June 11, 2012

Cricket

Save Test cricket, sacrifice the one-day game

Jacob Astill
Pat Cummins and Mitchell Johnson walk off after Australia's successful chase, South Africa v Australia, 2nd Test, Johannesburg, 5th day, November 21, 2011
A close Test match can be more exciting than a dozen close finishes in Twenty20 cricket  © AFP
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I recently read an article from ESPNcricinfo's assistant editor, Sidharth Monga, entitled "Why pay lip service to Test cricket?", where he listed his very strong viewpoints about the possibility (or lack thereof) of successful coexistence between Test matches and Twenty20 cricket, specifically the IPL. Honestly, I found this article fascinating. As an Australian, I've never understood the IPL. I've never watched it, never had any interest in it, and genuinely could not even tell you if it's televised in Australia or not.

To hear an Indian vilify what many fanatical supporters consider to be the cricket world's entertainment centrepiece, though, made me sit up and take notice. Sidharth made many points that I inherently agreed with, specifically that Twenty20 cricket has ruined what are considered 'classical' cricketing skills. I don't think it's any coincidence that many international Test sides are experiencing batting fragility; a solid technique is often sacrificed in limited-overs cricket, in favour of a bit of extra power and the subsequent higher likelihood of boundaries being scored. The consistent line and length valued in Tests, meanwhile, supposedly makes bowlers easier to hit in these shorter games.

Sidharth then went further than I thought I'd ever see any Indian fan go when speaking of the IPL: he showed insight in stating that "Twenty20 is killing Tests", while also comparing the competition to a parasite, stating "the IPL is taking from Indian domestic cricket and is giving back nothing.

To end, Sidharth said with a hint of sarcasm that rather than 'pretending to care', we might as well let Test cricket 'die with dignity'. But why should the original format of cricket, the game from whence all other games stemmed, be the one to step aside? I liken this to asking the sophisticated, cultured, eternal genius of Sachin Tendulkar to step aside in favour of a brash, aggressive 17 year old who can plonk the ball over the pickets a couple of times a season, but who is ultimately is an unsustainable attraction.

For those of us who have an unblinkered view of the world of cricket, Test matches, when played properly, are the ultimate cricketing contest. The skills, stamina, and concentration levels of 22 players are tested to their fullest extent for five days. A close Test match (of which there are many examples if you know where to look) can be more exciting than a dozen close finishes in Twenty20 cricket.

On the reverse, the boundary rainfall that we inevitably see in Twenty20 cricket ends up becoming, well, boring. The bowlers end up looking like bowling machines for batsmen to have their way with, in what no one can deny is a lopsided contest between bat and ball. And while a last-over finish in Twenty20 may be exciting when taken individually, when you consider that the teams only have 240 balls in which to find a difference between themselves, then it's not surprising that these close finishes are a dime a dozen.

Now all this is not to say that Test cricket is faultless. There are boring Test series, but that has more to do with the quality of pitches than the bowlers. The Edgbaston Test match in England against West Indies has featured some interesting management of the playing-light situation, but we've still managed to see some enthralling cricket between a team looking to instil itself as the best in the world, and a West Indies side that is a genuine underdog.

MS Dhoni and Gautam Gambhir complete a run, India v Sri Lanka, final, World Cup 2011, Mumbai, April 2, 2011
One-day cricket has no potential to bring in new markets like Twenty20 does, nor does it have the gravitas of Test cricket  © AFP
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One thing Sidharth neglected to take into consideration is that outside India and the West Indies, the vast, vast majority of Test cricketers would sacrifice their pay-packet from the IPL to be allowed to fulfil the highest honour: to represent the country in Test cricket. Yes, nearly every player 'desires' to play the IPL. But this desire is not a 'want', it is often a 'need'.

The West Indies and New Zealand boards seemingly don't pay their international players a decent wage, and therefore they need to play in the IPL. Australian cricketers don't play in the IPL because it has been a lifelong dream, but they do it because they can get a few hundred thousand dollars for eight weeks' work. Just because Virender Sehwag and some other Indian cricketers don't set any store in Test cricket that doesn't mean the rest of the world doesn't either.

While the IPL remains popular, Twenty20 cricket is most likely not going anywhere. And Test cricket should not be made to go. If the manufactured clash between these two forms of the game is not an ideological dispute but a genuine concern for player workload and welfare, then I present a compromise. We need to remove 50-overs cricket from the international schedule.

I consider the fact that the one-day form of the game has been neglected in the conversation about player workload means that it has been forgotten, because 50-overs cricket is absolutely not the format that is "here to stay". As I write this, the Australian side are preparing to head to England and Ireland for a few weeks, for six one-dayers in a four week period. No Test matches, just another meaningless one-day series. And this is after England play three one-dayers in a week against West Indies following the Tests. Nothing like England playing eight one-dayers in a month to lessen the oppressive workload on their players ...

This upcoming period is not the only example over the last few years of international teams neglecting the Test matches and playing just one-dayers. And don't think showpiece tournaments like last year's World Cup are untouchable. Yes, India won and they did very well to put all the pressure from their home fans aside, and it made us all feel warm and fuzzy deep inside. But the tournament took six weeks to conclude. Meanwhile, this year's Olympic Games will host approximately 300 events, packing them into just two weeks.

Australia's end-of-season tri-series seems to take twice as long as the World Cup, and what is the Champion's Trophy (which, mercifully, will be scrapped after the 2013 edition) but an excuse to try and get more cricket on the calendar every two years? All this and yet Australia and South Africa have to square off in a two Test series (predictably finishing 1-1).

Wise men like Kevin Pietersen have seen the writing on the wall, with the naturalised Englishman saying that he quit 50-overs cricket because he feared "falling out of love with cricket". He's still going to play Test cricket. Of those players who decide to pick and choose international formats when nearing the end of their careers, you don't see anyone opting not to play Test cricket if they actually believe they'd keep getting picked.

Since the commencement of Twenty20, the 50-overs version is no longer the cool younger brother to Test cricket, the format you take your girlfriend or your kids to while the national board sits back and counts the money. It has no potential to bring in new markets like Twenty20 does, nor does it have the gravitas of Test cricket, the traditional game for lovers of cricket.

In short, the 50-overs format is irrelevant, and it should be treated as such. Test cricket does need some work, with some experimentation with night-time Test matches hopefully coming soon. But those who consider the IPL be brilliant and faultless and the only way to entertain the cricketing public should remember there are others out there who still love their Test cricket. So why get rid of it?

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by John on (February 3, 2013, 3:46 GMT)

That's rellay thinking at a high level

Posted by mor on (June 28, 2012, 9:45 GMT)

I am not a fan of t20. I think OD is much more vital to cricket than t20 is. Someone else said scrap IT20 and just let them be the franchises. I agree with that. International T20 are just insignificant. Keep the Internation game with Tests and ODIs. If players want to play T20 there are enough franchises about for them to do so.

Posted by Dave on (June 24, 2012, 0:37 GMT)

Keep Test Cricket. Do not get rid of the foundation of a sport. When T20 becomes boring and people don't want to spend 4 hours watching a game, will it then become T10 and eventually no cricket at all? Reduce the amount of ODI's to a max of 3 or 5 per comp and same for T20's. If T20 and ODI's over saturate the market people will stop watching. A huge amount of followers are just waiting for test cricket as it is sometimes a long time between matches and keeps the audience wanting it.

Posted by danoz on (June 23, 2012, 14:45 GMT)

instead of the champions league 20/20 comp which is a waste of the cricket calendar the should have a allstar test series with the northern hemispere(england,sri lanka,india,bangladesh,pakistan and the west indies) vs the southern hemispere(australia,new zealand ,south africa and zimbabwe) played every 2 years altinating between the south and northern hemispere ie 1 series in england the next series in south africa and so on.

have a 3 game 6 day test series.

the teams look like this

northern hemispere 1 gayle w.i 2 sewag ind 3 trott eng 4 tendulkar ind 5 pietersen eng 6 chanderpaul w.i 7 sangakarra s.l 8 bresnan eng 9 ajdmal pak 10 broad eng 11 anderson eng

southern hemispere 1 m hussey aus 2 smith s.a 3 kallis s.a 4 ponting aus 5 clarke aus 6 de villiers s.a 7 mac cullum n.z 8 vittori n.z 9 philandar s.a 10 cummings aus 11 steyn s.a

the north would have the strongest team at present but if the game was played 10 years ago the south would have had the strongest team

whata game

Posted by Mike from Adelaide on (June 17, 2012, 10:26 GMT)

The people in India seem to think the rest of the world cares about IPL. Aside from the people earning the money and the (now past) last chance to see some Aussie greats for a couple of extra years; nobody outside India cares. It took ODIs 25 years to become stale and another 12 to be on the brink of death. 20/20 is already stale and its death is also inevitable as the "new" supporters will get bored with the hit and giggle. If only Australia, NZ, England and SA were still playing tests, that version of the game would still survive. You can keep the IPL for as long as you can stomach it. Don't try to steal our tests just because you've realised we don't care about your competition.

Posted by Grant on (June 17, 2012, 9:21 GMT)

My ideal compact tour between cricket nations would consist of 2 tests, 2 ODI's and a T20, not as independent contests only, but as an integrated series. The number of matches may vary but the idea is to mimic a soccer match progressing from the main match 'halves' (2 tests) to shortened extra time 'halves' (2 ODI's) to a penalty shoot-out (T20's) to determine the overall winner. In this way tests can retain their primary status while ODI's and T20's can be appreciated either for entertainment value only or in the context of being the crucial tie-breakers.

Posted by Jayaesh on (June 17, 2012, 8:44 GMT)

Lot of empty rhetoric and diatribe from Siddarth Monga in that particular article.this unerring belief that test cricket is only true form of cricket and looking down on shorter formats smacks of elitism and Victorian snobbery, if test matches were so popular it woudn't be played in empty stadiums with practically zero Trp's.What is this thing about Sehwag choosing to play in IPL not for country,Right now Euro's 2012 are going on and most of the players are coming after the back of 9 months long strenous,backbreaking domestic season of Football and some of them are injured,but have you ever heard Football media/ fans questioning that a Wayne Rooney or Rolanldo should have rested for there clubs to be fit for the Euro's ,never ever !! .IPL gives domestic cricketers money and a platform to be recognised and appreciated by the fans.Test cricket was never popular in India it was something Maharajas and royalty indulged in.Cricket took of in India after the 1983 world cup win.

Posted by omkar on (June 17, 2012, 7:50 GMT)

t20 should be scrapped off. A 20 overs game has very less ups and downs, that's why it is boring for cricket lovers.

Posted by muhtasim on (June 15, 2012, 16:05 GMT)

Test cricket may have lost its appeal in the subcontinent, but its still quite popular in England, Australia and South Africa. One just has to look at the size of the crowd during the Ashes test matches to see how popular it is among cricket lovers.

Posted by Jacob on (June 15, 2012, 12:38 GMT)

Tests can be scrapped. A game which requires 5 days to complete is simply not relevant in todays world. Possibly for purists we can retain Ashes. Let rest of the world move on!

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