South Africa versus India, Pakistan versus South Africa. South Africa versus Pakistan, West Indies versus India and New Zealand versus West Indies. Five tours with one thing in common.
Regardless of the format (Test, T20 or ODI) of the first game, without a decent preparation in the form of a tour game(s) the home side has won the first game, in most cases quiet comfortably. Only the West Indies bucked the trend by salvaging a draw the first test of the tour of New Zealand - after being outplayed for the first three days!
Jumping off the plane and playing an international fixture –regardless of the format- has become a customary event in modern-day cricket. Not even a warm-up game against the local “A” side has been on offer to some visiting sides.
Whilst the BCCI-CSA debacle triggered the domino effect, the poor preparation-time on offer has affected the quality of the competitive spectacle of an international tour; things were never like this.
Ever since the creation of the ICC Future Tour Test Program, mass international matches across all three formats have been played in shorter, congested tours without the once customary tour matches organised against a local province, franchise, state, club, composite or county side before and in-between a limited overs or test series.
The Ashes apart, a five-match test series has become a rarity; short and sweet is the modern way.
England’s tour to South Africa in the 1999/2000 season featured five tour games before the five-match test series begun. Between the first and the fifth test match, another five tour games were played. One such game, was a four-day match against Natal which featured a young Kevin Pietersen, who would take four wickets and score unbeaten 61 against the nation he would play over a hundred tests for in the future.
The lack of public interest in warm-up games, which were reflected in attendance, television viewership (when the games where televised), radio coverage, sponsors and printed media, led to the reduction in tour games for the more attractive international games, which is seen today, often in shorter series to rush off to play the next one.
Perhaps one should point the finger at the state of domestic cricket in most countries around the world. Poorly marketed domestic teams playing in competitions that trigger no public interest with players only becoming household names once they play international cricket or the IPL, supporting a domestic cricket team has become unfashionable.
Some domestic cricket competitions have now been reduced to useful channel-fillers for various broadcasters. A sad, yet too-frequent reality of modern-day cricket.
Very few domestic sides ever offer thousands of complementary tickets to local schools or players from their own youth sides in attempts to bring families to the stadiums and build a fan base for years to come, whilst inspiring young cricket players to aspire to be like the players they would be watching in-person.
Had there been warm-up games as seen in days-past, we would have seen the classic story of the player who had emerged onto the scene and played against the touring side, that would go on to become an international cricketer by the time that exact same side toured the country again.
For others, playing against a touring international side would be a highlight in a career not to reach heights beyond the domestic side.
If the games against local sides had been as captivating to the cricketing public as international games are, perhaps we wouldn’t see the lopsided contests that have now become a regular occurrence at the start of every tour whilst the visiting side struggle to find their feet.
No international game should ever be a warm-up game, but in the modern-day, they have.
Whilst some cricketing purists frown at the schedules where two top sides only play each other in two tests as opposed to five, the quality has become compromised as well as we now live in an era of short, rushed, unfulfilling and potentially meaningless tours.
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