EVERY sporting competition is characterised by the thing that gives it meaning and context — the reason people want to watch and support their team, champion or challenger on the path towards winning the trophy, championship or title.

Some sport events may look as though they are surviving and, indeed, flourishing on tradition and history alone, such as the annual English Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge Universities on the River Thames, but don’t be fooled: the prestige of winning is underpinned by millions of pounds of sponsorship with world champions and Olympic medallists routinely lured into the eight seats available.

Test cricket can be seen a little like that. At almost 140 years old, it’s only a little younger than the boat race, and it, too, has come a long way from its early days and has done much to adapt to the changing, modern world. Until this year.

The International Cricket Council’s (ICC’s) cricket committee and executive committee recognised there was a problem with the "context" of the game years ago and agreed on a series of actions to provide relevance where it was either missing or diminishing.

So they devised the Future Tours Programme which, theoretically, saw each nation playing each other home and away in a four-year cycle with points being awarded and deducted each year. The team at the top of the pile each year was awarded the Test mace and a substantial payment. They also agreed that a Test Championship would be played between the top four nations every four years, like the one-day international World Cup.

All that was torn up this year when the Board of Control for Cricket in India deemed it all an unwanted distraction from their main goal, which was to make money by expanding their dearly beloved Indian Premier League (IPL) and by playing a large number of one-day internationals against the top teams, mostly Australia and England. As the richest nation among the ICC’s members, they decided that they should earn a greater percentage of the ICC’s income, and not conform to rules and regulations drawn up by other member nations.

There is still some context to international cricket — it is provided by the ICC events in one-day international and Twenty20 cricket, so while we are just four months away from the World Cup it is understandable that few people care to look much beyond it.

Once the Future Tours Programme was declared null and void, a scramble ensued to reorganise bilateral tours between the nations, with the smaller countries desperately trying to fill summer schedules while the big three — India, Australia and England — inked in regular, long and lucrative tours against one another.

In many ways SA did well in the melee, the greatest achievement being an agreement by the big three to play four-Test series against the Proteas in the future. That is what the new Future Tours Programme says, anyway, but nothing the big three agree to — in writing or any other format — can be relied upon, so let’s wait and see.

In between these series, however, there were cracks that needed to be filled. Some were small, others huge. Sometimes there were no gaps between tours at all and one had to be created. New Zealand will be our guests in August next year. They are scheduled to play five one-day internationals and one Twenty20. Yes, in August, rugby season. No, nobody knows why.

Then, between October 2017 and March 2018, Cricket SA will host four tours with an eye-watering total of 13 Tests, 13 one-day internationals and six Twenty20s. Bangladesh and Sri Lanka arrive first, followed by back-to-back tours by India and Australia. Thirteen Test matches in six months. A total of 84 days of international cricket at home. SA has not often experienced that many over four years, never mind one summer. And all because we have to fit in with what the big three want. And we have to leave the IPL window open, of course.

There is still some context to international cricket — it is provided by the ICC events in one-day international and Twenty20 cricket, so while we are just four months away from the World Cup it is understandable that few people care to look much beyond it.

Everything looks just fine at the moment.

But Test cricket has been cut loose and is in danger of drifting away for many nations.

England and Australia will be fine with the Ashes, though, and India will be making billions regardless. While SA is No1, we’ll be fine, too. Just fine. Everything is just fine.

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