December 28, 2011

Shanaka Amarasinghe

A new dawn for Test cricket

Shanaka Amarasinghe
Kumar Sangakkara nicks Vernon Philander into the slips, South Africa v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Centurion, 1st day, December 15, 2011
This year has been the gestation period for Test cricket's rebirth  © Getty Images
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Apparently the end of the world is signalled by the rise of two suns. Now this hasn’t happened yet, but a year with two World Cups in it comes uncomfortably close for my liking: 2011 saw the cricket World Cup played in March, and the rugby World Cup in September – so perhaps the end of the world as we know it, is nigh? Hopefully not, though, for there are plenty of stars rising on the Test cricket horizon to herald not an end but a new beginning for the original format of the game.

This year also saw two subcontinental cricketers of substance making their voices heard. Kumar Sangakkara, indisputably Sri Lanka’s greatest Test batsman, and Rahul Dravid, arguably India’s equivalent, called with passion for the revitalisation of Test cricket. Their plea may or may not have fallen on deaf ears as far as the game’s administration is concerned. The long-awaited Test Championship seems to be a non-starter, and the traditional powerhouses seem to be dictating who plays whom, where and when. Sri Lanka have long been requesting more tours to England, South Africa and Australasia, and when those opportunities are provided, perhaps, Test cricket will be a more equal-opportunity genre. However, until the ICC wakes from its short-format slumber, Dravid’s and Sangakkara’s peers have taken it upon themselves to raise the profile of Test cricket.

It may be that the cricketers have been influenced by the astrological shifts taking place unbeknownst to us. The sages have led us to believe that 2012 will usher us into the Age of Aquarius. A more enlightened, spiritual, philanthropic age (i.e. Test cricket), freeing us from the shackles of the Age of Pisces, which is marked by organisational structures pursued and protected through violent means (i.e. the birth of T20 cricket). So perhaps the end of the world in 2012 is not really the end of the world, merely the end of the world as we know it.

Dravid, during his Bradman oration, lamented the fact that he was playing Test cricket, and sometimes even ODI cricket, to sparse houses in India. With the following it has in the subcontinent, it seems inexplicable that Eden Gardens should not be packed to capacity every time India plays. But that, Dravid evidences, is the state of things as they are. There can be no doubt, assuming that Sangakkara and Dravid speak for a majority of their colleagues, that Test cricket is the preferred format for players themselves. It is what they consider the toughest test. Test matches are a cricketer’s Wimbledon.

Be that as it may, perhaps the recent upheavals in Test cricket have led to some introspection. And with the planets contributing their collective might, Test cricketers have become more altruistic, more Aquarian. The not-quite-tied Test between India and West Indies was second to none for its drama. The low-scoring yet tense second Test between the Black Caps and the baggy-green caps was a riveting affair, and the Boxing Day matches, in both South Africa and Australia, are proving to be superb contests.

I’m not sure whether it’s just me, but close, tense, hard-fought Test matches are far more memorable than down-to-the-wire ODI or T20 games. Similarly, the frequency of close Tests, as opposed to closer short games, has taken a major leap forward. The ODI that goes down to the last over with both teams still very much in it is a scarce commodity. More so the T20 game that does so. Instead of fulfilling the promise of excitement on tap, a vast majority of T20 games end up being decided fairly early on in the piece - meaning spectators have to be satisfied instead with the number and size of sixes hit, a swashbuckling individual score or scantily clad cheerleaders. Given the nature of the formats, it stands to reason that T20s and ODIs should probably be decided in the final over more often than not. The marked absence of such results can lead us to conclude either that the balance of power in world cricket is lopsided, where some teams are very good and others average, or that the formats are flawed. I seek to draw no conclusions, merely mention something that seems empirically incongruous.

Going back to newly reborn Test cricket: we have seen some stellar new performances. Vernon Philander has four Michelles in three Tests, plus a match bag. Virat Kohli’s performances look like he will be one for the Indian future. And Marchant de Lange and Dinesh Chandimal have signaled their intent on debut with seven wickets and an attacking fifty.

I’ve been involved in recent Facebook discussions on what a good target for a fourth-innings chase might be, and friends call to ask whether I saw that last spell by Pattinson, Steyn, or now even Umesh Yadav. Ravichandran Ashwin, after making a name for himself in limited-overs cricket, has become a century-scoring offspinner who adequately fills the Harbajhan void. The world of Test cricket is exciting.

It’s not the end, it’s a new dawn. Hooray!

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Posted by Geralynn on (January 26, 2012, 12:32 GMT)

Absolutely first rate and copper-boottmed, gentlemen!

Posted by Charles ray on (December 30, 2011, 20:41 GMT)

Great work! I vote for tests than the shorter or the shortes formats. Let thfre be a little more freedom for the men who throw the cherry. Prepare result oriented tracks. Religate the inaffective teams and promote the better prepared.

Posted by Shan on (December 30, 2011, 19:30 GMT)

Test cricket is the pinnacle. ODIs and T20s are the ones that draw more crowds and are definitely entertaining but nothing beats a test match between two evenly matched sides. ICC should consider reducing the number of ODIs and T20s and increase the number of tests between the top sides. A two tier system is best but it affects the opportunity for players of lower ranked teams to improve their skills playing quality opposition. It would be great if lower ranked teams get a max. of two tests playing the top ranked teams and higher ranked teams get a min. of three tests playing evenly matched sides.

Posted by eagerBrad on (December 30, 2011, 17:04 GMT)

Uh oh, you said Dravid is possibly India's best Test batsmen ever. Watch out for Tendulkar fans!

Posted by Arsal on (December 30, 2011, 16:42 GMT)

I agree with the article but it is totally biased. I mean you cant leave out Pakistani Players..... Azhar, Taufeeq, Hafeez, Wahab, Junaid..... not a signle one mentioned here!!!

Posted by ste33 on (December 30, 2011, 8:35 GMT)

With excellent test matches that have taken place in 2011, it is indeed administrators' indolence not to be able to cash in. I have impression (also based on number of comments to Aus-India 1st test) that much more people are following tests than the other formats. Test have still their low points. They are two long for working people to accomodate visits to stadiums. In this context, shortening the games to 4 days with increasing number of overs per day or moving to day/night should help. Also, test matches should be scheduled over the weekends. In any case, I think that even while not going to the stadiums more people watch test highlights that T20 ones.

Posted by Sarath on (December 30, 2011, 5:51 GMT)

It makes me wonder a great deal about all these marketing ppl that they can't sell a quality product like that. You must be really poor at marketing, not to be able to sell a product like that. There are dull and boring odi's and t20's too. But Test matches between evenly matched sides is a different contest all together.

Posted by David on (December 29, 2011, 23:05 GMT)

Test cricket is not dead but it does need some tinkering. We have lived with 3 sessions of 2 hours for over 100 years without changing it. In the good old days we would see 110,120 or more overs bowled in a day because there was little time wasted. Now it's a struggle to get 90 overs in. I believe we should shorten test cricket to 4 days of say 110 overs minimum. Extend play by half an hour at the start and the end of each day. The effect would be that we would get as much test cricket as we do currently (minus 10 overs), spectators would get more for their money per day, the administrators would gain an extra day in the schedules. The players shouldn't complain because they are only only on the ground for 75% of the time maximum - most much less. It would be interesting to see what percentage of test matches have gone to five days and got a result in the last 10 years. My guess is it's less than 10%. It's time the ICC considered all options.

Posted by Richard S on (December 29, 2011, 14:18 GMT)

There are less close finishes and more lop sided games in the shorter formats because there is less/no time for recovery. In a T20 if your pinch hitters dont come off and you end up 24/5, the games up. If you make a horlicks of the 1st session of a Test you have 4 and 2/3rd days to make up for it. Cricket matches didn't start off as 5 day affairs, they often used to be 3, 4 or even over no set period. They ended up as being over 5 days because this is how they evolved. It was what was found to be best. Why mess with it now and assume we will find different? There are a few exciting cricketers coming through at the moment well suited to tests. A lot has been made over recent years of the lack of quality pace bowling. Well now we have, all coming through at the same time, Cummins, Pattinson (who looks top class too me), Philander, de Lange, Bracewell, Finn and Broad.

Posted by abir on (December 29, 2011, 8:56 GMT)

A simple way of saving test cricket is to increase the number of matches between evenly matched teams. For example, the SA-AUS series could have been 3-4 tests long.

Also, this year there were 6 IND-WI tests. What was the need of having these matches ?

Idially, there should be 2 pools. One pool of top 5 test playing teams that should play only amoungst themselves. The other pool should consist of the remaining 5 teams. After every 4 years the team at the bottom of the first pool and that at the top of the second pool should have a play off for a place in the top pool.

In a nutshell, increase the number of matched played between evenly matched teams and reduce the ones in which there is a huge difference between the sides.

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