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Why digital broadcasting may hold the key to a healthy future for Test cricket

Mike Jakeman's love of Test cricket could not be clearer than is exemplified in the introduction to Saving The Test, in which he underlines his respect for the 20 and 50-over versions of the game but then lauds Michael Atherton's 185 not out against South Africa at Johannesburg in December 1995 as more or less the essence of why Test cricket should be viewed in a different, superior context.  That contest, thanks to Atherton's 645-minute, 492-ball vigil, ended in a draw.

While not watching, reading about, or generally enthusing over some aspect of cricket, Jakeman is a political and economic analyst attached to The Economist Intelligence Unit, specialising in Australia and Indonesia. It is a combination of interests that enables him to view cricket from a perspective that sets him apart from other commentators more directly involved in the game, one which allows him to bring knowledge but a degree of distance to his arguments.

Jakeman, you suspect, is the kind of enthusiast who might have written a book about Atherton's famous defiance of Allan Donald and other epics of dogged refusal to be beaten under the same title, but Saving The Test is not about great deeds on the field.  It is about what needs to be done, in the author's measured opinion, to ensure that the platform upon which similar deeds might be performed in the future is not lost.

And, make no mistake, Test cricket is under threat.  In a history spanning almost 140 years it has survived numerous crises but seldom can there have been so many factors conspiring at once to put its future in jeopardy.  Jakeman, with his analytical eye, outlines them all, from the chaotic tour schedule in which Test matches, once sacrosanct, have become an easy sacrifice, to the damage clearly inflicted by fixers and cheats, with attention paid along the way to tediously flat pitches, the inadequacies of the ICC, the uncontrolled growth of Twenty20, the misuse of technology and the power of the broadcasters and, perhaps most important of all, the game's dangerously uneven distribution of wealth.

There is little in this exhaustive review that is not already known but in pulling all the strands together within one volume Jakeman provides a valuable point of reference to the state of play at what may be seen in years to come as a pivotal phase in cricket's evolution.

Moreover, he offers some interesting suggestions as to what might be done to safeguard Test cricket's future in the face of the challenges it confronts.

These include making the Decision Review System (DRS) a tool for the use of umpires rather than players, incentives for groundsmen to prepare less batsman-friendly wickets, launching a world championship in Test cricket, creating a window in the Future Tours Programme for the Indian Premier League and - to generate additional, more evenly distributed income - following the lead of American baseball in exploiting the potential of digital broadcasting on the internet.

Jakeman devotes a large part of his chapter on broadcasting to explaining the baseball model, setting out in a coherent and convincing argument how, in the right circumstances (it would need a spirit of co-operation, for example, to break out among the game's rival power bases), the enormous possibilities offered by digital - including archived games on demand as well as live broadcasts - could hold the key to achieving the objective set out in the title.

The idea that India's BCCI and the English ECB might work together for the common good might seem at times a far-fetched notion but Jakeman's many interviews for the book did at least elicit a positive, enthusiastic response from Giles Clarke, the ECB chairman, who appears to understand the premise that cricket and baseball have an overlapping appeal and is excited in particular about streaming matches on the internet.

Published in paperback by the Huddersfield-based Ockley Books, Saving The Test is a fine piece of work - and one with an index, too, which is a facility all too often overlooked.  It is let down a little by the cover - white letters on an indistinct black and white image taken from a match at Lord's will not catch the eye of many casual browsers - but the content is to be commended.

Saving the Test by Mike Jakeman (Ockley Books).

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