April 24, 2013

Why Gayle's sermon is the beginning of the end

You can't just block a couple and then start swinging in a five-day game, they say. But why not?

Ladies and gentlemen, I have seen the future.

"I wasn't really thinking much to be honest; I had a few plans field-wise, but other than that I just tried to clear the ball that came my way."

On Monday, David Miller of King's XI Punjab explained it in 30 words. On Tuesday, Chris Gayle spelt it out in 30 balls, though he used his own special language based around the numbers four and six, punctuated with the occasional stroll.

We assume that people don't bat T20 style in Test matches because it isn't possible. Even when Sehwag and Gayle bat like Sehwag and Gayle in a five-day game, we write it off, shake our heads and say, well that's just Sehwag and Gayle. When we consider the perfect Test opener, we still secretly imagine Geoffrey Boycott leaning into a forward defensive so flawless that Michelangelo would have wanted to render it in marble.

But Sehwag was a prophet, or rather a warning, a tubby Halley's Comet streaking across the statistical sky, signalling the doom of Test cricket. Now we have the second coming of Viv Richards, only taller. But still people don't believe.

You can't just block a couple and then start swinging in a five-day game, they say. But why not? Pitches tend to be flat these days, so any restraint is down to politeness and etiquette. Like wearing Bermuda shorts in a cathedral. It might be rather vulgar to smash Stuart Broad for six sixes in the second over of the day, but is there any reason why you can't? Careful accumulation, Trott-style, might be a risk-free way of scoring runs, like putting your money in a low-rate savings account, but why bother if bank robbery is legal?

In my vision I see the baseballisation of Test cricket. A series of rotund men will plant their size twelves in the Bankrupt Bank Hitting Zone or Sugary Carbonated Bashing Box, biceps twitching, and proceed to dispatch every spherical object that enters their airspace to the extremities. Unlike in baseball, they won't have to lumber a few yards in any direction, and they will be able to use a proper plank of wood instead of a glorified table leg.

It's already happening. Batsmen of the 1950s would be horrified by the obscene rates of scoring in modern Tests. I'm sure that both the number of boundaries before lunch on the first day at Lord's and the average number of spectators hit on the head by sixes at a five-day game have increased in the last 20 years. I am sure of this and one of the advantages of being both lazy and not a journalist is that I don't feel guilty about not checking it.

Soon five days will seem like an extravagant amount of time for a game. Rather than dying because of lack of interest, Test cricket will just shrink. When everyone realises there's no particular reason why you can't go at it like Gayle, a Test series will be done in a week. Five-day Tests will become one-and-a-half day Tests, renamed Ninety90, then finally split into limited overs one-innings contests of, say, 20 overs a side.

That's the true lesson of Gayle's thunderous sermon of ball-smashing in Bangalore. I have seen the future ladies and gentleman, and now I'm off for a lie-down.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Simon on April 26, 2013, 4:52 GMT

    Nice one Andrew, see you got the fundamentalists, converts and the born-agains at it again. Nothing provokes religious fervour like traditionalists thinking they have to denounce tent revivals.

  • John on April 25, 2013, 5:18 GMT

    Ok, so just say the author of this article has his way. Picture this, the West Indies play Australia in a Test Match. Windies bat first. They go ahead with this aggressive T20 style approach. The ball is swinging all morning, and Gayle falls for 10, Pollard falls for 8. The whole team is dismissed for 160 off 22 overs. Then what??? Australia come out, batting sensibly for 2 days and amass 550 runs after seeing the new ball through. Then the Windies feel silly for playing a test match in T20 form. This article is ridiculous.

    In test cricket, with a swinging ball, and the dust bowl pitches of the subcontinent, batsmen cannot just unleash like Gayle did in the T20. Well they can, but their batting average will be about 15.00. I think the content of this article is inaccurate. T20 cricket is a fun form of cricket that should not be taken seriously. It is often a joke. I think most players see it as a light hearted training run. TEST CRICKET IS WHAT IT IS... THE ULTIMATE TEST. TEST #1

  • Dummy4 on April 25, 2013, 5:06 GMT

    On serious note the quality of bowling is very low in IPL. Scoring like this in international cricket is unimaginable because of the quality bowlers around the world.

  • Sam on April 25, 2013, 2:59 GMT

    I've always stated Test cricket should become a one innings 90 over affair, or 2 innings of 50 overs. Instead of 4 or 5, or 2 tests that seem to be the norm, we can have a test series of 9 or 7 matches and be over in three weeks, therefore a world series will be more easily planned, to crown a king of test cricket. 5 day test cricket is fast becoming an endangered test species, it has to evolve or die.

  • Ali on April 24, 2013, 13:45 GMT

    what are you talking about ??

    Lara used to hit a random bowler (usually a spinner) for 20+ runs in an arbitrary over in Test cricket quite frequently .....

    Chanderpaul , will break lose randomly as well .....

    They are both of the same opinion , but vastly different ability ...

    When it is time to stick..you stick ... but you must get runs.... and when there is opportunity you must maximize ...

    going all session and scoring 30 runs .... 25 runs may come of 1 bowler in a 4 over spell .......

    the difference between Test and 20/20 is that , In a TEST you can be circumspect and get a good look at the bowler and choose when and who you want to score off ...

    in 20/20 -- you just go

    Therefore in Test you can score 50+ ever 3-4 innings (if you are any good) ... In 20/20 be prepared for many sub 10 scores in between those 50+ innings .... In 20/20 you will get out ...

  • Hitesh on April 24, 2013, 11:05 GMT

    in tests, the field restrictions are not there so bowler can bowl per his plan, unlike T20 where the bowler becomes a pawn for the batsmen!! Also, talking about Sehwag and gayle.. we should not forget that these two batsmen have scored more than 300 runs in a inning twice!!

  • Dummy4 on April 24, 2013, 10:20 GMT

    - Gayle was not picked by any franchises when IPL started -Shah rukh picked him later for KKR and released him and now must be wondering what on earth he did - and what would be the bidding amount for GAYLE in the next auction - and with all his problems can MR Mallya still hold on his favourite HORSE

  • Mary on April 24, 2013, 8:18 GMT

    "...they will be able to use a proper plank of wood instead of a glorified table leg." You're the best Andrew Hughes. Love your articles!

  • sam on April 24, 2013, 8:03 GMT

    Andrew in 1976, England WI came to play a test series. They had this batting line up: Roy Fredericks, Gordon Greenidge, Viv Richards, Lawrence Rowe, Clive Lloyd, Collis King. Yes that top 6. They smacked 450 runs in 88 overs in the first day at Leeds. They still were batting with regular bats and at Leeds it swings more than it does at any other place in England. So, my point is it doesn't matter whether conditions change or not. If you power, ability and aggressive intent you will always entertain crowds. And Trott will be a boring batsman in whichever era you put him in. And bring back that lineup and put them against any international team in a T20 match. Those guys will score 300.