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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 May, 2004, 15:10 GMT 16:10 UK
Could mess lead to Test shake-up?
By Scott Heinrich

The general consensus is that, out in Zimbabwe where Sri Lanka are steamrollering their acquiescent hosts, Test cricket is being sullied.

Australia skipper Ricky Ponting
I'm sure none of the Australian Test team really wants to go
Former Test player Peter Sleep

Quite what Zimbabwe's looming series against Australia will do to the sport's reputation does not bear thought.

Tim May, the Australian players' representative, is presently trying to get the International Cricket Council to stop the uneven bout before it starts.

May, a former Test cricketer, reckons the player crisis in the crippled southern African country "makes cricket look stupid", and he is not alone.

India captain Sourav Ganguly has echoed a familiar May refrain, calling for a two-tier championship system to preserve the "competitive edge of Test cricket".

To Peter Sleep, a former team-mate of May's, the gap among the 10 Test-playing nations was large enough before Zimbabwe's 15 rebels were sacked, leaving the national team devoid of genuine first-class talent.

"There were no easy matches when I played but there are now," the former leg-spinner, who played the last of his 14 Tests in 1990, told BBC Sport.

"That's because the ICC has let the weaker nations in, and I can understand why because they're trying to get cricket played around the world.

"But the 10-team Test championship format needs to be looked at. Test cricket is being cheapened enough at the moment and I think the standard is poor to be honest.

"At the moment, Kenya are probably better than Bangladesh, and maybe even Zimbabwe. But do you let them in?"

Former Test leg-spinner Peter Sleep
The ICC has to take some of the blame by letting things ramble on
Peter Sleep

The concerns within the cricket fraternity are obvious, but they are held at a time when the ICC contemplates giving Kenya Test status and boasts proudly of the next World Cup holding more teams than ever before.

Sleep has joined a growing list advocating a divisional system, which would replace the current set-up which demands each full ICC member face each other home and away every five years.

May has tabled his ideas to the ICC - as well as his plans for a one-day shake-up - but hitherto the ruling body is unmoved.

"There's a way around it, and I think a two-tier solution is it," Sleep says.

"The promotion/relegation system works well in football. Why couldn't we do it in cricket?

"You would get better cricket and it would be more competitive. Teams would have something to play for."

Sleep believes cricket's name is being tarnished, and says the ICC has a case to answer.

"If I were the ICC, I would put a ban on Zimbabwe so that no one goes there until they sort out their problems with politics and other matters," he reasons.

"They've just let things go and hoped things would work out by themselves.

"They clearly haven't and they've got to take some of the blame by letting things ramble on.

"I don't think getting belted by Sri Lanka and Australia will help Zimbabwean cricket at all."

Sleep does not envy his Australian Test successors, nor the reluctant England cricketers who look destined to tour Zimbabwe later this year.

"With all the politics in Zimbabwe at the moment, it would be difficult for anybody to go there.

"I'm sure none of the Australian Test team really wants to go, and England will have the same problem later on.

"But it's harder to get in the team than get out and a lot of their places would be in jeopardy.

"They don't want to go but they don't want to lose their spot."

Of the Aussies, only Stuart MacGill has pulled out of the Zimbabwe tour - but there are more who would like to follow suit, if only to save the name of the game.

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