Ed Smith
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Former England, Kent and Middlesex batsman; writer for the New Statesman

The problem's not Test cricket, it's bad Test cricket

It is the product that matters. If the interest in Test cricket is declining, it is because the standard is not all that high

Ed Smith

February 2, 2012

Comments: 125 | Text size: A | A

A view from the chimney pots: fans watch the Ashes from the rooftops, England v Australia, London, September 12, 2005
The 2005 Ashes had people packing the rooftops because it was top-drawer stuff © Getty Images
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Series/Tournaments: India tour of Australia

During the Adelaide Test match between India and Australia, I was interviewed for a documentary about the future of Test cricket. Clever arguments eluded me - perhaps because I had half an eye on the astonishing quality of the tennis at the Australian Open in Melbourne.

Then I realised that was exactly the point: I wasn't focused on the future of Test cricket for a very good reason. Abstract questions were being elbowed aside by live sport of the highest quality in Melbourne. Invited to speculate about one sport's uncertain future, my mind wandered to a different sport's thrilling present.

Then I realised that I had identified the problem, entirely by accident. If Test cricket could boast four top teams as good as Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Murray - and if the rivalries between them were as subtle and unpredictable - we wouldn't be talking about the decline of Test cricket in the first place. We'd be talking about its golden age.

What can be done? The art of strategy is not assembling a long list of aspirations. It depends on identifying the single issue that really matters. "It's the economy, stupid." That was the political strategist James Carville's legendary memo to Bill Clinton during the 1992 American presidential election.

For Test cricket, the strategy should be simple: "It's the product, stupid." The argument that modern audiences no longer have the attention span to enjoy the longer game is a convenient excuse for not sorting out the underlying problems. The real issue is that the product has been watered down by poor scheduling, made bland by boring wickets and isolated by punitive ticket prices.

In 2003-04, I attended the English National Academy in preparation for an England A tour. English cricket was on the way up, but it still hadn't quite captured the public imagination. I remember one member of the support staff telling me: "Test cricket will never again be a truly popular sport because it doesn't have any celebrities like David Beckham."

He was proved seriously wrong within 18 months. The 2005 Ashes gripped a nation. You couldn't get in a taxi without hearing the radio relaying breathless commentary about the latest swing in momentum. England went cricket-mad. Why? Because the cricket - the Test cricket - was of the highest possible quality.

Great Test cricket is not only entertaining, it is enthralling. It gets into the blood. The overwhelming priority must be to ensure that a much higher proportion of Test cricket is dramatic and enthralling.

How can that be achieved? First, play the game on wickets that offer a fair balance between bat and ball. Wickets should bounce, they should offer a certain amount of seam movement and they should turn later in the match. The best way for fans to achieve this is to stop celebrating meaningless batting milestones - it only encourages wrong-headed groundsmen. Newspaper editors could help too, by flatly ignoring boring draws. The message would be clear: if you want column inches, give us some lively cricket.

Secondly, if boards can't fill the grounds at existing ticket prices, lower the prices until the grounds are full. Thirdly, ensure that captains comply with over rates by banning those who fail (the ICC deserves credit for doing just that to MS Dhoni). Finally, a Test series should be like a boxing match: there must be enough rest and preparation beforehand that both pugilists arrive in peak condition. Anticipation is a central component of drama. A Test series should never be allowed to be an afterthought.

"What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?" CLR James's aphorism is perhaps the more perceptive line ever written about cricket. And with good reason: exposure to life outside beyond the boundary helps its devotees return to cricket refreshed and clearer-eyed.

A Test series should be like a boxing match: there must be enough rest and preparation before-hand that both pugilists arrive in peak condition. Anticipation is a central component of drama. A Test series should never be allowed to be an afterthought

After Adelaide, I went to Melbourne for the semi-finals and final of the men's tennis. It is hard to capture the quality of what I witnessed without lapsing into a long list of adjectives: superlative, gladiatorial, epic, superhuman. Each of the three matches was sport of the highest class. Each story was like the 2005 Ashes condensed into one night.

Modern tennis players attack better and they defend better; they are more athletic and more skilled; they are tougher mentally and yet more expressive; they are more relentless in their pursuit of victory and more gracious in defeat. Even the legends of the past yield to the titans of the present. Can the same things be said about Test cricket? I fear not.

It's not just tennis that has evolved for the better. Look at football. I don't support Barcelona, but I celebrate how they have changed sport. They have resolved perhaps the longest argument in the history of games: they have proved that you can play with unsurpassable flair and yet also relentless pragmatism. They are purists but they are also winners. They are David Gower and Don Bradman rolled into one. Football's golden age is here and now.

What has all this to do with cricket? Everything. The evolution of other sports provides the context in which cricket operates. When I was a cricket-mad kid, I never thought I might enjoy watching other sports almost as much as Test cricket. But that is how things have turned out.

The English sportswriter Simon Barnes once said that Test cricket is like a great novel. It stays with you. Ironically, the cynics have been saying the novel is dead for almost as long as it has been alive. But the cynics are wrong. The novel endures and always will endure because it does something that no other art form can. The problem is not the novel, it is bad novels. As the author Kinglsey Amis put it, "I love reading. It's finding good books that's so difficult."

The same is true of cricket. The problem is not "Test cricket"; it is bad Test cricket.

It's the product, stupid.

Former England, Kent and Middlesex batsman Ed Smith is a writer with the Times. His Twitter feed is here

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Posted by   on (February 5, 2012, 15:48 GMT)

Simple, well-thought out article by Ed Smith. He has hit the nail on the head by stating that it's the poor quality of test cricket that is on offer these days that resulted in the decline of the classic format. There was a hardly was a heroic achievement in the recent past that people can talk about with a lot of excitement. The supposedly dull, slow-moving test cricket of yesteryear had heroes who saved games from the jaws of defeat but the speed-driven, Sehwagian test cricket of the modern day folds up in just less than three days.

Posted by harshthakor on (February 4, 2012, 5:00 GMT)

I agree that the standard may have declined but we are getting a series of enthralling results after hard fought games in test Cricket.-,the longer format of the game.Remember the outstanding series between the Proteas and the Aussies last year and the West Indies tour of India.Almost every match has a result of the ideal preparation of wickets and in the last year the bowlers did remarkably well which was a significant fact.Toady scoring rates are much higher than before.Many games have proved that there is no substitute for test cricket.-,which has unparalleled twists and turns.

I hope an era emerges where a generation of great players will replace the current or recently retired greats and great teams could emerge but we have to recognize the healthy development of the game in terms of contest.

Posted by kunderanengineer on (February 4, 2012, 3:24 GMT)

This is the age old debate since sports leagues were created - is it better to have a league made up of 4 or 5 super teams surrounded by average or below average teams or a highly competitive league with parity where guessing the outcome of any given contest amounts to flipping a coin? I would lean towards the 2nd option as long as parity does not =mediocrity. The problem in world cricket today is the predictability of outcomes especially in the test matches-the pitches disproportionally favour the home sides which means good cricket at home and bad abroad. The author refers to the need to have 4 strong teams and makes the analogy to tennis' big 4. However, remember that mens tennis only got really interesting after Nadal and then Djokovic broke Federer's dominance on grass and hard courts and now Djokovic is in the process of ending Nadal's monopoly on clay.Speaking strictly as a fan I would love to see for example both India & England end the other's home surface dominance as well.

Posted by   on (February 4, 2012, 1:59 GMT)

all the three formats probably in near future more formats like T 10 may also come should be managed by different organisations since requirements for all the formats is different.let it be that each country have alltoghter different team for its format.

Posted by   on (February 4, 2012, 1:25 GMT)

India, with its ageing team, has fallen off in Test Cricket since the Summer of 2011. India won easily at home, and also won their latest Test Series' in New Zealand and the West Indies, and India drew in South Africa. Before last summer, India also won the test series in England and competed well in Australia.

However, Indians follow their stars more than their team. Once Tendulkar retires, attendences will fall further in India for Test matches

India is the economic powerhouse of cricket. For world cricket to succeed, Indian cricket must succeed,

Posted by Long-Leg on (February 3, 2012, 18:21 GMT)

When India played their four test series in England in July and August last year the thing that upset me the most was the fact that the Indian team (with the exception of Dravid) didn't appear to care. They gave the impression that this important test series was a distraction from the one day and T20 game. Test cricket is and always will be the highest form of the game. When will administrators and players around the world realise this simple truth and adjust schedules and financial rewards accordingly?

Posted by AlanHarrison on (February 3, 2012, 15:32 GMT)

@pak94fan; well it's very generous of you as a Pakistan fan to take that opinion of the 2005 series, of the England team of that era, and more broadly of the Ashes in general. My opinion, for what it's worth, and it may not be worth very much, is closer to the view which I have heard advanced from some fans not only of your own team, but also of South Africa, India, and Sri Lanka, which is that the importance of the Ashes is overhyped, particularly in England. I think some English observers, Mr Smith included, tend in consequence to persuade themselves that whenever there is drama in an Ashes contest, some truly exceptional cricket must have taken place: but logically, that does not necessarily follow.

Posted by   on (February 3, 2012, 9:33 GMT)

just to add one more thing...in the last 35 or so tests...there have been about 5 draws. Add to the face there have been some amazing test in the last 18 months...if the crowds are down its probably becuase in this day and age, playing a match for 5 days, just isnt that feasible any more.

Posted by caught_knott_bowled_old on (February 3, 2012, 9:10 GMT)

No other sport has 3 (yes THREE) official formats being played at an International level. The custodians of cricket felt that in order for cricket to survive, it had to be abbreviated to 50 and now 20 overs cricket. The shorter formats have cannibalized Test cricket..no question..The sponsors and the next generation of players are all being diverted to where the money is...the shorter formats. Even the most die-hard cricket enthusiast can only take so much cricket. So, ICC needs to figure out how cricket is going to be packaged and sold. As a gripping novel or as a 30min sit-com.

Posted by   on (February 3, 2012, 9:01 GMT)

give me a break...nothing did more harm to test cricket than almost 20 years of meaningless one-sided Ashes series played every two years at the expense of the growth of the game. Granted the last few have been good quality...all through the late 80s, 90s and early 2000 they were painfully one sided, yet happened all the bloody time time!! that killed interest...but Aussies/English will never accept that.

Also, India has been home to some of the most intesresting, exciting and nail biting tests. All with results, all with high scoring matches. So now, you dont have to fast bouncy wickets to have good test cricket

this story might as well have been killed "Lets just have Australia play England and stuff the rest!"

Posted by duralsumo on (February 3, 2012, 6:29 GMT)

A very good analyis there Mr Smith. It was interesting some weeks ago a punter wrote into the Sydney Morning Herald and suggested that Test Cricketers should be playing more Shield Cricket.This would raise the standard of our domestic competition and prepare players for the highest level of cricket. This summer we have had six amazing test matches. However again India's preparation for such a high profile test series was apalling. You only need to look at Englands preparation for last summer and if you were compare the two you would use England how to prepare and India how not to prepare.

Posted by   on (February 3, 2012, 6:23 GMT)

I omitted another point yesterday. Yes, in slams, you have to get through with the early rounds which will build up the buzz for the much awaited semis and final. Which is exactly like a cricket world cup. And I think that's Mr.Smith's point too. There are plenty of tournaments scheduled without context in cricket. A World Test Championship would be a great way to make these Test series more meaningful and competitive but sadly the ICC has other ideas. All international fixtures should cluster around big ticket events and provide the necessary momentum for players to peak...this is what they have got right in tennis and this is what cricket administrators need to emulate too.

Posted by TontonZolaMoukoko on (February 3, 2012, 5:43 GMT)

crktcrzy - I'd have thought that Ed Smith specifically mentions test cricket because, as mentioned at the beginning of the article, he was recently interviewed regarding the future of test cricket. Also, the future of T20 cricket isn't really in doubt, whereas declining crowds in all countries bar England and Australia don't make test cricket that commercially viable, and people are worried for its future. The tennis analogy is a good one, watching the top 4 battle makes for great sporting contests, whereas India's recent test series in England and Australia haven't been captivating. I'm hoping that with England and South Africa being strong, Australia's and Pakistan's resurgence and India/SL always being hard to beat at home, test cricket's future is looking bright, but it needs the top countries to perform and compete to a high standard.

Posted by Busie1979 on (February 3, 2012, 3:35 GMT)

Cricket is at a very high standard these days. To some extent, T20 has undermined techniques, but has meant teams score quicker (which is more entertaining), batsman play a wider range of shots, and bowling and fielding is improving. I wonder how the great west indian team would fare bowling in the current circumstances with sedate pitches, more powerful bats, stronger batsman, better running between wickets, shorter boundaries, better protective gear and more intent from the batsman. They still could be dominant, but it is not a given in my mind. These days, if a bowler bowls at 150kph to an international batsman, it does not seem as fearsome as it once was. At the same time, they would benefit from better fielding - more athleticism, stronger arms, quicker infielders, more hit the stumps. wicket-keepers are better batsman these days - their keeping is open to debate. Lower order batsman take their batting more seriously. There are more leggies. Offies bowl the doosra.

Posted by PLAC on (February 2, 2012, 23:20 GMT)

While I agree that test cricket has been subject to poor scheduling, ticketing and poor preparation, I don't agree with the points made in this article. Firstly, although India have been ridiculously poor, test cricket is no longer dominated by one team, eg Australia forall those years. The recent performances of New Zealand and Pakistan are encouraging. Secondly the 2005 ashes was made famous for many reasons but the 'quality' of the cricket was not necessarily one of them. Dropped catches, poor wicketkeeping and no balls (costing many wickets) galore littered the series. Finally, making comparisons to the tennis is frought with danger. While I thought the mens final and semis were enthralling, and this was of course the focus of the author's point, tennis has been a game where over a long period of time one player dominates. Go back to Courier, then Sampras, then Agassi, then Federer etc and Graf, Seles, Williams sisters etc in the womens.

Posted by crktcrzy on (February 2, 2012, 21:50 GMT)

I don't understand why the writer emphasizes the word "Test cricket" rather than just "cricket". Nothing in the article suggests any "repair work" done by other forms of cricket, so why is he just singling out test cricket??? Isn't it showing an inherent bias on his part against Test cricket? And how could he forget matches as recent as the Aus/SA series, Pak Eng 2nd test, NZ/ Aus 2nd test etc? Isn't it that a few dumb test matches from India (Oh yeah, they again!) has changed the overall taste of mouth for test cricket? What was so special about the so-called "golden era" of test cricket? Nothing, except for the test cricket was the only real thing then. Now we have the chief destroyer T20, the IPL bash, and to a lesser extent the ODIs. Those are the real culprits, Sir, not "bad" Test cricket- because "bad test cricket" doesn't exist. Sorry. And BTW I can show you dozen of "bad" soccer and tennis matches of the same teams and players that you have mentioned. Be realistic.

Posted by Talubar on (February 2, 2012, 21:50 GMT)

The fact not mentioned by Mr Smith is that there are 128 matches in the draw of the Australian Open, of which maybe half a dozen were worth watching. In the last 128 test cricket matches how many have been memorable in some way? What other form of cricket, or any other game for that matter, can match the tension or a team chasing a medium sized total for victory on a deteriorating pitch on the last day? Or of openers threatened with every ball on a first day green top? T20s and ODIs are fun while they last, but instantly forgotten. Test cricket can't be matched for the combination of physical and mental strengths and courage needed to succeed and because of this, is and always will be the pinnacle of the game.

Posted by   on (February 2, 2012, 20:39 GMT)

@Ryan Hill, mamboman, etc. You are clearly have no idea how important it is for the smaller test nations to have a shot at the big boys. NZ recent test victory over Aus in Aus means a lot to the New Zealand cricket public as must the recent test victory for SL in SA. Infact most of the best test cricket played recently has been played between one of the big 4 v the others. Aus v SA was a good series but we cannot say the same about Aus v Ind, Eng v Ind, even the last Ashes was only of value because it signified the end of the great Aus era. But series such as Aus v NZ and WI v Ind have been shining examples of test cricket.

Posted by TwitterJitter on (February 2, 2012, 20:19 GMT)

@anindya_mozumdar That is right. Declining interest in "test cricket" is because of BCCI. BCCI preparing flat pitches is the reason why there is hardly any crowd at a test series between SA and Australia recently.BCCI preparing flat wickets is the reason why test matches all over the world (except England) are played to half-filled stadiums on their best day.Give me a break! I have stopped reading cricinfo comments for a while because they are boring, predictable and simplify all things in cricket to BCCI vs the rest of the world. When you shed your myopic thinking may be you can better see the reasons why there are declining attendences at test cricket. BCCI policies at best can be attributed to declining crowds in and that too is only a partial explanation. However, test matches all over the world are played to empty stadiums barring England and Australia (only when SA or Eng visit).

Posted by   on (February 2, 2012, 19:28 GMT)

Pakistan may not be the best team in the world but surely they have proven that they are one of the top sides in cricket. One of the things that I always had an issue with is last couple of years when people talked about the best sides both in test cricket and one day cricket Pakistan was never considered in the mix. I remember before the world cup Ian Chappell was talking with Harsha and Sanjay about the favorites and the later two did bring up Pakistan not necessarily as favorites but certainly a distant threat and Chappell specifically said Pakistan will get no way near the finals as they are a rabble with no skill anymore and guess what Pakistan did go farther than Australia did. Even now after winning everything last year and dominating the #1 team Pakistan is still not considered by some along with the other top test sides. What more does Pakistan need to do just to be considered, I'm not suggesting they are the best team in the world but at least they are quite good aren't they?

Posted by yorkshire-86 on (February 2, 2012, 19:08 GMT)

Firstly the FTP needs to be scrapped. If New Zealand vs Sri Lanka is ignored by the fans, dont play it. The first cricket tours were governed purely by money - England took ship to Australia because they knew they could make money. Let NZ play Aus more, SL play the African and subcontinental teams more, and popular touring teams like Australia and England do most of the touring. Secondly Test cricketers need to play more domestic cricket. Worldwide bans from the game for any team that has its scheduling enforced by broadcasters. And thirdly, as an Englishman, we NEED to get kids watching the game. Only around 5% of kids have access to Sky. Yes 90% of HOUSEHOLDS have Sky, but a household is not a kid - the channel the Sky is tuned to will be chosen by the bill-payer and if the bill-payer is not a cricket fan it certainly wont be cricket.

Posted by   on (February 2, 2012, 18:48 GMT)

Despite the recent beltings India has faced from England and Australia, this is the closest Test cricket has been to having a "big four" in a very long time. In fact, I'd argue that 2011 was the best year of Test cricket in at least a decade. I can only go by home crowds, but they've been very good all summer in Australia. If the author is more interested in the tennis, perhaps he could find a position writing for a different website. His comparisons between the sports are like chalk and cheese and hold no relevance.

Posted by henrystephen on (February 2, 2012, 18:37 GMT)

Ed, part of the joy of test cricket is talking about its supposed demise. Your analogy with novels was appropriate - but surely it implies that tests will survive as a format, regardless of there being bad ones?

Posted by pak94fan on (February 2, 2012, 18:06 GMT)

@Posted by LillianThomson on (February 02 2012, 12:53 PM GMT)

I agree with most of the stuff you said, but 10 PM is a little late... maybe 12-2, 2:30-4:30, 5-7. Spot on, on the Australian Open, I felt that the Murray-Djokovic match was the only truly competitive one, almost each point was decided by a brilliant shot, brilliant rallies (4th set doesn't count).

@Posted by AlanHarrison on (February 02 2012, 13:01 PM GMT)

None of G.Jones, Giles, Harmy, Kasprowicz or Martyn may be all-time greats, but it's the team, and the competition they put up as a whole, that matters. IMO, the competition in 2005 was great, and most people (specially from the English side) had their moments.

Posted by   on (February 2, 2012, 18:02 GMT)

Incidentally, I found the tennis utterly dull. Fitness has overtaken skill much as car technology has overtaken raw skill in Formula 1 (the skill element only returning once poor weather hits a track). I can admire the fitness levels of both Nadal and Djokovic but there's a certain lack of grace and over-abundance of physical precision. Certainly neither Nadal or Djokovic have the all-round game of Federer at his peal.

Posted by   on (February 2, 2012, 17:58 GMT)

If you look at most international team sports, with cricket, football, and rugby union being the ones I'll focus on, there has been a marked drop in the quality of competition. International sides no longer act as the peak that a team can be. In football we have seen club take priority over country, lured by the fabulous riches on offer. In rugby, we are seeing this too, not least with the massive salaries offered in French rugby. In cricket we are seeing players choosing IPL wealth before international and domestic competition. In football we all saw how England's performances dropped off since Bobby Robson's side at Italia 90. When did the Champions League start? 1992. Playing for England wasn't the goal for many as it once was and I'm convinced the same is true in other sports.

Posted by   on (February 2, 2012, 17:44 GMT)

A lot of comments have mentioned that the men's draw gets interesting only from the semis onwards. Not true, it is just that those last three matches get the top billing. From first round to q/f, there were plenty of exciting matches...Verdasco-Tomic, Tomic-Dolgopolov, Hewitt-Raonic, Harrison-Murray, Hewitt-Djoko, to name a few off the top of my head. And the great thing is some of these early matches produced shock results. They were EXPECTED to be one sided but turned out to be close with some of them involving an upset for the favourite. Tennis spread its wings much wider long back and draws players from diverse backgrounds from across the world, something cricket has still not done to anywhere near a comparable extent.

Posted by mar2000 on (February 2, 2012, 16:43 GMT)

its amaizing that there are so few top Bowlers in Test cricket and yet so few top batsmen. Thats what killing Test Cricket . We need to see the "GLADITOR" on the field of play and not the show-off . This is a time where Batsmen should rule putting a regular 700 total on the score book due to the lack of top quality bowlers. VEXXZ

Posted by Cric-enthusiast on (February 2, 2012, 16:25 GMT)

Hi Ed, I absolutely agree with you on the central thesis of your article: "It's the quality that matters". A few minor disagreements in an otherwise fine article. A couple of them, to be precise, and both of them have to do with you not being able to keep the English in you outside the objectivity required for an article like this (This is a problem that many of you English cricket commentators have, esp. Nasser Hussain and Atherton). 1. Murray is not in the same league as Djoker, Federer or Nadal...it was a surprise that his semifinal went to the 5th set. 2. The 2005 Ashes was followed keenly by cricket fans becoz England, after 15 years of complete capitulation in the hands of the Aussies, was finally able to put up a fight. As for the quality, it wasn't better than the 2001 Ind-Aus series, purely because the 2 matches that England somehow managed to win against the Aussies, owed to the absence of the best pace bowler ever, Glen Mcgrath. They were competitive, yes...but quality? hmmm

Posted by ntnb on (February 2, 2012, 15:41 GMT)

Recently most of the results are in favour of team with home advantage e.g Eng thrashes India at home and is beaten 5-0 in Ind & lost in 3 days to Pak away from home. AUS lost to India 2-0 & thrashes them 4-0. So, whos no. 1 ? no one ! test cricket these days is very predictable. The only teams who challanged everyone in any condition are 80's WI & 90's AUS. Let this format die!

Posted by sunnydays on (February 2, 2012, 15:09 GMT)

@ Stuart Helmer. Thanks mate, for calling India Rafa Nadal. I do not think they deserve it even in the wildest dreams. Rafa-a gladiator-never gives in-and India who failed to show up for 8 consecutive test matches. And by the way, I am Indian team fan and when Rafa plays Fed, I usually favor Fed.

Posted by Hutton364 on (February 2, 2012, 14:41 GMT)

Yes, the tennis final was great, but no matter how thrilling it is still a single narrative game. Basically there is one battle between two men. Compare cricket. Within a single Test match there are dozens of rivalries between bat and ball. We may wonder how KP will play the spinners? Can Strauss get his form back? Is Morgan the right man at six? Wiill Panesar justify his selection? Basically, what I'm saying is there is SO much more to cricket than tennis. It's richer because it has multiple unfolding narratives. And there have been some fantastic Test matches of late.

Posted by aalkool on (February 2, 2012, 14:18 GMT)

I thought of something similar watching the Federer-Nadal contest. But it was to do with the quality of the competitors. India against England and Australia would have been a much different proposition had India bothered to show some mettle. And because they didn't, it killed the contest. So pitches, ticket prices, and over-rates can only support quality cricket to an extent. Ultimately it is a contest between two teams.

Posted by   on (February 2, 2012, 14:08 GMT)

Actually, test cricket's top 4 teams mirror the top 4 tennis players quite closely.

Australia are Roger Federer. Used to be the best. May even have been the best ever. But after a recent, sudden dip in form, they are about 4th in the world.

India are Rafael Nadal. Took over from an all-dominating champion, but held the top spot only briefly.

England are Novak Djokovic. Briefly the best, but will it last?

South Africa are Andy Murray. Always competitive, but never win anything.

Posted by yorkshirematt on (February 2, 2012, 14:08 GMT)

Did the writer not see the second test of Aus v NZ, the SA V Aus "series" the drawn test between Ind and WI. The last Eng v Pak test? I could go on. Every one of those matches was test cricket at its best. Hard fought, unpredictable and more entertaining that any ODI or T20 will ever be.

Posted by Hassan.Farooqi on (February 2, 2012, 13:36 GMT)

@mrhamilton: No, there is no shortage of express bowlers (90+mph). Pakistan alone has a long list that are not in the national side. Talha, Khalil etc etc are still bowling their hearts out in domestic cricket waiting to catch the attention of selectors. India has Ashish Nehra who can bowl 90+ and is sitting out. The problem is the ability to take wickets. Otherwise Mohammed Sami, the second fastest bowler in history of Pakistan, would not be sitting out.

Posted by MrBrightside92 on (February 2, 2012, 13:20 GMT)

You can't compare team with individual sports,tennis has a good top four but there are seven rounds in a grand slam and usually the first five rounds are drivel. I think test cricket is devalued when one team is so much poorer than the opponent. A clear example is Melbourne, Oz were skittled for 98 and Eng were 132-0, you have two further days of waiting for Eng to finish their first innings and Oz to be bowled out. With ODI match you need to be at least ¾ the way through a game before the winner is potentially obvious. Yes, you get 1981 and 2000 but these are exceedingly rare, as with 2005, you don't want those sort of series every time as they'll be less cherished. Ashes 2009 was gripping but the level of cricket was mediocre, the recent Oz-SA series was inconsistent, bowled out for 47 then chasing 300+ in the fourth innings, yet people were bemoaning why it was only a two match series! Eng only had to chase 150, make it 1-1 and you get a gripping 3rd match. Oh well…

Posted by anindya_mozumdar on (February 2, 2012, 13:03 GMT)

Declining interest in Test cricket can be primarily be attributed to BCCI. They have for a long time now prepared flag tracks to ensure that the so-called Indian greats achieve unbelievable records. Gambhir may call for 'rank turners', but if you analyze matches played by India in genuine turning tracks, I am sure they would turn out average - not bad, but average. What Gambhir probably meant was flat tracks where it is quite difficult to get you out.

Posted by AlanHarrison on (February 2, 2012, 13:01 GMT)

On the contrary, I think the reason the 2005 series aroused so much interest was because England were doing well, and ultimately winning, after years of being thrashed by Australia. There was a lot of media interest in test cricket last summer, even though the Indian team played rubbish most of the time, for much the same reason. When the England team is winning, in any sport, the media and the politicians bandwagon and a lot of public interest gets dragged along. It may not be a popular view before an English audience, but I really don't think the quality of the cricket in the 2005 Ashes was that great; it was exciting, and many of the games had close finishes, but that does not mean that the likes of Geraint Jones, Ashley Giles, Steve Harmison, Mike Kaspowicz and Damian Martyn were all-time greats at the top of their game. Mr Smith is entitled to his opinion, but seeing as he has only played three more test matches than I have, that doesn't mean we have to respect or listen to it.

Posted by   on (February 2, 2012, 12:54 GMT)

This really is an excellent and thought provoking article. So much to digest here for lovers of the game.

Posted by LillianThomson on (February 2, 2012, 12:53 GMT)

The second PAK v ENG Test was of a far higher quality than the Australian Open Tennis, if you ask me. The problem with cricket is that Test cricket needs to be reformed to fit with the modern pace of life. Test should be played over four days on uncovered pitches, with sessions running 2-4pm, 430-630 pm and 7-10 pm. And they should all start the day before a weekend, so that most Tests build to a climax when people are freest to watch. The only country whose climate wouldn't suit this is England, but their Tests sell out anyway. BTW the tennis matches were long, but the quality wasn't that great.

Posted by CricIndia208 on (February 2, 2012, 12:51 GMT)

Test cricket by definition is meant to be dull. Can't do much about it. It is meant for old, retired people.

Posted by   on (February 2, 2012, 12:51 GMT)

@mrhamilton: I think you haven't seen dale steyn bowling :)

Posted by   on (February 2, 2012, 12:27 GMT)

Test cricket is Won by the Bowlers. Yes quality bowlers. ODI is won by Batsmen. This is very clear. Genuine match bowlers are reduced & killed by the greedy commercialization. Its all about runs & runs & runs. Its all about making 100 centuries. Who cares for a fight at the last day test match? who cares about chasing 100 runs and bowl out for 90. There is a lack balance in the game.

Posted by Nerk on (February 2, 2012, 12:24 GMT)

The funny thing is that whilst Ed was enjoying the "high quality tennis" in Melbourne, many tennis commentators on tv and radio were complaining of the lack of interest in tennis! The other funny thing is that over the last year or two we have seen some of the best test cricket. The big teams have been upset, personal battles have been fought, fast bowlers have charged in and spinners have ripped the ball. Personally, I think that we have seen some of the most engaging and closely fought test series in a long time. I therefore believe Ed is wrong that test cricket is dying. However, on the abstract level he is perfectly correct. Test matches, indeed any form of cricket, require attacking cricket to be enjoyable. Batters need to hit and bowlers need to bowl at the stumps. Quite simple really!

Posted by Ayanmalik on (February 2, 2012, 12:17 GMT)

Allow every thing in cricket as it was in 80s, I am talking about bowlers are free to bounce the ball at their own will. It is not fair to restrict them to two in an over. This gives a batsman chance to survive. I bet most the the free scoring current batsmen would not suvive long. Ultimately test cricket would return to its best.

Posted by Unifex on (February 2, 2012, 12:08 GMT)

Ryan Stephen, get it right: Rod Laver won the Grand Slam in 1969 as a professional, the only male player in the open era to have done so. So Ryan, bag somebody else.

Posted by mrhamilton on (February 2, 2012, 12:00 GMT)

world cricket does have a dearth of genuine quality FAST bowling in the region of 90-100mph let alone Genuine SKILLED fast bowling in that bracket ala Allan donald, waqar,shoaib and wasim....what we do have is some doughty 84-88mph bowlers like bresnan and even an ishant sharma, the best bowlers right now are guys bowling 80-84 mph with skill such as amir, jimmy anderson, but its not about speed a guy like zaheer khan is terrific quality and with his skill at 75-79 mph beats teh bat more than a bresnan....we need to see more SKILLED fast bowling full stop

Posted by   on (February 2, 2012, 11:54 GMT)

Actually Indian approach has destroyed the very essence of Test Cricket. You will find top run scorers Indians only because they made this record at home on dead surfaces to make their players legend. This is now crystal clear that their hunger of runs failed them overseas with Sachin still waiting for home series to reach his 100 100. Cricket should not be judged by aggregates, it should be judged by actual competition.

Posted by   on (February 2, 2012, 11:47 GMT)

an article written in hurry or little fore thought.test cricket is that flavour of cricket liked by the true lovers of the game. I don't mind any result . what I see is how the bowlers plan the trap and how batsmen break out of it. I appreciate the strategy of the captain. I enjoy the tense sessions before and after the breaks. I like to see the newball impact. I am thrilled by the old ball reverse swing . I want to see the ageing of the pitch and its effect on the game . I don't want to miss the few minutes with night watch man .even I like to see what the players do during drink break. that's the test cricket stupid like it or don't like it. if you have time watch it or go for tennis.

Posted by mrhamilton on (February 2, 2012, 11:40 GMT)

Very poor sixth form student like article, teh writer obviously hasnt been watching test cricket recently where 80% of series's have been enthralling in their own way...even the zimbabwe-bangladesh test match was exciting...we have had last winters ashes, south africa-australia....the recent india-australia series was exciting in that we saw a once great team destroyed, windies-pak and windies-india were even exciting...do do some proper research next time Ed...in the last two years it has been proven test cricket is the only true form of cricket and without it all cricket will fall

Posted by tests4eva on (February 2, 2012, 11:30 GMT)

On the contrary, following the absorbing cricket in St Africa and the recent Pakistan wins over the No 1 test side I think test cricket is in for a golden era with 4 good sides which can only be good for cricket. Bring on better wickets so average batsmen are not considered superstars

Posted by aarpee2 on (February 2, 2012, 11:22 GMT)

Recently SAxAs and Aus vs NZ played 2 tests series which went 1:1-other series are going as washouts in favour of team with home advantage e.g England thrashes India 4-0 and is beaten in 3 days by Pakistan away from home. One way in this modern era to have a level playing field is to have a 3 match series.The first and second in respective home conditions and the third and final at a neutral venue. This will make it a level playing field for all and really test the teams for a true picture of respective strengths of either teams in all condition in the same series. also make it compulsory for lights and evening games to revive spectator interest.

Posted by Mervo on (February 2, 2012, 11:18 GMT)

You obviously ain't been watching much test cricket lately Ed. Another self-appointed 'cricket journalist'? The tests lately have had some stunning cricket with double and triple centuries, hundreds scored in a session, and remarkable bowling performances... if that is not good cricket, then find something else to write about, because you just don't get it.

Posted by WarVdm on (February 2, 2012, 11:10 GMT)

Getting tired of this topic: "Save Test cricket!" "Make Test cricket more appealing" I've been hearing this since the 90's... Over the last decade we have had some great Test matches and series, results are more frequent, matches are more even any team in the top 8 can beat eachother, home or away, records have been broken and we have had A LOT of last session, last hour, last over and last ball tension. What about all the Tests that have changed from one session to the nest, moment going from one side to the other in a session or two? Enough has been done on the field to make Test cricket more appealing, if crowds are bigger in shorter formats it's because they are easier to understand for the masses and sponsors focus more on them. Please stop these doomsday stories about Test cricket, there is no need for them and all you do is give negative publicity that will ultimately end up executing the lovely sport!

Posted by Mark00 on (February 2, 2012, 11:02 GMT)

People want to see a battle. That's what Test cricket used to be. Then, intimidated by the Windies pace attack, India and England got together to pass various rules to that destroyed fast bowling and turned test cricket into a dull affair. Thanks to India and England, today's game is about bowling line and length and waiting for someone to make a mistake. No wonder there's no pace. No wonder there's no fun. No wonder no one wants to watch. Let's face it, unlike Bradman in the days of Larwood and Tyson, batsmen, nowadays, are armored to the gills. I say let loose the chuckers in pace and spin. Get rid of bouncer restrictions. Watch the money come pouring in.

Posted by   on (February 2, 2012, 10:58 GMT)

"Even the legends of the past yield to the titans of the present. Can the same things be said about Test cricket? I fear not." This is a product of the attitudes of the cricket fraternity constantly revelling in their past. In Cricket, Nostalgia rules. The media often determines the opinions of the masses of fans out there. One of the biggest driving forces behind this nostalgia is simply the media in constant discussion about players gone by. Whereas in other sports, the media focuses more on the present: "Is Federer the greatest? Is Nadal?" Not a word about Pete Sampras, or (thank God) Rod Laver, who earned his accolades while tennis was stil in it's amateur days. It makes sense therefore that only in the sport of Cricket is there this perception that the past players are better than the current ones. Why not go and watch for yourself a replay of matches in bygone years, you'll soon begin to notice a few flaws in the batsmanship which could get you into alot of trouble today

Posted by Simoc on (February 2, 2012, 10:50 GMT)

Think you're a bit hazy Ed. Lots of drivel. Strange comparison , individuals vs nations, Federer has been a supreme artist of the game; the others attempt to bludgeon their way to victory with monotonous long rallies (boring) as they search for an opening to hit their favoured shot. Murray doesn't have the ticker of the other two but should still win a grand slam as he has the weapons. Test cricket is fine but is evolving rapidly as teams are getting rolled quickly and cheaply. Here India just got done in a hard fought first test and Oz maintained that pressure throughout the series to win easily but the batting runs were mostly scored by the same two who failed so miserably last season. Most spectating people don't have and don't want five days for a sporting contest winner to be decided.

Posted by stormy16 on (February 2, 2012, 10:42 GMT)

There was no interest in Eng cricket before 2005 because Eng were really bad for the 20 years before that! Even teams like Ind and SL won in Eng. I agree competitive cricket is required but Nadal and Federe dont just play semi finals and finals only. To get there, they start at round 1 and those games arent as exciting. The notion that every game of test cricket needs to be like the 2005 Ashes series is nonsense - anyone recall the Ashes series 1985 - 2005! Also this notion of a "perfect wicket" is baseless. Howcan SL be expected to produce a wicket with pace and bounce when wickets in SL have neither. Its like saying Roland Garros must be like Wimbeldon. Great teams will win on all surfaces and there needs to be different surfaces - just like in tennis. Imagine if every test match was played on this so called "perfect" wicket - we would be crying for something else. Test cricket has never been about a result every time - that why we have one dayers.

Posted by wnwn on (February 2, 2012, 10:40 GMT)

The most exciting match i've ever seen in the subcontinent is the test match between Pakistan and India at Karachi in early 2006. It was played on a green top unlike the previous 2 matches which were played on flat pitches where India at one stage reached 400 without loss. Irfan Pathan got a hat trick in his first over and Pakistan were reduced to about 30-6 but got a good score and then India were bowled out for less than this in their first innings. Then Pakistan got a mammoth score which was mainly due to poor Indian bowling. India were skittled in their second innings thanks to some great bowling from Mohammad Asif and Shoaib Akhtar.

Posted by csowmi7 on (February 2, 2012, 10:33 GMT)

Why is it that whenever india loses every other test nation feels it is a obligation to sledge against a billion fans. Is it because we have the richest board? Well we fans can have no say in the matter. Was it not India and Australia that produce some of the best series and test matches the world was privileged to witness? Kolkota,Mohali, Perth, Adelaide to name a select few. In fact people will be interested to know that before this series India had won more head to head encounters between the two side in the time fraem of 2002-2010 (9-5) which suggests cricket of the highest quality.

Posted by SirWilliam on (February 2, 2012, 10:24 GMT)

There are fewer draws nowadays than at any other time in the history of Test cricket.

Posted by Stone-Aamir on (February 2, 2012, 10:22 GMT)

"Play the game on wickets that offer a fair balance between bat and ball. Media and fans stop celebrating meaningless batting milestones - it only encourages wrong-headed groundsmen." These are really good suggestions and if implemented will dramatically improve the quality of the test cricket. The shorter formats are heavily inclining the balance of the game towards batsmen andbatting records as bowlers are becoming a formality. We must realize that the game is always bigger then the players and milestones, it will only improve with good competition between bat and ball.

Posted by jonesy2 on (February 2, 2012, 10:12 GMT)

by the way andy murray isnt good.

Posted by   on (February 2, 2012, 10:12 GMT)

i think there should not be a draw result of test match. eliminate draw from the possible outcomes. ie, declare a winner at the end of the 5th day (if no absolute result) based on the performance of the team or whichever team played better. make a method like the duck worth and lewis mthod or whatever. this way it would help in preparing better result oriented wickets. most importantly every test would have a winner which would help in eliminating the lack of interest from the public.

Posted by jonesy2 on (February 2, 2012, 10:11 GMT)

maybe its because england are ranked number one that you say the standard isnt that high? but seriously the interest in test cricket has never been higher i dont know what all this talk is about

Posted by TheCaptayne on (February 2, 2012, 9:54 GMT)

I disagree with a lot of what Ed Smith says. There arent any great Test teams around at the moment, true, so in that sense the standard has certainly been higher in the past. But although there are too many bland pitches, there are few draw now compared with most of the last 60 years, and scoring rates are high. Sixes are commonplace whereas they used to rare even 10 - 15 years ago.

I think the problem is that people now expect the product to be tailored to modern society's need for sport to be fitted into hectic lifestyles - Twenty20 fits the bill becuase you can see the whole game in an evening, and it's easy for the non-expert to understand and admire. Hence more likely to appeal to women and children who are new to the game, hence it becomes a neat packaged family day out. Test cricket does tend to appeal more to people with a deeper understanding of the game.

Who can afford to take many days off work to see Test matches? Who has that much time? That's the problem.

Posted by Tlotoxl on (February 2, 2012, 9:46 GMT)

The problem is that in the last 20 years we have been spoiled with some of the best ever players to play the game. In that time we have had Warne, Murali, McGrath, Walsh, Ambrose, Pollock, Donald, Flintoff, Ponting, Lara, Tendulkar, Kallis, Gilchrist, Dravid, Jayawardene, Chanderpaul, Sarwan, that was just off the top of my head, i'm sure there is plenty more. We don't have poor cricket, we have normal cricket waiting for the next batch of superstars to arrive.

Posted by Marktc on (February 2, 2012, 9:43 GMT)

Although I do feel test cricket is not dying, it can be tweaked. I do like the 2 tier idea. Maybe top 6 test teams and the have a bottom 6. This would allow for test hopefuls like Ireland to begin playing against international teams with roughly the same strength. Then, have one series of 3 home and 3 away games after each other. All 6 teams should complete a series against the other 5 in a four year cycle. Then those at the top of Pool B play the bottom of Pool A for promotion. Result wickets are also preferable. We do have characters in cricket, but as soccer is a truly worldwide game, cricketers like Warne and Sachin will never as big worldwide, so we cannot compare this. Also the tennis comparison is lost on me- tennis is an individual game, played over a couple of hours- even T20 games usually last longer and it is nation against nation.

Posted by   on (February 2, 2012, 9:39 GMT)

Mr Smith, you talk much sense about cricket but perhaps too much about other drab sports. The tennis must have been enthralling this year, I actually watched it for the first time in 10 years. But still it's sad to see defence exhaust attack. As for comparing soccer to test cricket, sacre bleu. The bank balances and acting performances of the players may have soared recently but little of any lasting worth. Cricket may not be as gentlemanly as we'd all like to suppose nor the goldmine the administrators seek but it stirs the soul, still draws admiring glances, still kicks you in the guts, still makes passing advances.

Posted by mamboman on (February 2, 2012, 9:36 GMT)

And we need a B Pool of Test nations - New Zealand, Zimbabwe (who belong in a C pool, frankly), Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan or the West Indies) with Australia, England, South Africa, India and either Pakistan or the West Indies with a 4 yearly promotion relegation between the pools

Posted by mamboman on (February 2, 2012, 9:31 GMT)

The cause of the problem is that the games economy is controlled by a nation of supports who are the most ignorant about cricket - India. All the Indian fans care about are meaningless milestones (achieved by too many tests against minnows like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh), satiating their own arrogance and money. They care not a whit about actual cricket.

Posted by   on (February 2, 2012, 9:30 GMT)

Too many one or two match series on batting roads. What is needed is 3, 4 or 5 match series, so a true winner can be decided. But they need to be played some on batting roads, and some on bowler friendly pitches. The last truely riveting test I remember was NZ vs PAK in Dunedin 2009. The pitch wasn't bowler friendly, but it wasn't a road either. Both teams struggled, one got ahead, then the other, then the first again. Even in the middle of the fifth day, all results were all possible and equally likely (NZ pulled through by 32 runs).

Posted by   on (February 2, 2012, 9:17 GMT)

great collection...this.... really enjoyed reading it.... and this is an eye opener for every 1 who enjoy the high scoring draws that r often boring and celebrating meaningless batting distinctions achieved on flat pitches.....

Posted by   on (February 2, 2012, 9:17 GMT)

Fining or banning for slow over rates should be implemented cautiously. if it is clear, by on field tactics for e.g., that there is a deliberate attempt to slow thiongs down then okay. If not then such penalties should be ignored. Also how can slow over rates be an issue when matches are over in 3 or 4 days ( or almost 2 as in the recent NZ v Zim test ). The suggestion that there be 2 Test pools is an idea whose time has not just come but should have been implemented years gone.

Posted by kasyapm on (February 2, 2012, 9:14 GMT)

Well..I agree with the content of the article, but not the timing. Barring the recent Ind-Aus series (which was one-sided), I think we have seen a fair competition in the last 6-7 months - SA vs. Aus, NZ vs Aus, SL vs. SA. If I am not wrong, the number of matches that have produced results has also gone up in 2011. One more thing, even though cricket is a team sport, it has little thrilling battles between individual members - Sachin/Lara against Warne/Murali. We need great players along with great teams.

Posted by   on (February 2, 2012, 8:59 GMT)

The problem with Test cricket is that it gets predictable. Only Australia can claim to play well or competitively in all conditions (poss South Africa as well). But when you see teams like the West Indies going to India and getting smashed with India not even having to play well who wants to watch that. Another example is England home seasons where most opposition teams cant handle the bowler friendly conditions where only Australia and South Africa (and India before the last tour there) can be competitive. West Indies are playing early season in England this summer but really you can tell the result before it has even started. Some of the best players wont turn up because of the Ipl probably as well. New Zealand are a team that can't be bothered with test cricket. They dont put any effort into improving their team. Also too much 2020 cricket (ipl, champions league etc) is ruining the best fast bowlers who cant play test cricket (Tait, Malinga etc) Mediocre medium pacers lead attacks.

Posted by rahulcricket007 on (February 2, 2012, 8:54 GMT)


Posted by Nutcutlet on (February 2, 2012, 8:50 GMT)

Ed, I can go along with much, but not all, of what you write. Test cricket is the pinnacle of the game, & anything that diminishes its status vis a vis other forms of cricket played by the perceived best players cannot be for the good of the game overall. This confusion of different formats is evidenced by the tiresome hype over Tendulkar's hybrid 100x100. It's truly meaningless, but tell that to the man in the Mumbai tuktuk. Test matches can be truly gripping but you do need well motivated sides, like Oz, Eng., SA, Pakistan & NZ (but an old, tired cynical India is not). Then, as you rightly say, you need realistic ticket pricing (I suggest a formula like a% of a country's av. daily income) and pitches offering a balance between bat& ball. Finally over rates: most tests finish, or can be finished, in 4 days. So, why not 100 ovrs a day over 4 days to ensure value for money? And fewer tests to give them the right stage & sense of anticipation.2 divisions as well. That'd wake India up!

Posted by ishrat1971 on (February 2, 2012, 8:25 GMT)

Well written, this article has been published in midst of the on going celebration of the two wins that Pakistan has managed over England. The second innings capitulation of the english batters has people raving about the spinners and the ability of Pakistan to spot the weakness and go for the jugular (in this match). In the analyses by many pundits the one thing that has been the talking point is the way the wicket has sportingly behaved. If the wickets are as sporting that there is an even contest between bat and ball test cricket will flourish.....

Posted by   on (February 2, 2012, 8:10 GMT)

yup thats true! test cricket has hit a all time low whereas football, tennis are moving forward as the years are passing! something seriously has to be done

Posted by mishim on (February 2, 2012, 8:07 GMT)

You raise some valid points but there's something you've failed to consider. Test cricket is largely sustained - directly or indirectly - by Indian money - even if the match does not involve India. India retains its interest in Test cricket because it has produced - over the past decade - batsmen who have set Test cricket on fire - Sehwag, Tendulkar, Laxman, Dravid - by incredible batting performances (read: batting milestones). India has never regarded their bowlers as high as their batsmen (their subcontinental neigbors Pakistan and Sri Lanka by contrast have Wasim Akram and Muralitharan respectively as their greatest ever CRICKETERS). Yes India have a bias towards batsmen and as long as they maintain prolific batsmen - even if only on Indian pitches - they will continue to be enthralled by Test cricket and - by implication - sustain the global game of Test cricket. Ditto ODIs! This from a nation accused of killing Test cricket to favor the IPL!!!

Posted by arvindsrin on (February 2, 2012, 8:03 GMT)

Ed makes a very good point about the lack of an even contest or a boring draw killing test cricket. Today's viewer has far more options than in the past but I disagree that cricket has become less competitive.Till the early eighties, only West Indies, Australia, England were top drawer test teams with an inconsistent Pakistan. Today while the west indies have fallen away South Africa, India, and Sri Lanka have emerged as competitive teams and a higher proportion of matches are result oriented. Poor scheduling resulting in an excess of ODI cricket and pitches especially in the subcontinent that make stroke making difficult and reduce the efficacy of the fast bowlers has made the viewing tedious.

Posted by   on (February 2, 2012, 7:36 GMT)

Quite agree. Test cricket belong to perfect players not half-bat half-bowl kind of. ODI and T20 have reduced the quality of players and focus them on money rather game. Professionalism in cricket has downgraded the credibility of the game. You can not find Micheal Holdings or Gavaskars, i mean technically correct players, these days in the game. But I love this game and keep watching all the formats as much as i can :)

Posted by venkatesh018 on (February 2, 2012, 7:27 GMT)

Very valid points. Hopefully people with the power to change things will take note.

Posted by   on (February 2, 2012, 7:26 GMT)

Is it a story of england cricket or world cricket !!

Posted by Romanticstud on (February 2, 2012, 7:16 GMT)

Now what about this Currently ... although not true ... the rankings are as follows ENG 125 SA 117 Aus 111 India 111 Pak 99 SL 98 WI 88 NZ 83 ... Then Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. Now that makes 10 Countries. Why not make this recommendation? The Top 5 Are in Pool A and The Bottom 5 in Pool B ... Start it after 1 April ... Then have a 4 Year cycle where in the 4th year you only play the teams in your pool. The 5th team in Pool A plays a promotion/relegation match with the top team in Pool B. Only at the end of the 4 Years the team at the Top gets awarded the Trophy. Points will be awarded as follows. 0 Pts Loss by Innings, 1 Point Loss, 2 Points Draw, 3 Points Tie, 4 Points Win, 5 Points, Innings /10 Wickets/ 200+ Runs Win ... If A Team in Pool B beats a Pool A Team the Points will be Doubled for the Pool B Team... and -5 pts For the A Team. All teams will be rated on the number of games the team that has played the least has played, ie only your last matches will count.

Posted by ashok16 on (February 2, 2012, 7:12 GMT)

"Each of the three matches was sport of the highest class. Each story was like the 2005 Ashes condensed into one night. "

This sentence says it all. I like following good quality test cricket. But watch it live? No way. Whatever happens, happens too slowly. I think it is pretty clear many players, especially the faster bowlers, prefer the shorter forms.

Unless there is a new format that captures the nuances of test cricket into one night, cricket is heading into confusion and will soon be splitting into half a dozen non-unifiable pieces.

Posted by Saim93 on (February 2, 2012, 7:06 GMT)

What is this 2008? Interest is still there I've had an awesome time watching the Pakistan vs England matches up till now.

Posted by   on (February 2, 2012, 7:00 GMT)

The Australian summer had record numbers of attendance, I don't feel test cricket is dying out, if anything the shorter forms are promoting the game as a whole. I just feel a few older players that didn't grow up with the idea of twenty twenty feel intimidated by it. It's a typical conservative backlash coming from an unfounded fear that tradition will be strewn aside.

Posted by   on (February 2, 2012, 6:58 GMT)

This problem would not occur if there were more national teams playing Test Cricket. Cricket boards have no choice but to play teams A and B once in atmost 2-3 years, too quick a time for any hype or desire to watch them play. More teams means more tours to diff countries and less seeing of the same teams.

Posted by cricket_wins on (February 2, 2012, 6:57 GMT)

I truly believe that the cash-rich Indian cricket scene is unfortunately the one to dish out pathetic international performances, no doubt about that. Also, Sachin's milestones overshadow the match result in many cases. It has to be a serious decision from the BCCI to accept there is a problem and address it - seems impossible, considering their inflated egos and perennial state of denial. The only solution is for other boards to put down clear standards of International cricket. If the BCCI ensures it irrespective of IPL, then the boards should agree. If not, the BCCI can hug and kiss the IPL.

Posted by cricket_fan_1980 on (February 2, 2012, 6:56 GMT)

why weren't you watching the pak v eng series then? some of the most enthralling test cricket that 1000s if not more spectators, commentators, pundits are raving about and here you are regurgitating cliched arguments about a waning sport. look around mate, there has been some cracking test cricket and they're enough fans around

Posted by   on (February 2, 2012, 6:42 GMT)

Excellent article. Couldn't agree more with what you have to say. I think the crux is to produce better wickets. ICC should form a panel of Curators. what say.

Posted by   on (February 2, 2012, 6:42 GMT)

Fantastic essay.

But when he means cricket he means 'international sport called cricket'.

I wish to compare cricket to another mass appeal product- cinema.

If you want the world to watch Hindi films, all this analysis is applicable to even cinema but when you are targeting only Indians, rules change.

Indians want their cricket just like their cinema. As long as they enjoy it, they are happy. They don't give a damn to what world thinks or does. That is why I think IPL is one of the cleverest products launched in independent India.

Cricket is not a religion in India. And it certainly is not a sport. It's a form of popular entertainment just like Hindi cinema. It will survive, indeed thrive as long as Hindi cinema.

Posted by SeanoN on (February 2, 2012, 6:40 GMT)

Good read bar this statement "If Test cricket could boast four top teams as good as Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Murray"

... Murray!!!??? Awe come on man... he is nowhere near the other 3... He is epicly shyte...

Posted by   on (February 2, 2012, 6:37 GMT)


Absolutely spot on, Ed. The ticket prices, who asked for new stadiums? The entertainment. But. The timing of this column is not what it might be. I've enjoyed a number of matches over the last year. There have been some upsets. India rose and fell. Engeland rose and fell. Pakistan seem to have sorted one problem or other. Australia are finding their form - or should I say shape - again.

Posted by   on (February 2, 2012, 6:36 GMT)


Nothing wrong with test cricket at the moment. Especially when we realise that the times of the greats of days gone by are never going to return - a simple philosophical truth. In my mind in the days - as you say - when you enjoyed watching cricket as a kid, there must have been loads of, let's call them, second generation cricket watchers who had there reference points one generation of cricketers earlier, who must have complained about the cricket of the day. In plain, what you watch & enjoy for the first time will always be a reference point for later similar events and it's hard for the latter to weigh up to the first. It's an uneven battle.

Posted by   on (February 2, 2012, 6:27 GMT)

andy murray gives the other big 3 no rivalry !!!

Posted by shrnk on (February 2, 2012, 6:17 GMT)

Well the article is partly correct. Being an Indian i wouldn't be too interested if Australia/Eng are playing a great game. I'd be more interested in India making a game out of it. I believe like in Tennis, cricket is being taken over by pace and athleticism. It leaves very little room for talent. Take the current trend for example - Swinging, seaming wicket and batsmen. Eventually batsmen will graduate to plodding their way to a draw. Any team which cannot enforce the kind of stranglehold that Aus/Eng enforced on India would be out of contention. For equally matched teams - Aus/NZ it'll be a lottery.

Personally, i think cricket has more flavor than any other game as it closely mimics life. However, it needs to be slightly biased towards batsmen to succeed.

Posted by crick50 on (February 2, 2012, 6:14 GMT)

Its very Bad Test Cricket Rules.. Test cricket can be intersting when it can produce result. No one would like to watch 5 days & at the end match is drawn. The concept of draw itself is debatable. If Test Match results or determined by wickets then what about Runs.. its of no use.. Consider team scored 500+ & oppenent just scored 100 run & lost only 9 wickets at end of 5th day.. Match drawn on what aspect.. it has to be fine tuned to get all possible rules to determine the result why only DL method for oneday no one invented any method for test to produce a result.. if you consider Runs & wickets sure to get the result.. other foolish concept Match washed out for first 3 days they will still play for rest of 2 days & most of the time match is drawn.. Time to innovate & inject new concept to test cricket..

Posted by dunger.bob on (February 2, 2012, 6:14 GMT)

@ Cpt.Meanster : I agree that a properly scheduled, sensibly structured Test Championship is a top idea but I also think there is already some context in the ranking system. For instance Aus have openly stated they intend to reclaim the #1 spot, so for us there is ALWAYS a point to a test match. A win is always good, a draw can be good or bad and a loss can never be good. I hope CA just focuses on that until something better comes along.

Posted by RussDegnan on (February 2, 2012, 6:09 GMT)

I agree that product quality is paramount, but there is a rather glaring hole in the analysis. There were 127 games in the men's singles draw at the tennis, and top-4 played in only 3 of them. Were the rest dragging down the standard of the product? The sold-out ground passes suggest otherwise. The top-4 played 20 games between them before facing off in the semi-final. Some of them were hopeless mismatches. Yet it hardly mattered, because tennis has context; we appreciate all the games, even the bad ones because they are part of the narrative journey to the final; because winning those games is essential to earning the right to play the best. Test cricket doesn't fail for lack of good games, it fails for lack of narrative journey; exhibition game on exhibition game with no end. And a much easier problem to fix than the quality of the best few sides.

Posted by narayanan723 on (February 2, 2012, 6:07 GMT)

I agree to your observations about tennis and football raising standards, but it's a bit unfair to ignore the quality of test match cricket being played recently especially the last year. Apart from the disappointing test match performance from India in England and Australia we had seen some really competitive cricket all around the world. The quality of pitches and especially fast bowling has been on the up compared to couple of seasons back. It's only the spin bowling that lags behind i think, but Pakistan offers some hope there if they can carry on the good work forward. I have a perception that people are now more aware of the finer nuances of this format because of the overkill of the T20 format around the world. Being an Indian who just loves test matches, I can see that the younger generation here now are following tests with a keen interest and now it's up-to the administrators to get their priorities sorted out and we can hope for a golden period ahead for this premier format

Posted by highveldhillbilly on (February 2, 2012, 6:04 GMT)

All test series should involve South Africa. We are never boring, either murdering the opposition or getting murdered. A team that can peak and trough in a matter of sessions. Kind of like the old Pakistani team.

Posted by inxia on (February 2, 2012, 6:03 GMT)

I would add that touring teams need to get back to playing several tour matches before the Test series begins, although Ed touched on this point when he said that teams need "rest and preparation" before Test matches. I'm not convinced that mens tennis provides the best demonstration of consistently high sporting quality. The Australian Open semi-finals and final were great contests but almost entirely without artistry. The point was better made by the comparison with Barcelona F.C. But overall, I think Ed has identified the problem correctly; raise the standard of Test cricket and the public interest will take care of itself.

Posted by jagmagh on (February 2, 2012, 5:57 GMT)

I find this article to be very poor by Ed's own very high standards. There doesnt seem to have either been too much thought nor insight in this piece, contrary to Ed's usual writing. There have been a lot of very very close and thrilling test matches in the last year. Yes, some matches arent very thrilling but thats always bound to happen, in any sport. Even in tennis grand slams, how many matches of the first 4 rounds were close - for that matter - most of them were typically one sided and boring, to be honest. Only in the SF and Final were the matches really interesting. And honestly, it is only since the resurgence of Novak Djokovic that there is any semblance of competition in tennis. For atleast a few years prior to that, you could just bet on either Federer / Nadal winning anything and that usually meant only 1 good close match per tournament and that too if both were playing. Most of the other players were pretty much spectators, with all due respect to the Murrays / Hewitts.

Posted by Advin on (February 2, 2012, 5:51 GMT)

I have been following cricket for about 40 years now and currently live in Dubai .Tomorrow ,on a holiday,the test match between two good teams (England and Pakistan) begins in Dubai.

I can afford the tickets but I will not be going to the stadium.Why?

I feel that watching a single days play (and see a possible 200 for 5 on the low,slow wickets) as a boring and incomplete exercise.I cannot afford to take leave on the other days and to my mind,seeing just a days play is like walking out of a football match after 30 minutes without waiting for the final whistle.

Lets face it,in todays fast paced world,when other games last about the time of a pub session,watching 5 days of cricket in a stadium is sheer boredom .I will be watching the highlights on TV from the comfort of my home and getting regular updates through cricinfo .

I may still go to the odi or T20 though.

Posted by unregisteredalien on (February 2, 2012, 5:10 GMT)

Hmm. Not convinced. Undoubtedly the standard of today's tennis is unsurpassed, but near-perfection produces a tedious slugfest. It sounds to me like someone appreciates Test cricket more when his own team is playing, not to mention winning.

Posted by TamilIndian on (February 2, 2012, 5:07 GMT)

Agreed but who has the passion to play for 5 days when you can earn 10 times more by keeping your body ready for the T20 bash

Posted by Valerio_DiBattista on (February 2, 2012, 4:55 GMT)

Brilliant article. One of the most sober articles I have read for a long time. I could not agree more. For me, the pitches in Test cricket have been an utter disgrace for a long time. The bowlers need to be given encouragement. It has been great seeing the Australian and Pakistan bowlers doing fantastically well in their recent respective series with the assistance of proper pitches. Further, an average of 50 to me should be the sign of a great batsman, and when too many guys are avergaing 50 or more this should be a sign to put more in the wickets for the bowlers. The scheduling is abysmal, not enough time between matches for bowlers to recover. Ed is right, in tennis you know the top guys are 100% desperate to win grand slam events. The same is not true in cricket. I apologise to all Indian fans before I say this, because I love genuine Indian Test cricket fans, but MS Dhoni and his side were a disgrace this recent series. Too old, not prepared, poor selections etc.

Posted by AidanFX on (February 2, 2012, 4:54 GMT)

Didn't bother reading - why because they interest in TEST cricket is NOT declining - PERIOD

Posted by mehulmatrix on (February 2, 2012, 4:51 GMT)

Very relevant and valid points. Many articles just seem to write based on losses/ match to make up an article. Without getting any team or player into it, it gives out the message pretty clear. Its more about scheduling,priorities and getting the intensity right.India has been a shame in that respect, not only due to losing mind you. Its their attitude, body-language that speaks a lot.Articles are written about the seniors should go,etc. But the entire team is to be blamed, they have been listless. Hope to see some meaningful test matches ahead.

Posted by Mourinho7 on (February 2, 2012, 4:47 GMT)

I think this misses the point. In the last 2-3 years there have been plenty of nail-biting, enthralling test matches. The issue is that the appeal and glory of these matches has been drowned out by the high number of comparatively uninteresting matches. Like Dravid said in the Bradman address, the influx of meaningless test series without context has served to saturate the market. India play Australia in tests too frequently for it to be as gripping as the savoured, less regular tussle. What Ed is asking is an impossibility: stellar quality across a very high number of matches, consistently. This is something that isn't being achieved, and will never be achieved - the tactic for cricket organisers should be to reduce the number of games, ramp up the expectation, and make those special tests overshadow the ordinary ones simply because we anticipated them so much more.

Posted by Cpt.Meanster on (February 2, 2012, 4:41 GMT)

I agree with Ed. Too many mediocre teams line up in whites to play the game's premier format. For example, it shames me to call India a useless and incompetent side. Similarly, most of the teams, though good, struggle overseas. England, the no.1 side look ordinary in the UAE. Pakistan still remain untested in tougher conditions of Australia and SA. SA are very inconsistent to my liking and Australia are still in transition. Sri Lanka have their own issues of finance and internal politics. NZ, WI, ZIM and Bangladesh are 'developing'. World cricket is in a tense crossroads. I think the ICC have shown very less intent to address the issue of the world test league. I think the FTP should be COMPLETELY done away with. There should be a world test league with 2 pools of teams along with a relegation structure. Some teams DO NOT deserve to play at the top level. Given India's recent performances in England and Australia, they DO NOT belong at this level. Time for the ICC to take a stance.

Posted by Kaze on (February 2, 2012, 4:31 GMT)

I agree the standard has dropped and that is due to the retirement of many top players.

Posted by Andross on (February 2, 2012, 4:30 GMT)

I disagree with much of this, some of the most thrilling tests have ended up being draws, just because it is a draw does not make it automatically boring, & despite being an Aussie, I think that the way that Dhoni was treated was stupid, there are so many variables that come into play in slow over rates besides just the captain, it is ridiculous that they are the 1s that are held solely responsible. I would also like to point out, that this AUSvIND series (certainly the 1st 3 matches ) has had some of the highest crowd/tv numbers in Aus in recent times. up by 33% according to ch 9! I do agree however, that the top few teams should play a lot more, we've just come off a 2 series against SA! who are going to have a 3 series in Eng!? surely as they are currently 1 & 2, it would be a sure thing to have 5 matches!? & why does the ICC persist with teams like Bangladesh, when Ireland and Holland eagerly await in the wings, it's the attitude of management that hurts test cricket, not players.

Posted by   on (February 2, 2012, 4:30 GMT)

Great perspective once again. I also really appreciated your earlier article on Warner. I watch both cricket and tennis and felt the same way over the last week. Two of the semis were drawn out epics, as long as a day's play or an ODI match. But every moment of the match was thrilling, edge of the seat stuff...there was never a lull, a period when the game went to sleep, which happens a lot these days in ODIs and, as you pointed out, in Tests played on bland pitches.

Posted by Aubm on (February 2, 2012, 4:16 GMT)

I don't think I have seen a better written argument for what should happen to the future of Test Cricket. Bravo Ed!

Posted by Woody111 on (February 2, 2012, 4:10 GMT)

Too right, Ed. While I've enjoyed seeing Aus start the road back to the top; especially the quality of fast bowling, the fight (or lack of) showed by India was awful. Even worse is the retort offered 'wait til you come to India'. Sri Lanka and India (well, their boards to be fair) do not appear concerned at all by how they perform in test cricket. Comments to the contrary appear to be lip service to a public betrayed. Part of the reason Aus have been enjoyable to watch is that a result is always likely. From Sri Lanka to South Africa and then a home summer, each test series has been incredible viewing. In general the pitches the tests have been played on have been sporting and this has helped to produce good quality cricket. I hope the West Indies produce these sorts of wickets to avoid boring 500 plays 600 stalemates which the cricket surrounding the advent of the Sir Frank Worrell trophy sought to eradicate. What a pity 50 odd years on we've learnt so little!

Posted by SamRoy on (February 2, 2012, 4:06 GMT)

I congratulate Ed Smith on the best article written in Cricinfo about the declining quality of test cricket. This is the best article written in years. Sangakkara's speech (and to an extent Rahul Dravid's speech) were great, but this is a great article. Weel thought, well constructed and a damn fine read. Wish all articles on Cricinfo were as good as this.

Posted by   on (February 2, 2012, 3:56 GMT)

Much as I solidly agree with the article, this -- "Secondly, if boards can't fill the grounds at existing ticket prices, lower the prices until the grounds are full." -- is a problem, because then you become Sri Lanka Cricket, who mismanaged themselves into such depths that they were unable to pay the salaries of their own national team. True, SLC is (and was) plagued with other problems, but they paid a price of their own for charging low rates for brand new stadiums during the World Cup.

Posted by   on (February 2, 2012, 3:54 GMT)

I didn't read the entire article, but I disagree with the fact that interest in Test cricket is declining due to lack of good quality tests. There have been some phenomenal Tests played over the last year - Eng vs Pak (Magician Ajmal), NZ vs Aus (Brilliant Bracewell), Aus vs SA (47 all out after Clarke had scored 150 in the first innings), India vs WI (drawn test with scores level). In fact, all through history, at least one team has dominated other nations thoroughly. Bradman's Invincible Aussies, West Indies' golden age and Steve Waugh's Australia. The last few years have seen England, SA and India rising up and providing good competition for that "number one spot". Let us face it. There were no other formats of cricket to watch during that time. T20s and excess ODIs are the reason for the lack of interest in tests.

Posted by SouthPaw on (February 2, 2012, 3:49 GMT)


That is some serious analysis & I agree with you on most parts. However, standardization (of pitches for seam & turn) will only drag the entire ecosystem down to a level of standard mediocrity. Perhaps, like neutral umpires, one should have neutral venues?

Posted by   on (February 2, 2012, 3:40 GMT)

Couldn't agree more! It's the teams with stronger bowling attacks who make the game very exciting followed by good batting. Batting is made very easy with flat wickets and too much emphasis is made on about 'bat defeating ball'. Doesn't take much to remember which sides you'd give you're last schilling to watch bowl, just imagine what West Indies 1979 vs Australia 2003 would be like to watch or Pakistan 1992 vs India 2001 or South Africa 1996 vs England 2011 would've been like to watch? All these teams in those years had one thing in common - Excellent bowling attacks!

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