July 20, 2010

The quest for proper cricket

Forget all the marketing twaddle; bring back timeless Tests, heavy-duty grafting, and pitches from hell
18

Conventional wisdom is that Test cricket needs a facelift, a makeover, an injection of conceptual botox, or at the very least, some form of major and invasive reconstructive format surgery. Whereas Twenty20 is dressed up in the latest consumer-enticing finery, fresh from the fevered minds of those clever marketing chaps, Test cricket is still wrapped in a shroud of dusty rules and cobwebbed ritual.

For example, even though a stadium may be overlooked by enormous towers featuring row upon row of pristine lightbulbs and served by many miles of lovely electrical cable, it is still possible for players to go off in the middle of the day due to bad light. And though rugby players may hurtle headlong into one another long after rain has turned their pitch into a quagmire, Test cricketers cannot possibly be asked to run about outside when the grass is a little damp.

And a good thing too. The future of Test cricket is not to be found in pink leather balls, cheerleaders or lunch breaks at midnight. Instead we must make a virtue of anachronism. Tradition and history are powerful selling points. Why else would a poky little ground in north London with an eight-foot slope be regarded with such awe by visiting Australians? Newcomers expect Test cricket to be stuffy, old-fashioned and impenetrable, and we should not disappoint them.

We can start by bringing back the timeless Test. Let’s turn Test cricket into a reservation for the world’s endangered grafters and stonewallers, men like Shivnarine Chanderpaul; true artists who deserve a bigger canvas. Imagine Paul Collingwood walking out to bat on the 17th morning of the Third Timeless Ashes Test. Picture, if your imagination can encompass it, Simon Katich batting for six or seven weeks as he builds an epic century single by patient single.

The next retrovation (we must steel ourselves to using the language of marketing) should be the uncovering of the pitch. Pitches these days are terribly bland. Pre-match horticulture reports linger hopefully on the odd green shoot or occasional tiny black line, which is as likely to be one of Nasser Hussain’s eyelashes as evidence of nascent cracking. And at the merest hint of moisture, groundsmen rush to protect their pampered patches of earth from the rude intrusion of Mother Nature.

That isn’t how cricket was meant to be. I want to see highly-skilled prima-donna superstar batsmen hopping and flapping about as the ball turns square on a sticky dog or takes enormous chunks out of a surface that has been baked in the sun for four days. Closing your eyes and swinging will no longer be an option, nor will 13 varieties of slog-sweep suffice to sustain an international career, and thus the batsmen will be separated from the Luke Wrights.

And finally, let’s do away with the laws on intimidatory bowling. Fast bowling, if it is any good, should always be intimidatory. Restrained from unleashing their full hostility, the modern fast bowler grows frustrated and turns instead to mouthing obscenities. Setting them free of artificial restrictions will therefore reduce sledging and bring about the beautiful spectacle of Dale Steyn trying to bounce six balls on over off Ricky Ponting’s face guard.

Now that, as the adverts will undoubtedly say, ideally in a Yorkshire accent, is proper cricket.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • EricG on July 23, 2010, 18:52 GMT

    As usual, BRILLIANT! As they say in American Homey Slang--"I',m down with that one, Dog!". I wonder what my Boss (an ex-Cricketeer from Trinidad) will do when I say: "By the way, I have some tickets for the upcoming Test. Can you put me off the schedule for the next, say, two and a half months, or so?"

    Regards. Eric

  • Terry Jones of Australia on July 22, 2010, 9:21 GMT

    There are 3 main problems with Test cricket: (1) Content. Test matches should be part of a 2 or 4 year qualification for either World Cup competition or Semi's & a final. Tests outside of this should be "friendly" matches (warm ups) replacing state/county warm ups in lead up to a tournment series of matches. (2) Pitches. Stop the boring you bat 2 days, I bat 2 days and pretend its a match on the fifth. We need moving pitches were average team score is 250 runs off 2.5-3 sessions. (3) Equal Pitch condition. 4 sessions per day (25,25,20,20) with each team batting for 45 overs each day. Allows closer & shorter matches whilst the quality and purpose is the same. It will even allow batsmen to bat for upto 225 overs and still get a result (although draws are still possible like now).

  • Steve Turner on July 20, 2010, 21:43 GMT

    Wimbledon has done it with Tennis and even inspired Roger Federer's retro clothes line. It is seen as the biggest tournament by being real tennis with all its traditions. Test cricket should make the most of what it has and is and emphasise that it is the ultimate TEST of a cricketer.

  • Asad on July 20, 2010, 20:57 GMT

    Completely agree with most of the stuff...except the stuff on timeless tests...i mean come on! if one test match would last for several months, players are gonna tire out aren't they?? and secondly if one test match would last for 3 months, then would a 4 match series stretch to a year??? that idea seems ridiculous! but i certainly agree with the fact that batting is ridiculously easy these days...theres gotta be some regulations on the quality of bats, and do away with the fielding restriction! dead tracks should be banned altogether...Most importantly the ten over and four over limit in ODI's and T20 should be thrown into the sewers!

  • Aditya on July 20, 2010, 20:53 GMT

    @Andy Morgan Are you afraid of records being rewritten? Records have never been the sole intention of the beautiful game; they have infact been more of a statistical interest. Let them be broken. Who cares? Its ultimately the quality that matters; if a 1000+ is scored on a flat deck in say some 11-12 days, it wont be honoured anyway. But quality will improve.

  • Sriram on July 20, 2010, 20:09 GMT

    Insidious!

    Uncovered pitches will make Timeless Tests the shortest version of the game. Most teams will fold in less than 10 overs. This will diminish the market share of Twenty20. Housewives and teenagers with diminished attention spans (the so-called "new demography" of T20) will shift their loyalties to Shiv Chanderpaul and Simon Katich. Kids growing up in the Leeward islands will stop dreaming of IPL contracts and go to bed to nightmares of Contract negotiations with Digicell and the WICB. Chris Gayle will fly into the 5th IPL 3 days AFTER the tournament starts. The reason: He believes the future of cricket is Timeless tests and not T20.

    Yeah, right!

  • fjhgfj on July 20, 2010, 14:04 GMT

    you missed dravid the wall

  • Adarsh Vijayaraghavan on July 20, 2010, 12:59 GMT

    For once, instead of being sarcastic, you seem to mean most of the things you say, and you are right! Bowlers have everything going against them- rapidly improving quality of bats, helmets, pads and so on, pitches, and the rules of the game. People who like only high scoring matches are not true fans, and they are just temporary fans. In a bid to give 'face-lift' to cricket, ICC is trying to woo these fans. It can do better by satisfying the true fans of cricket and make the game an even battle between bat and ball.

  • Alan D'silva on July 20, 2010, 12:33 GMT

    Completely agree with every point

  • russell on July 20, 2010, 12:02 GMT

    this ties in with Imran Khan's comments on the future of fast bowlers.the over supply of the short form of the game (which is heavily weighted in favour of the batsmen) has almost completely moved the focus on cricket away from test cricket. I would love to see a return to proper fast bowlers having batsmen ducking and weaving on well grassed pitches.

  • EricG on July 23, 2010, 18:52 GMT

    As usual, BRILLIANT! As they say in American Homey Slang--"I',m down with that one, Dog!". I wonder what my Boss (an ex-Cricketeer from Trinidad) will do when I say: "By the way, I have some tickets for the upcoming Test. Can you put me off the schedule for the next, say, two and a half months, or so?"

    Regards. Eric

  • Terry Jones of Australia on July 22, 2010, 9:21 GMT

    There are 3 main problems with Test cricket: (1) Content. Test matches should be part of a 2 or 4 year qualification for either World Cup competition or Semi's & a final. Tests outside of this should be "friendly" matches (warm ups) replacing state/county warm ups in lead up to a tournment series of matches. (2) Pitches. Stop the boring you bat 2 days, I bat 2 days and pretend its a match on the fifth. We need moving pitches were average team score is 250 runs off 2.5-3 sessions. (3) Equal Pitch condition. 4 sessions per day (25,25,20,20) with each team batting for 45 overs each day. Allows closer & shorter matches whilst the quality and purpose is the same. It will even allow batsmen to bat for upto 225 overs and still get a result (although draws are still possible like now).

  • Steve Turner on July 20, 2010, 21:43 GMT

    Wimbledon has done it with Tennis and even inspired Roger Federer's retro clothes line. It is seen as the biggest tournament by being real tennis with all its traditions. Test cricket should make the most of what it has and is and emphasise that it is the ultimate TEST of a cricketer.

  • Asad on July 20, 2010, 20:57 GMT

    Completely agree with most of the stuff...except the stuff on timeless tests...i mean come on! if one test match would last for several months, players are gonna tire out aren't they?? and secondly if one test match would last for 3 months, then would a 4 match series stretch to a year??? that idea seems ridiculous! but i certainly agree with the fact that batting is ridiculously easy these days...theres gotta be some regulations on the quality of bats, and do away with the fielding restriction! dead tracks should be banned altogether...Most importantly the ten over and four over limit in ODI's and T20 should be thrown into the sewers!

  • Aditya on July 20, 2010, 20:53 GMT

    @Andy Morgan Are you afraid of records being rewritten? Records have never been the sole intention of the beautiful game; they have infact been more of a statistical interest. Let them be broken. Who cares? Its ultimately the quality that matters; if a 1000+ is scored on a flat deck in say some 11-12 days, it wont be honoured anyway. But quality will improve.

  • Sriram on July 20, 2010, 20:09 GMT

    Insidious!

    Uncovered pitches will make Timeless Tests the shortest version of the game. Most teams will fold in less than 10 overs. This will diminish the market share of Twenty20. Housewives and teenagers with diminished attention spans (the so-called "new demography" of T20) will shift their loyalties to Shiv Chanderpaul and Simon Katich. Kids growing up in the Leeward islands will stop dreaming of IPL contracts and go to bed to nightmares of Contract negotiations with Digicell and the WICB. Chris Gayle will fly into the 5th IPL 3 days AFTER the tournament starts. The reason: He believes the future of cricket is Timeless tests and not T20.

    Yeah, right!

  • fjhgfj on July 20, 2010, 14:04 GMT

    you missed dravid the wall

  • Adarsh Vijayaraghavan on July 20, 2010, 12:59 GMT

    For once, instead of being sarcastic, you seem to mean most of the things you say, and you are right! Bowlers have everything going against them- rapidly improving quality of bats, helmets, pads and so on, pitches, and the rules of the game. People who like only high scoring matches are not true fans, and they are just temporary fans. In a bid to give 'face-lift' to cricket, ICC is trying to woo these fans. It can do better by satisfying the true fans of cricket and make the game an even battle between bat and ball.

  • Alan D'silva on July 20, 2010, 12:33 GMT

    Completely agree with every point

  • russell on July 20, 2010, 12:02 GMT

    this ties in with Imran Khan's comments on the future of fast bowlers.the over supply of the short form of the game (which is heavily weighted in favour of the batsmen) has almost completely moved the focus on cricket away from test cricket. I would love to see a return to proper fast bowlers having batsmen ducking and weaving on well grassed pitches.

  • Phil on July 20, 2010, 11:09 GMT

    An excellent piece, humorous, written with a light touch, which makes important, but sadly too widely overlooked, points.

    Where's the challenge? Donald and Pollock, Wasim and Waqar, Ambrose and Walsh, McGrath and Warne - we need not look too far back wistfully to realise it wasn't so long ago batsmen were subjected to barrages, to probing challenge, and we rejoiced in competitive cricket. Many mentions of uncovered pitches mask the fact cricket but a decade ago was highly competitive, highly fair betweem bat and ball.

    Since the new millennium, insidiously at first, now more brazenly, bat thicknesses have swelled in line with the user's confidence; pitches, perhaps from the top, are cultivated to be uniform and go the distance and the quality of it all has wilted.

    How delightful to see the Australians and Pakistanis struggle with a little bit of conventional swing at Lord's. After such flapping, you really do question the validity of the modern test batting average.

  • Faraz on July 20, 2010, 10:40 GMT

    Bring it on! wow that'd be like a bit of time travel, era of Don Bradman, Victor Trumper Sid Barnes... Bring it on

  • rob heinen on July 20, 2010, 9:59 GMT

    Just one remark. Big Shiv is fourth on the list of fastest test centuries in terms of balls faced...

  • Srikanth on July 20, 2010, 9:46 GMT

    A thought provoking article... But test cricket needs a face lift and not a revamp....It seems that cricket as a game has become too commercialised for words... I am Indian but have lost respect for the current bunch of Indian cricketers...the cricketers seem to be doing a lot of things for money rather than for the game. The charm of test cricket lies in the fact that it tests the endurance, patience,skill and determination of every player. It is not a slam bang approach like T20 where the outcome is pure luck- a player proves himself only for 2 hours... Wish test cricket is back in full flow...the WI vs AUS tests of the yesteryear were full of adventure and expectancy.... The Ashes, Pak vs Eng, SA vs WI...well lets pray for the resurgence of test cricket as we know it and not this adapted version of a five day circus

  • Peter on July 20, 2010, 8:19 GMT

    Couldn't agree more about the uncovered pitches and intimadatory bowling rules. Teach batsmen to use the back foot occasionally. Not sure about timeless tests, we'd just bring Boycott, Atherton and Tavare out of retirement and every summer would be a 4 month match ending in a draw!

  • dan on July 20, 2010, 7:25 GMT

    COULDNT AGREE MORE!! i want to see Test Cricket as the Ultimate battle, where Batsmen with grizzled beards battle away for days and days agaisnt brutal fast bowling on a green top, wily spinners bowling on a biting wicket with men round the bat. 6 bouncers an over, THATS what we want to see, not turning test cricket into a Black Eyed Peas Concert with flashy lights and cheap gimmicks. Long Character Building, trench warfare Test Matches PLEASE

  • Sami on July 20, 2010, 7:10 GMT

    Great article, I can't say I agree with everything said, but still the article makes a very good point. Night tests are still a good concept in my opinion.

  • Andy Morgan on July 20, 2010, 7:07 GMT

    Agreed. Batsmen have it too easy these days - padded up like they're about to meet a minotaur, bats that can flick a ball from north London to Melbourne with a Pietersen-esque flash. Do away with short-pitched bowling rules, and do away with leg-field rules too. 9 slip-fielders is fine, so what's wrong with 9 backward square legs?! Timeless Tests happened as players were waiting for a boat to depart. Just book a flight with BA and start a Test: strikes should make it a good-un! 902-6 at the Oval? Pah, bring on a thousand runs...!

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  • Andy Morgan on July 20, 2010, 7:07 GMT

    Agreed. Batsmen have it too easy these days - padded up like they're about to meet a minotaur, bats that can flick a ball from north London to Melbourne with a Pietersen-esque flash. Do away with short-pitched bowling rules, and do away with leg-field rules too. 9 slip-fielders is fine, so what's wrong with 9 backward square legs?! Timeless Tests happened as players were waiting for a boat to depart. Just book a flight with BA and start a Test: strikes should make it a good-un! 902-6 at the Oval? Pah, bring on a thousand runs...!

  • Sami on July 20, 2010, 7:10 GMT

    Great article, I can't say I agree with everything said, but still the article makes a very good point. Night tests are still a good concept in my opinion.

  • dan on July 20, 2010, 7:25 GMT

    COULDNT AGREE MORE!! i want to see Test Cricket as the Ultimate battle, where Batsmen with grizzled beards battle away for days and days agaisnt brutal fast bowling on a green top, wily spinners bowling on a biting wicket with men round the bat. 6 bouncers an over, THATS what we want to see, not turning test cricket into a Black Eyed Peas Concert with flashy lights and cheap gimmicks. Long Character Building, trench warfare Test Matches PLEASE

  • Peter on July 20, 2010, 8:19 GMT

    Couldn't agree more about the uncovered pitches and intimadatory bowling rules. Teach batsmen to use the back foot occasionally. Not sure about timeless tests, we'd just bring Boycott, Atherton and Tavare out of retirement and every summer would be a 4 month match ending in a draw!

  • Srikanth on July 20, 2010, 9:46 GMT

    A thought provoking article... But test cricket needs a face lift and not a revamp....It seems that cricket as a game has become too commercialised for words... I am Indian but have lost respect for the current bunch of Indian cricketers...the cricketers seem to be doing a lot of things for money rather than for the game. The charm of test cricket lies in the fact that it tests the endurance, patience,skill and determination of every player. It is not a slam bang approach like T20 where the outcome is pure luck- a player proves himself only for 2 hours... Wish test cricket is back in full flow...the WI vs AUS tests of the yesteryear were full of adventure and expectancy.... The Ashes, Pak vs Eng, SA vs WI...well lets pray for the resurgence of test cricket as we know it and not this adapted version of a five day circus

  • rob heinen on July 20, 2010, 9:59 GMT

    Just one remark. Big Shiv is fourth on the list of fastest test centuries in terms of balls faced...

  • Faraz on July 20, 2010, 10:40 GMT

    Bring it on! wow that'd be like a bit of time travel, era of Don Bradman, Victor Trumper Sid Barnes... Bring it on

  • Phil on July 20, 2010, 11:09 GMT

    An excellent piece, humorous, written with a light touch, which makes important, but sadly too widely overlooked, points.

    Where's the challenge? Donald and Pollock, Wasim and Waqar, Ambrose and Walsh, McGrath and Warne - we need not look too far back wistfully to realise it wasn't so long ago batsmen were subjected to barrages, to probing challenge, and we rejoiced in competitive cricket. Many mentions of uncovered pitches mask the fact cricket but a decade ago was highly competitive, highly fair betweem bat and ball.

    Since the new millennium, insidiously at first, now more brazenly, bat thicknesses have swelled in line with the user's confidence; pitches, perhaps from the top, are cultivated to be uniform and go the distance and the quality of it all has wilted.

    How delightful to see the Australians and Pakistanis struggle with a little bit of conventional swing at Lord's. After such flapping, you really do question the validity of the modern test batting average.

  • russell on July 20, 2010, 12:02 GMT

    this ties in with Imran Khan's comments on the future of fast bowlers.the over supply of the short form of the game (which is heavily weighted in favour of the batsmen) has almost completely moved the focus on cricket away from test cricket. I would love to see a return to proper fast bowlers having batsmen ducking and weaving on well grassed pitches.

  • Alan D'silva on July 20, 2010, 12:33 GMT

    Completely agree with every point