball under lights as the game proves it, too, can change with the times, as do other sports in an attempt to keeps their respective audiences engaged in a commercially relevant way. The two day-night Tests played in Australia have been well attended, but each series is still dominated by traditional daylight Tests.

Experimentation is everything. Tennis will use a shot clock at the Australian Open in January after experimenting at the recent Next Gen ATP Finals with truncated sets and novel scoring formats. Football now has its Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system and the 2026 World Cup will see 48 teams in the Finals, rather than 32. Formula One has new owners, a new business plan, and a digital media strategy for the first time.

On a slightly more sombre note, a riveting start to this Ashes series also underlines key challenges confronting the International Cricket Council, the sport's peak governing body.

It is generally acknowledged that the financial viability of the five-day game is best served by series played in England, Australia, India and South Africa - but that elite group represents only one-third of the 12 Test-playing nations after Bangladesh were elevated in 2000 and Afghanistan and Ireland were admitted to the exclusive community in June this year.

It is hard to reliably compare the financial viability of the long-form game against T20, the shortened but highly popular version. The ICC does not release details of its television contracts, but it has been variously estimated that these are worth just under US$2 billion (S$2.69 billion) for an eight-year period that began in 2015.

Compare that with the bumper Indian Premier League Twenty20 (T20) contract signed in September this year. Notable not just for the fact that Facebook was among the 24 bidders, the five-year, US$2.55 billion deal for broadcasting and - significantly - digital rights as well, averages out at a watershed US$8.5 million per game.

It was the most lucrative agreement in the history of cricket, underlining the fact that a decade-old league comprising Indian cities represented by players from a global marketplace is more financially viable than Test cricket, in which players don their national colours.

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