Ashes could herald new era for Tests with names and numbers on shirts

Exclusive by Ali Martin

England’s and Australia’s cricketers are set to wear shirts with names and numbers on the back during this summer’s Ashes – a first in 142 years of Test cricket.

The five-match series that begins at Edgbaston on 1 August following the home World Cup, with England seeking to regain the urn they lost in Australia in 2017-18, is slated to be the first played under the banner of the International Cricket Council’s new World Test Championship.

As part of this tournament, during which the top nine sides will compete for points over a two-year cycle before a showpiece final in 2021, the ICC is understood to be considering the introduction of names and numbers on whites in order to make the players more easily identifiable on the field of play.

Such adornments have been the norm in one-day international cricket for some time. The coloured shirts first worn during the 1992 World Cup had player names printed across the shoulders and squad numbers were added for the 1999 tournament. In 2003 they were introduced to the backs of shirts and jumpers in the County Championship.

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But Test cricket has been played in plain whites or creams ever since the first encounter between Australia and England in Melbourne in 1877. One minor change came in 2001 when England brought in a small embroidered cap number below the crest – denoting where a player sits in his country’s history – with other teams then following suit.

This latest move to put larger squad numbers and names on the backs of players is yet to be signed off by the ICC board and may well draw scorn from some traditionalists. But there is a growing sense that the small change will help supporters old and new – in the ground or watching at home – while broadcasters will doubtless welcome it.

Despite a recent survey by MCC showing that 86% of 13,000 respondents consider Test cricket their favourite format to watch, the ICC is keen to market and promote it further via its new Test championship. Squad numbers will help build player brands while the replica shirt market may also be boosted as a result.

Players are expected to be able to choose their squad numbers from one to 99 and will likely marry these up against their existing ones for limited-overs formats. It means when England take the field for the first Ashes Test in 136 days’ time, their captain may well be sporting the “Root 66” he has made his own.