England v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Chester-le-Street, 3rd day May 29, 2016

And on the third day, Test cricket rose again

Sri Lanka have been so poor, they might have mistaken for harbingers of Test cricket's doom. But the maligned sport just keeps grinding along
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Jayawardene praises Sri Lanka fightback

"Jerusalem" was playing over the loud speakers. The Burnopfield Cricket Club juniors were holding St George and Investec flags, with one solitary Sri Lankan flag thrown in, and curiously, no Welsh flag. As the umpires came onto the field, "Jerusalem" was muted to announce their arrival.

It was a moment of cynical nationalism overlapping with officious traditionalism. It was Test cricket.

On the field Jimmy Anderson yawned. His team was about to beat a team that had defeated them in the series before, but they had already kind of beaten them. The match was going through the motions, and not quickly. Sri Lanka had picked the most irrelevant time to bat at their best. And the ground settled in for a dull, inevitable crawl.

The Test was seemingly so boring that Michael Vaughan could escape it on day two to watch a second-tier football game. He did it in a helicopter, and when you need a helicopter to escape, something has gone horribly wrong. Even James Taylor, a cricket nerd, was tweeting, "Doesn't get much better!! England Vs Wales at Twickenham". As for the official EnglandCricket Twitter account, it was wishing Chris Jordan all the best in his game.

That game was a long way from the flying buttresses of County Durham, it was nearer the Neo-Dravidian structures of Bangalore.

Despite the angst about Test cricket at Chester-le-Street, the third-day crowd were enthused by what they saw © Getty Images

There, people weren't bored, they weren't allowed to be. There wasn't time for yawns; instead every spare moment was jammed with a commercially crafted catchphrase, a Spanish horn blast or women in skimpy outfits dancing at the marvellous male athleticism before them.

The contrast was quite startling. When Cricket Australia asked, years ago, that their match-day programmes stopped using the word "cricket", and people non-ironically started using the term "cricketainment" instead, it seemed like a 1984 construct. Now, even Ravi Ashwin doesn't consider the T20 format to be cricket. And Mark Wahlberg owns a CPL team.

In Bangalore, every shot of the crowd seems to have someone screaming in delight. In Chester-le-Street, there are people reading the paper. In Bangalore the seats are jammed with bodies. In Chester-le-Street, there is a part of the ground that no one ever sits in. In Bangalore, the cricket is shown to hundreds of millions of fans. In Chester-le-Street you'd have been lucky to have one million fans watching today's play globally.

That is why Chris Tremlett tweeted on day one, "Doesn't look like there are too many people in the ground at Durham. Is test cricket slowly dying?" He isn't the only one. Sky had a chat about it, and on social media it was an oft-said thing.

Of course, it has been an oft-said thing from pretty much the moment Test cricket was born. It is cricket's most consistent meme.

No one in England had time for a game that went five days in the 1800s, they said. Other countries weren't strong enough to compete with England, they said. Only the Ashes truly mattered, they said. Batting-friendly tracks would kill interest, they said. ODIs would kill the techniques required. ODIs would kill all the others. T20 was the devil, they said. They said, they say.

Lahiru Thirimanne's attempts to emulate Adam Gilchrist ended with a beauty from Moeen Ali © Getty Images

But in Durham, in the freezing cold, in a pretty empty stadium that might never get another game, with a Test team struggling to bat against a bigger, stronger and richer opponent, was cricket dying?

If this is Test cricket on its most dying day, then it's actually doing better than someone on their deathbed should be. A team that were so bad yesterday they were the living personification of the death, suddenly were good enough to outscore their entire series runs so far in one day. The crowd - so poor that Durham might not get another Test - was fairly full and quite engaged. People watched, listened, and read to follow the game. Even the weather was, well, for this part of the world, almost summer-like.

It doesn't mean the ICC shouldn't do more. Their pathetic Test Cricket Fund, US$1.25 million a year (less than a Chris Gayle Maximum contract) is silly in a billion-dollar industry. Day-night Tests could double the value of the game overnight, yet so little money has been spent to forward the concept and make the balls last, or be safe. And Test cricket is so poorly marketed and advertised in so many countries, you'd be mistaken for thinking it's illegal.

And has this series been a good advertisement for Test cricket? Sri Lanka have been so poor at times they've made batting look like an unconquerable quest, their fielding has ranged from spectacular to spectacularly bad, and their tactics are incomprehensible, both to outsiders and often to themselves. Of course, Sri Lanka have been like that in T20 and ODI cricket of late too.

And as bad as yesterday was - and it was bad - they were just as bad, if not worse, in January 2014 against Pakistan in Sharjah. And yet, six months later, they had won for the first time in England in more than a decade, after two Tests that went to the last ball and the second-last ball respectively. Did that exciting series win prove Test cricket was living, and this dull loss prove it is dying? Is it that easy? Could one Test series - the 2005 Ashes maybe, or India against Australia in 2000-01 - save cricket, and one more disaster, such as the 1912 Tri-series kill it forever?

Sunrisers Hyderabad celebrate after winning the IPL: people loved it, people hated it, people watched it © AFP

Can a sport that has close to a million people watching on TV over five (four, or maybe three) days actually die in a market where broadcasters are desperate for sporting content to fill their subscription channels? Can it really die while so many who love it are still around to say that it is dying?

None of this really mattered when Lahiru Thirimanne was batting with the tail and trying to turn himself into a Gilchrist-esque slogger. Nor when Moeen Ali slid one past Angelo Mathews and Jonny Bairstow stood sullen behind the stumps, looking at where he fumbled the ball.

Nothing mattered when Milinda Siriwardana effortlessly pushed a ball through the covers with such timing the ball must have been part of an inside job to get to the boundary. Or when Mathews, making up for one of his worst days ever, batted stoically until he was deceived by a ball so subtle he barely knew he was being grifted by Jimmy Anderson. What about that Kaushal Silva boundary? Or that over between Mendis and Anderson? Not to mention a bizarre no-ball when there were three men behind square.

There wasn't a sight such as Virat Kohli charging and slamming the Fizz through the covers. No 117-metre sixes were hit off Shane Watson. No one eased their way to a two-run-a-ball half-century. And at no stage was the ball bouncing off the furniture. There wasn't even the hope of a Sachin Baby miracle.

Both existed, both made people happy, sad, and frustrated all at the same time. Both did what sport, and cricket does. Made us talk, made us yell, made us question, made us forget our worries, and invent new irrelevant ones.

In Bangalore, a franchise made up of a Sydney captain and Bangladesh's greatest bowler beat a franchise with some of the most expensive batsmen of all time. People loved it, people hated it, people watched it.

In Durham, a side that might have been mistaken for harbingers of their own sport's doom, played their best cricket in a near no-hope situation and entertained a crowd who had really come to see their team win in a form of cricket they may not see live for a very long time to come. People loved it, people hated it, people watched it.

At the end of the day in Durham, the players walked off - not with a conclusion, not with a winner's cheque, not covered in champagne - but with the knowledge they will have to come back tomorrow and go through the motions again. One fighting to win the series, the other fighting to survive it.

Test cricket fights and survives as well. It has done for 139 years and counting.

Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ron on June 1, 2016, 10:54 GMT

    NAFZAK ON MAY 31, 2016, 21:40 GMT

    "The demise of Test Cricket has been greatly exaggerated. " Well said, Naf! You have thoughtfully encapsulated the sentiments of many cricket fans across the globe. Indeed, no other sport invented by man, captivates the curiosity and imagination of the uninitiated more than sight of men in whites on a pristine Sunday afternoon out in the countryside chasing after a red ball and sliding like mad to stop it before it crosses the boundary line, or to hear the simultaneous plea, by all eleven, inside a stadium, made to the lone austere figure, dressed in black and white, standing at the bowler's end: "How's Zaat? This is cricket, this is tradition and it shall live on in our lore for as long as sports remain an integral part of the fabric of humanity.

  •   Charindra Chandrasena on June 1, 2016, 8:25 GMT

    "As an England supporter, I count England facing Sri Lanka as usually a tough contest. They're clearly just going through a transition phase at the moment; they have many fine young players who I am sure will come back to haunt us in a couple of years. Sides transition. Sometimes, it takes a long time. Sometimes, they're playing against a strong nation in extremely friendly home conditions." Well said Daniel Powell!

  • Mohamed on May 31, 2016, 21:40 GMT

    The demise of Test Cricket has been greatly exaggerated. Test Cricket was supposed to be dead when they started playing limited overs cricket (now ODIs) in the 70's. We hear the same rumblings now with T/20. Rest assured my friends, because, this too will pass. For any Cricketer worth his salt, Test Cricket is the only format where you can go to the wicket a boy and come back a man. It's the ultimate test of one's character and patience. It's where men in whites are as graceful as they could be ruthless. In what other sport could you break for lunch and tea and then play for 5 days and still have a drawn match? Test Cricket is unique. It's where fans go to cheer on the current players and argue that these players nowadays would never be as great as those of yesteryear. Why Viv Richards had no helmet for protection and Sobers, well he made 365 with a bat made from a coconut palm and Trueman, Lindwall, Miller, et al, they all bowled over 100 miles per hour ALL the time.

  •   Daniel Powell on May 31, 2016, 15:59 GMT

    People have remarkably short memories when it comes to the 'greatness' - or not - of teams. Australia were 'finished' in 2013 when they lost 3 Ashes on the trot to England, only to then be 'the best side in the world' and England 'finished' not a year later. As an England supporter, I count England facing Sri Lanka as usually a tough contest. They're clearly just going through a transition phase at the moment; they have many fine young players who I am sure will come back to haunt us in a couple of years. Sides transition. Sometimes, it takes a long time. Sometimes, they're playing against a strong nation in extremely friendly home conditions. Not all series can be balanced and that's part of the joy - the occasional 'plucky underdog' moment as well as the perfectly balanced games. The only thing killing Test cricket is the constant talk of its imminent demise while it's doing just fine, like poor George R. R. Martin constantly being told he's old and fat and soon to perish. Stop it.

  • Amal on May 31, 2016, 11:40 GMT

    All of a sudden Sri Lanka are relegated to associate status because of one series. They are a team in the mends and even England strong as they were now went through similar patches in their history aswell. 2014 series Sri Lanka played well and won the whole series. Where were these critics that are typing today then.Its like having Murali and Herath bowling in dustbowl against a England line up who has not seen spin.Sri Lanka white washed 5-0 England in the ODI series in 2006. Thing is less of test cricket is played by other nations compared to the big three.

  • Nachiketa on May 31, 2016, 4:48 GMT

    As long as jkimber can write like this, test cricket will soldier on, T20 will win eyeballs while tests will win hearts

  •   Sammy Sh on May 31, 2016, 4:06 GMT

    I fully agree. Test match, 139 years, not only it has survived, it has become more classical in its own sense so as to take the sport at another level altogether.

  • David on May 30, 2016, 20:59 GMT

    I don't believe test cricket is dying, it's simply a matter of England playing a very weak opposition in Sri Lanka. These types of meaningless bilateral series do nothing to promote the game hence the reason for this article. There are no big names to get the fans excited about! The anticipation is simply just not there. Even for true cricket lovers it's hard to get up for this series, a whitewash was easily predicted especially in English conditions in May. Like anything else if the product is good the people will come out in their numbers. This problem is not only isolated to cricket.

  • Ron on May 30, 2016, 19:29 GMT

    Test cricket is cricket, period! If or when this vaunted, preeminent format is no longer viable or contested across the globe, for all intents and purposes, and wanton speculations, that would be the final drawn curtain and the official death of cricket. The other formats are but side shows only -- as they say, "that's not cricket"! Will cricket die? That will never happen for as long as schoolboys and schoolgirls play this great game (and pad-up and wait their turn to bat) from Bangalore to Bridgetown and Lord's to Lahore!

  • Jeevan on May 30, 2016, 18:57 GMT

    Much rather watch test cricket any day to any form of franchise 20-20 cricket. Keep tests alive and give people and alternative to watching soul less franchise cricket!

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