Test cricket was given a vote of confidence at Lord’s, as the ECB announced a new sponsor for the five-day game.
Investec, the South African financial firm, confirmed a ten year deal to sponsor England’s home matches, starting from the first Test against West Indies at Lord’s next year.
The announcement comes at a time when the future of Test cricket seems volatile, with many – including the MCC World Cricket Committee – deeply concerned about its health.
England though, has bucked the trend in recent years, with record crowds witnessing Andrew Strauss’ side climb to the top of the ICC’s Test rankings.
Strauss, the star name at the Long Room announcement, admitted Test cricket’s presence might have been ‘taken for granted’ in the past.
He said: “I think it’s important to market the game as well as possible, that’s a crucial part of ensuring it goes from strength to strength.
“Now is the time to maybe knock our heads together and say ‘what is the best way to marketing this product and bringing people to the game.”
The 34-year-old insisted though, that the game’s primacy among his peers remained firmly in place.
He added: “It is still the game that I want to play and I think it’s still the game that other players want to play. It’s the game which certainly tests you best as a cricketer.
“So from a player’s point of view it’s a bit of a no-brainer.”
The proposed ICC World Test Championship has been one of the major considerations for adding to the Test game.
However, it was recently postponed from 2013 to 2017 due to a contractual problem with their TV broadcasters.
Strauss is therefore extremely unlikely to lead his England side out for a Lord's Test final, but he showed his support for the scheme.
“An added context to Test cricket, to be playing for something greater – whether that’s a World Test Championship or something else can help.”
ECB Chief Executive David Collier said he was confident that a WTC would take place in 2017.
Collier also stressed the strength of the game in England.
He added: “We’ve just had a season in which we’ve had record crowds for all sorts of cricket, and Test match cricket in particular.
“I know that there are problems in other parts of the world but in this country… supporters value Test cricket and we see the crowds year-in, year-out.”
Investec are not a newcomer to cricket, but their ECB deal marks a significant shift away from their traditional rugby connections.
Raymond van Niekerk, Investec’s Global Marketing Director, was asked by MC Michael Atherton why his company were investing so much time into a struggling form of the game:
“I do retain a confidence in the future of Test cricket. We don’t pretend to be a big authority on cricket but if you look at society and what’s going on in the world there’s a lot of return to traditional values which were perhaps forgotten,” said van Niekirk.
“If you look at sport, Test cricket is a sport that’s not about instant gratification. I can’t see it dying, I can see it growing.”