Here's to ODI Tests

In which our diarist asserts, yet again, that five-dayers are washed-up has-beens

Andrew Hughes

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England fans partied and the Australians were made to sit and suffer, England v Australia, 5th Investec Test, The Oval, 5th day, August 25, 2013
The Oval on Sunday: a Test match minus the boring bits © PA Photos
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There have been 2094 Test matches. I haven't seen them all, but I've known a few. Some of them were young delinquents, who went off the rails early on: Tests like the glassy-eyed psychopath 1396 or the shifty and unreliable 1907.

Others, such as 1617, 1508 and 1296 had a thrilling existence; they lived fast and died young. A few, like 302, 498, 905 and 1535 even achieved greatness.

But most Test matches are not that memorable. They start off with high hopes, experience a few life-affirming moments, then subside into dull middle age. The Oval Test appeared to be going the same way. By the afternoon of the second day, it had joined the Young Conservatives, passed its accountancy exams, married, settled down in an obscure suburb, taken out a Daily Telegraph subscription, and bought a set of golf clubs.

Then, without warning, on Sunday the Test had a mid-life crisis, and went on a reckless rampage. There was a car chase, a gunfight, and a desperate pursuit along the roof of a speeding train. By the evening it was engaged in a bitter life-and-death struggle with its arch enemy atop a runaway tank packed with dynamite just yards from the edge of the Grand Canyon, when the Test got a call. Apparently it was cocoa time. So the Test packed up, shook hands, caught a bus home, put on its slippers and settled down for its evening nap.

This free-form, random excitement that arrives out of nowhere and disappears just as quickly is one of the joys of Test cricket. In fact, it's the only joy of Test cricket. Weighing in on the debit side are the slow play, the silly etiquette, the belief that sportsmen can't play sport when it's a bit wet, or a bit gloomy, or a bit late, and the experience of sharing a ground for a week with thousands of drunks singing football songs and booing like disgruntled baboons.

The BBC reporter at The Oval, in trying to sum up the excitement of the final session, described it as being just like a one-day game. He was right. Time was running out, there was a target to get, a scattered field, a thrilled crowd. Admittedly it was a chaotic, unplanned one-day game, with no Duckworth-Lewis, and a generous attitude to wides, but it was unmistakeably a one-day game, at least until Test cricket's pettifogging rules ruined it.

But the three, four, and five day formats have always contained this precious entertainment gem, like a jewel hidden in a lump of old rock. Chisel away the crusty archaisms, the endurance contest, the time-wasting, and the hours of uneventful standing around, and you are left with the good bits: the daredevil fielding; the long, unwinding tension of a run chase, and the knowledge that the battle will be decided one way or the other.

One-day cricket, in other words.

So whilst it would be pleasant to preserve Test matches, the goings-on at The Oval are just the latest demonstration that we don't really need them. One-day cricket isn't an add-on to prop up the finances of the longer format. It is the essence of the thing; it is cricket polished, refined and made ready for the future.

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

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Posted by Simon on (August 29, 2013, 7:48 GMT)

I thought that Tests were destined for a major overhaul when the coincidence of short form thrasher Dave Warner made his Test debut in Test Match number 2020. Maybe I was just reading too much into it too!

Posted by Krishna on (August 28, 2013, 4:47 GMT)

You are reminding me of Asterix--the Romans at war in Great Britain taking a break for the evening cup of hot water. Great fun this kind of unannounced one-dayer. Till the time the hot water came out the other way on to the pitch!

Posted by Dummy4 on (August 27, 2013, 17:49 GMT)

@Debi Prasad Mohapatra: Lol, I think that link is broken. It points to 1525. I'm pretty sure 1535 was the 2001 Kolkata Test. So Andrew was referring to the right one.

Posted by Andrew on (August 27, 2013, 17:25 GMT)

Apologies, 1535 was indeed the Kolkata Test. The link in the piece is to 1525, which was not quite as remarkable.

Posted by Dummy4 on (August 27, 2013, 15:24 GMT)

Why is Test # 1535 great? From the scorecard it seems like a normal test. You sure you don't want to include 2001 Kolkata Test to the list of Great tests. I mean that is the greatest of them all.

Posted by Tom on (August 27, 2013, 11:57 GMT)

I agree with your premise but not your conclusions. To use your analogy of the mid-life crisis, what makes the action sequences so exciting is the context and the contrast in which they arrive. Trying to distill a match down to *just* those moments is like watching a highlights reel of Michael Bay explosions, which is why T20 so often feels a bit bland, pointless and soulless, even dull, despite superficially providing more "exciting" moments. Even in this match, the exciting last day felt a bit contrived... because it was. Much as you need a Graeme Smith to appreciate fully a Hashim Amla, you need a few days of tedium every now and again to appreciate a high-octane run-chase.

Posted by Simon on (August 27, 2013, 9:23 GMT)

Funny article. Really good to read. I found it entertaining and enjoyable. But I found it lacked the humanity of 'Beyond the Boundary.' It certainly lacked the information contained in 'Taylor and beyond' or the skill of a biography by Ashley Mallet. Oh yes, it takes longer to read such books, but somehow it seems worth the effort in the end. We learn more about the world, far more than could be learnt in your little piece, enjoyable though it is. I suppose my point is that sometimes doing something that takes more time can reap greater rewards than something that can be entertaining but over in an instant.

Posted by Don on (August 27, 2013, 7:44 GMT)

Couldn't disagree with you more, mate. The 30 non-powerplay overs in ODIs are usually fairly uneventful and boring. If you want a game of cricket with just the good bits, T20 is what you're after. Cricket needs Tests because no other format tests players' skill and temperament to the extent that it does. It's a far better indicator of the quality of players and teams than any limited overs format.

Posted by Ross on (August 27, 2013, 6:32 GMT)

Andrew what you have described is the ideal that cricket aspires to, but one that even ODIs miss, and often. You are looking for the excitement of a true contest, and that can happen in any format - test cricket also happens to showcase real skill more than other formats.

The same is true of any sport. A 7-6 goal fest is a better football game to watch, but the 0-0 draw happens more often.

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Andrew Hughes
Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. His latest book is available here and here @hughandrews73

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Andrew Hughes Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. His latest book is available here and here @hughandrews73
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