Ave Test cricket

Many premature reports of its death later, the five-day game still stands, a byword for excellence in an era that encourages, and even worships, mass mediocrity

Gideon Haigh

June 21, 2011

Comments: 63 | Text size: A | A

An illustration of the 1882 Oval Test
Then: Test cricket was flexible, played over three days in England and for a result in Australia © Getty Images
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Series/Tournaments: India tour of England

Say what? You start about 11am and go till around 6pm, right? Why? Oh, never mind…

You break for lunch? And for afternoon tea? You play in the open air, so that rain and darkness can ruin everything? And you play for five days and still might not get a result?

Look, no offence, fella, but it will never catch on. You have to understand: we're too time poor, we're too attention-challenged, there aren't enough sixes, there isn't enough colour, you can't squeeze it into a tweet. I think you have to face it: sports marketing isn't for you. Have you considered a career weaving baskets?

The Test match, eh? Not even Lalit Modi could sell it. Fortunately he doesn't have to. Here we stand on the brink of the 2000th, and frankly the prospect could hardly be more mouth-watering. Tendulkar at Lord's? No dancing girls required here; no cricketainment necessary.

Cricket spaced 803 Tests over its first century, meaning that 1197 have been shoehorned into the 34 years since, despite more than 3100 one-day internationals having been wedged in over the same period. But there don't seem too many Tests; arguably there are too few, even if this is probably better than a surfeit.

Not everything is rosy in the garden, of course. During their recent series in the Caribbean, West Indies and Pakistan looked like schoolboys trying to solve differential equations by counting on their fingers, so technically and temperamentally ill-suited were they to the rigours of five-day cricket. But the essence of a Test is that some must fail. Identifying inadequacy helps us recognise excellence.

In an age in which it has been deemed obsolete countless times, the Test match somehow sails on, not so much a mighty ship of state any more as a reconditioned windjammer - not the fastest thing around, but somehow the lovelier for that. Administrators busily infatuated with cricketainment have rather neglected it of late - no bad thing, really, given the damage administrators do without trying.

Players, praise be, still value it. You could feel the joy in England's cricket this last Australian summer. You could see a couple of weeks ago how much runs at Lord's mattered to Tillakaratne Dilshan. And some days just sweep you away, like the last in Cardiff, where four days of slumber preluded a fifth of nightmares. Test matches do loudquietloud better than the Pixies.

Test matches survived a nasty brush with malpractice last year, better than seemed possible at the time; India's No. 1 status has been a boon for interest and relevance; Australia's decline probably has, too, in addition to representing a stern cautionary tale, a punishment for hubris. For what a falling-off is here. England might have invented cricket, but it was Australia that more or less invented the Test match, as a literal "test" of its prowess, as an expression of rivalry and fealty.

Cricket owes the Test match everything. The one-day international was born into the global estate Test cricket created, like an heir with all the advantages; Twenty20 has come along in the last five years like the proverbial third-generation thickhead with a silver-spoon sense of entitlement, good for nothing but money

The origins of Test cricket lie in the primordial ooze that was early Anglo-Australian competition. There was then no structure, no schedule, no over-arching organising body - just an interest in settling who was better, and let it be said, making a few quid. The Marylebone Cricket Club would not come along with its ideas of fostering the bonds of empire until early in the 20th century; likewise there was no notion of providing for the rest of the game out of the profits on Test matches until the advent of the Australian Board of Control for International Cricket in 1905. The first 30 years of Test cricket are in the main the work of private entrepreneurs, jobbing professionals and local officials, all busily making up the rules as they went along.

The edge in competition mattered to the English, but to Australians it always mattered that little bit more. So it is that cricket owes an unacknowledged debt to the Adelaide sports journalist Clarence Moody, who wrote under the pseudonym "Point" in the South Australian Register. As a kind of five-finger exercise, Moody set out in a section of his book South Australian Cricket (1898) a list of what he regarded as the "Test matches" played to that time. Moody was hard to impress. He must have been tempted, out of national pride, to instate Australia's 1878 defeat of MCC at Lord's, honouring Spofforth's 10 wickets for 20, but on Australia's inaugural tour of England he decided that no Tests had been played; nor would he recognise the games played against "Combined XIs" by the rival English touring teams of 1887-88. Perhaps because he was so discriminate, and also in the absence of anything better, the list became canonical.

The other aid in the propagation of the Test match was, strange to say in an era that regards it as staid and unchanging, its pliability. Draw what inferences you will about the national characteristics they reflect, but the English preferred their Test matches to last three days, in order to minimise interference with the County Championship, while Australians insisted on a result, and cared not how long it took to obtain. All cricket down under was timeless, in fact: the first Test of the 1886-87 series, for example, actually began at 1.45pm after the completion earlier that day of the Victoria-New South Wales intercolonial match. When Sydney's gift to Somerset, Sammy Woods, originated his oft-quoted mot about draw(er)s being useful only for bathing, he was expressing a national, not just a personal, partiality.

The Test match resisted standardisation, furthermore, well into its evolution. Only after more than a century was the five-day format made entirely uniform; only in the last quarter-century have 90 overs in a day been the enforced minimum. And while ICC playing conditions make certain stipulations about arena dimensions, cricket in general has unconsciously preserved a pre-modern variety in the specifications of its grounds - a reminder of cricket's bucolic origins that Test cricket in its unregulated early development helped preserve.

Well established after half a century - no, nothing about this game happens in a hurry - Test cricket then took its other seminal step. Two Imperial Cricket Conferences at Lord's in 1926 agreed to England's exchange of visits with West Indies, New Zealand and India - a remarkable, seemingly unconscious expansion of the game on the stroke of a pen and a handshake or two. Had the step been contemplated twice, it may not have happened; as it was, cricket began an imperceptibly slow tilt from its Anglo-Australian axis.

Kumar Sangakkara edged to slip off Graeme Swann, England v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Cardiff, 5th day, May 30, 2011
Now: unpredictable like in the Cardiff result, thumbing its nose at those who call it dull and stagnant © PA Photos

What is sometimes ignored in the modern relativist custom of embracing cricket's "three forms", in fact, is that cricket owes the Test match everything. The one-day international was born into the global estate Test cricket created, like an heir with all the advantages; Twenty20 has come along in the last five years like the proverbial third-generation thickhead with a silver spoon sense of entitlement, good for nothing but money. Its future, moreover, will depend on the degree to which cricket can be preserved as something other than a scam for sharkskin-suited spivs and third-rate politicians.

One of the several ways in which cricket has been turned topsy-turvy in recent times is that after a hundred and more years as a bastion of conservatism, the sanctum sanctorum of the establishment, the Test match is the rebel game: uncompromising, unpredictable, ineffably appealing, immutably long, difficult to understand, resistant to commodification, and apparently unfriendly to the young, or at least to the condescending conception of the young as too dumb for anything but the bleeding obvious.

Here it stands, plumb in the way of the marketers and money men who see their role as sucking up to people who don't like cricket, and quite probably never will. Here it stands, relentless in its demands on players for excellence in an era that encourages, and even worships, mass mediocrity. Here it stands, kept alive by a love of the game that can't be bought, or feigned, or mimicked, or manufactured. Want to be the man? Want to fight the power? Celebrate Test cricket.

Gideon Haigh is a cricket historian and writer

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Posted by vinu31 on (June 24, 2011, 22:27 GMT)

Dear Gideon, a well written and thought provoking article. The last 15 years have seen more exciting result oriented test series than the dreary, endless sleepathons the 80's and early 90's produced. It would be a pity if today's cricketers find more value in two to three months of T20 (whichever league it may be) and neglect the combat and grittiness of test cricket.

But at the same time, it is a harsh reality that if anything has to survive, it must have commercial value. Test cricket alone cannot provide that kind of mass appeal. It is upto the cricket admins to ensure that Test cricket, 50-50 and T20 coexist to keep fans coming back, and keep the game financially viable. Lets hope that they will wake up.

Posted by jay57870 on (June 23, 2011, 12:25 GMT)

History is all about changes. In a past column, Gideon toasted "Sir" Kerry Packer for his rebel World Series Cricket and the "historical inevitability about all the changes WSC wrought." He praised Packer's business sense in recognizing how "peeved Aussie players were by their paltry wages" and luring them away with better paying WSC deals. He lauded Packer's promotion of TV revenues, mass marketing and even his exclusive rights & more! Tell me: Isn't this all "Cricketainment"? He endorsed WSC's investment in popularizing one-day cricket and making WSC "more like official cricket ... his Australian team more truly the representative of the people"! Fast-forward the clock to the past five years and we see 20-20 emerging with a similar bang! Only the names, faces & places are different - a rebel ICL, a (Packer-like) Lalit Modi, an upstart IPL, an imperious BCCI & a cricket-crazed India. The glaring reality: The surging IPL and its changes are just as inevitable as Packer's WSC.

Posted by Meety on (June 23, 2011, 0:28 GMT)

@Winsome - I think it all could co-exist in a mutually beneficial manner IF they can get the mix right. I don't see why Tests have to be as inclusive as the other formats. I definately want expansion in Tests in a tiered sort of way. @Leo De Oro - LOL! very phunny!

Posted by Test_Cricket_Best_Cricket on (June 22, 2011, 19:35 GMT)

As my Cricinfo ID says........... Test Cricket : Best Cricket.. Huge fan of 50 over cricket, not-so-bothered about t20 but Test matches thrill me to the hilt (Provided its betn two evenly matched sides on a sporting track) Test Cricket will never die if Administrators device a 2 tier system to keep contests even. Last month we saw 2 flawed sides (WI and Pak) play a very good test series as they were evenly matched. And regarding 2000th test @ Lords.. My money s on Sachin getting his 1st century @ Lords and his 100th century overall. Fingers Crossed..

Posted by   on (June 22, 2011, 14:25 GMT)

Test cricket is cricket. It is what sets cricket apart from other games. The discipline, the skill. I mean if you want slam-bang there are hordes of sports out there which offer that. The 5 day game is the identity of true cricket.

Posted by IPSY on (June 22, 2011, 12:43 GMT)

Clint Nelson, what sort of conspiratorial theory are you advancing? However, the assumptions look really authentic: I have always heard it said that Indian batsmen (except Sunil Gavascar and Mohinda Armanath) cannot play fast bowling. I saw it for myself when Tendulkar and the rest of their 2007 WC team was booted out of the 2007 WC by fast bowlers in the WI. And you are right, it was just after the WC that the IPL came up with its big money CATCH. Because since that, it's the fast bowlers mainly who have become disinterested in test cricket, saying that they are preseving themselves to bowl four friendly overs in the IPL for millions of US dollars. This is exactly what the Indians want - no monster face looking fast bowlers consistently nipping at their helmets and their ribs all the time. Their rankings in test cricket definitely tells the truth that the IPL has really achieved its purpose and exponentially! They didn't pick Edwards for IPL this year so he's taking it out on them now

Posted by Winsome on (June 22, 2011, 10:36 GMT)

This hymns to test cricket is all very well (and very-well written) but where does this leave the wider world of cricket? It is just not feasible as a format in terms of the Associate nations and the lower divisions. This is why eventually test cricket will be left behind in the drive for more equality in the game. Or at least I hope so. I love test cricket but the sport is focused financially on too few nations to the detriment of the others.

Posted by Notredam on (June 22, 2011, 10:30 GMT)

The best series ever to be played are two..In my mind...i have watched lots and lots of cricket,,,test,,odi,,t-20..as well These come to my mind. Ind Vs Aus 2001(Ind), Eng vs Aus(Eng Ashes)..absolutely brillance..evry session was absorbing intense...but there are not too many matches too prove that TESTS wil always be absorbing...but boy..india came from cliuthces down the jaws of demon to win 2001 series..i fell to the ground,,sank kness,,prayed to Lord Rama,,,bhagwan...but what great series that was...nthng can ever come close to that..

Posted by ygkd on (June 22, 2011, 9:23 GMT)

"Resistant to commodification". Exactly. Resistant to change? Not really. Has any game changed more than Test cricket? I can't think of one.

Posted by   on (June 22, 2011, 8:21 GMT)

Batsmen leaving 11 balls per every two overs and boring to watch batsmen like Trott and Cook yawning in the middle of the pitch...Is that what you call great? Then stay at home and look at the sky...Not much of a difference I think. I don't say test cricket should be eradicated. But we should know 50-50 or T20 is the game these days. I like 50-50 more than t20s..50 over cricket allows batsmen to do well and bowlers to show their skill.But t20 is a disaster. Sanga, Sachin like great players will dominate. Pollard like no tech batsmen will do a little as they deserve. Still Murali,Shane Warne and Wasim will be kings. I prefer 50 over cricket.

Posted by Prakhs on (June 22, 2011, 8:04 GMT)

Frankly speaking.. rather than the content and explanation to the support of Test cricket, the writer has put more effort in his language and grammer to make the article look like an engrossing 'Harry Potter' tale or a 'Lord of the Rings' story. Keep it simple...Silly!!!!

Posted by Meety on (June 22, 2011, 4:49 GMT)

@Jeeves2011 - LOL! I suppose thats why T20 is so...., um what was I talkin' about again?????

Posted by nadeeka2 on (June 22, 2011, 4:40 GMT)

A wonderful piece of writing, but then, one would not expect anything else from Gideon Haigh. Wonderful.

Posted by ILuvTests on (June 22, 2011, 3:27 GMT)

Ave, indeed. very well written, the prose leaps off the page and forms pictuires in front of me. And yes, test # 2000 and Tendulkar at Lord's - just cannot wait for the wait to get over.....

Posted by shrikanthk on (June 22, 2011, 3:03 GMT)

FormerMiner: You seem to be overawed by the "power" and "athleticism" engendered by the T20 game and extol them as fine virtues. But hang on. Cricket was never about power or athleticism. Those are not cricketing virtues. Cricket has traditionally been a highly skill intensive gentleman's game that is a far greater test of character and temperament than it is of physical prowess/brute-force. Otherwise, we wouldn't have had someone like Inzamam Ul Haq becoming an all-time great in this game of ours!

No matter how hard we try, cricket (be it T20s or T10s or T5s) can never compete with say baseball or football when it comes to being a test of "power" or "athleticism". That's never going to be our USP. Cricket ought to stick to its unique strengths in order to thrive as a game instead of trying to mimic other sports.

Seriously, as an art form, there is nothing much to cricket really if you take out the test match format. I'd rather pick a different hobby in a world without test matches.

Posted by shrikanthk on (June 22, 2011, 2:52 GMT)

nikhilpuri: I don't think there has been a timeless test since the end of World war II. Before WWII, tests in Australia used to be typically timeless. Whereas, Test matches in England used to last for either 3, 4 or 5 days. Most of the tests played in England in the 30s were 4-day tests. In fact, during the 30s, it was the custom in England to have the first 4 tests of the rubber last for 4 days each, but make the last test of the series timeless (which used to be generally held at the Oval).

I think since WWII, 5 day/6 day tests have been the norm. Others can correct me if I'm wrong.

The takeaway is that test matches have always been open to small-scale incremental change. Unfortunately, today administrators are completely unwilling to "touch" the test match format. Whereas, they are making very radical, often foolish changes in the other formats, which does not have basis in cricketing common sense (the "free hit" for instance is, to my mind, a particularly egregious example).

Posted by Barge on (June 22, 2011, 1:56 GMT)

@FormerMiner: That's one of the beauties of cricket, that it can be played by people of all shapes and sizes. Do you think that we would have been able to witness the brilliance of Shane Warne if the main requirements for a cricketer were "power and athleticism"?

Posted by kirksland on (June 22, 2011, 0:55 GMT)

Test cricket will be for me, always the primary form of the game. It is cricket, with its clearly defined techniques and skills. True opening batsmen, not sloggers, agressive fast bowlers and spinners and now a dying art, slip fielding, that apparently has little role in the newest formats of the game. It will be a shame if it goes the way of the dodo

Posted by   on (June 21, 2011, 23:23 GMT)

Well done Gideon, nailed it as you usually do. Test cricket is not conservative, it is the radical side of the sport - no one is ever going to score 400 or take 18 wickets in a match in the other forms of the game.

We are selling the youth of today short if we think they can't grow to love test cricket - it is the form of the game you learn to love as you grow with the sport.

Posted by SRT_GENIUS on (June 21, 2011, 21:21 GMT)

Thanks to my friends for posting this on FB, else I would've missed a gem.

Posted by EVH316 on (June 21, 2011, 20:44 GMT)

Classic Gideon prose. Celebrating Test and mentioning the Pixies gives the piece top marks in my book :)

Posted by   on (June 21, 2011, 19:46 GMT)

Enjoyed reading an article on Cricinfo after a loooong time. Thanks a lot Gideon.

Posted by tjsimonsen on (June 21, 2011, 19:38 GMT)

Simply Brilliant! Thanks.

Posted by FormerMiner on (June 21, 2011, 18:53 GMT)

I love Test matches - I was born and raised in the thick of it - but I cannot for all my love sing paeans to its structure, promote its leisure to my children or lie about an excitement that only people my age can call exciting! I am an urban professional and cannot hide the fact that I have not watched a test match in its entirety in 25 years!

Nostalgia by nature has a habit of constructing mundane moments and pedestrian performances of the past into timeless masterpieces. Gradually, we remember and champion only the good stuff in the object of our memory. Test Cricket even in my best times struck me as lacking in "athletic" prowess. Outside of fast bowlers mainly West Indian, major batting stalwarts did not shine as paragons of perfect health. In contrast, T20 has ushered in a different set of skills; power and athleticism chief among them. We will only be foolish in dismissing the new Cricket as "mediocre".

Posted by cyniket on (June 21, 2011, 18:26 GMT)

for all those who find little excitement in watching muscle-bound batsmen, who spend too much time in the gym, mis-hitting sixes against beleaguered medium pacers who are forced to bowl in their hitting arc.

Posted by abhinavrao0123 on (June 21, 2011, 18:22 GMT)

Awesome & Brilliant..... The timelines used are impeccable... The Pollards,Symonds,Malingas should be made to read this article to understand the PASSION OF THE GAME...

Posted by   on (June 21, 2011, 18:09 GMT)

What a write up...! classical and true to to core..:)

Test Cricket rockzzzz...!!! :D

Kudos to Gladeon haigh.. :)

Posted by   on (June 21, 2011, 17:55 GMT)

test cricket is the best game ...a solid testimony to a bowler or a batter...we dnt see slips in television these days ...modern day heroes if only could shun thier hemets and even play walsh or ambrose ..mcgrath..forget abt dale steyn,brett lee,tremlett,malinga and all others

Posted by nikhilpuri on (June 21, 2011, 17:47 GMT)

Great article. Like the history about the test match. When did timeless tests end? And if 5 day cricket was not the norm until after 1972, what other forms of test cricket were played until then?

Posted by pglkd on (June 21, 2011, 15:29 GMT)

Find a couch and make a groove on it. For the best games of the year are now coming up. Soon, very soon, India, Australia and England lock horns.

Lets hope India and England stay atop the rankings - and the Aussies lower down. Will keep the aussie hungry for test wins and the indian and brit hungry for Number 1. For love of the game.

Posted by   on (June 21, 2011, 13:16 GMT)

Brilliant piece of writing. Anyway Test Cricket is the ultimate form of test of patience, mental strenght and skills. T 20 doesnot even come near ! However we must pray and hope that the commercial balance of power divests from India alone , otherwise the short term, thick headed BCCI with will destroy cricket at Large. Without Test cricket, t 20 cant even survive a year.

Posted by   on (June 21, 2011, 12:55 GMT)

This is good article - solid assessment of the present status of test cricket. I'm particularly impressed with the phrase: "Here it stands, relentless in its demands on players for excellence in an era that encourages, and even worships, mass mediocrity". It's amazing how up to 2007, all the traditional countries had 'players of excellence' who kept test cricket still a very exciting sport and still the most loved format. But when they all retired after the WC, as less than a handfull of good players were left, total mediocrity set in and the test match format suffered most; as is evident, to the Indians benefit. Their lucrative IPL scheme was a nice strategy at the right time. The huge sums they offered had immediate effect. It metamorphosed hostile monsters like Lee, Flintoff, Steyn, Malinga, et al into affable members of the various Indian families seen regularly playing friendly soft ball cricket in their backyards - RIP fast men - reign India - wallop in mediocrity!

Posted by   on (June 21, 2011, 12:54 GMT)

One of the best articles on Cricinfo.. Brought tears to my eyes... On the Wall it goes.. :) Thank You, Gideon.

Posted by Bobby_Talyarkhan on (June 21, 2011, 12:33 GMT)

A magnificent panegyric to what CLR James described as the nearest existing equivalent to the Athenian tragedy performed to the acclaim of the denizens in the arenas of the classical polis. May all chauvinists and breast beating hatemongers stay away from this article - we would not want it and what it celebrates to be tarnished by such ignobility. Haigh pertinently identifies the genesis of this transcendent form of performance in the bucolically premodern. Yet perhaps it is just this archaic quality which explains not only its unique charm as a catharsis of the renewed crises of modern life - but also why it has been so bold and unconventional in embracing technological jurisdiction and standing on the frontline of struggles against injustice such as the fight against apartheid. Unencumbered by the positivist prejudices of modernity, cricket digs deep into its premodern origins to speculatively uncover human resources veiled by the fetish of commodification.

Posted by   on (June 21, 2011, 12:07 GMT)

Cricket is blessed not only with great players but also with gifted writers and thoughtful and articulate commentators on the game. Even the ball-by-ball commentary on cricinfo is sprinkled with gems of phraseology and shrewd observation. Thank you, Gideon Haigh, for your elegantly constructed article.

Posted by   on (June 21, 2011, 11:27 GMT)

A marvellous piece. If we ever want or need to justify test cricket, we just need to turn to this article.

Posted by MartinAmber on (June 21, 2011, 11:25 GMT)

Magnificent. "Twenty20 has come along in the last five years like the proverbial third-generation thickhead with a silver spoon sense of entitlement, good for nothing but money" is my favourite metaphor yet coined for that thing. I also liked his willingness to go against the grain and express doubts about UDRS in 'Ashes 2011'. And then, as if I couldn't admire Gideon Haigh any more, he references the Pixies.

Posted by   on (June 21, 2011, 11:22 GMT)

Beautiful writing as always, Gideon. Long live Test match cricket.

Posted by mcheckley on (June 21, 2011, 11:12 GMT)

Actually it's not so much TEST Cricket that is "superior" but "PROPER" Cricket (i.e. not limited overs) of which Test Cricket is the international example and therefore the peak of skill. You can play "proper" cricket between 2 pm and 7.30 on a Saturday afternoon, and many of my generation will have done so every week in years gone by, in Cricket Clubs the world over where now some form of overs limit is the norm. Only when the key parameter is in place - that the side bowling last must BOWL THE OPPOSITION OUT in order to win the game - does the full scope of cricket tactics come into play, the fact that one must so often risk defeat in order to press for victory. Only in "proper" cricket do we see bowlers who cannot bat lunging desperately forward in teeth-grtitted defiance, to hold out for a thrilling draw. And only "proper" cricket offers the unparalleled drama of FOUR possible results on those magnificent but rare occasions when there really IS "ten to get, and the last man's in".

Posted by   on (June 21, 2011, 11:11 GMT)

Pixies and Test cricket in the same article? It truly is a day of firsts.

Posted by crickeyt on (June 21, 2011, 9:59 GMT)

"Staid and unchanging" Test cricket still is, mate. Not due to any deficiency in the game, but due to rigid officialdom. Just yesterday, we had umpires ordering players in for tea after all of half an hour on the field, when the sun came out after hours and hours of everyone twiddling their thumbs through rain delays. And all the pointless debates about night cricket are equally ridiculous. If it gets more people to watch the game (and I mean genuine lovers of Test cricket, who otherwise cannot spare the time on workdays), then I couldn't care less if they play it with pink balls in golden spacesuits. Lovers of the game love the game, not just its antiquated traditions. If "pliability" is indeed a virtue of Test cricket, then perhaps Gideon would like to support the cause of day-night Tests too.

Posted by ashes61 on (June 21, 2011, 9:54 GMT)

Another succinct, perceptive and wonderfully entertaining piece from GH! And a timely acknowledgment at last that the marketing men do nothing but harm to the game at large. All sports need funding from somewhere but the creation of competitions as money-making vehicles alone is crass. No-one in their right mind would even start to compare T20 with Test cricket when considering overall quality. T20 probably has its place somewhere as a light-hearted, occasional event for people to watch after work or school on a Friday night when the brain is dead and a drink & a bit of "instant gratification" is required. But as a shallow, one-dimensional & entirely contrived "show" it is always going to be limited & certainly not to to be compared with the real thing.

Jeeves2011: You "couldn't get through it?" You couldn't get through a well written piece from Gideon Haigh himself requiring just 2 or 3 minutes of your attention??? Yes, I think you better HAD stick to T20!!!

Posted by Noman_Yousuf_Dandore on (June 21, 2011, 9:32 GMT)

Brilliant article Gideon!! Nothing beats the drama of Test Cricket; though only the blessed few can enjoy the thrills of it.

Posted by TheDoctor394 on (June 21, 2011, 9:17 GMT)

Lovely article. I should hang it on my wall. :-)

Posted by Will90 on (June 21, 2011, 8:29 GMT)

@crickeyt, considering how the top order was dismissed, to put all the credit for the first test on the Sri Lankans is unfair on the English bowlers, especially Tremlett. Anyway, due to all the rain, there was a lot less than fourteen sessions.

Posted by pradeep_dealwis on (June 21, 2011, 7:43 GMT)

amazing well written article! and celebrate test cricket we must...!

Posted by   on (June 21, 2011, 7:34 GMT)

what a lovely article mate ! test cricket will always be the corner stone

Posted by SamikDG on (June 21, 2011, 7:25 GMT)

Love it, really my appreciation and love for Test Cricket is increasing over time, like an old wine. An excellent session of test cricket like the one we saw in SA few months back when Steyn was on full song and Tendulkar resisted everything, is like one of Beethoven's symphonies or like a Sirloin Cut steak with Red Wine. You have to feel it and savour it, it's very difficult to explain to someone why it is so attractive, especially if that someone has little knowledge of cricket. And I agree to shrikanthk that it is a niche sport with niche appeal, so better not try to explain to all the Yankees why this is better than Baseball :) Btw, goosebump inducing article Gideon, thanks for that!

Posted by crickeyt on (June 21, 2011, 7:02 GMT)

Don't get me wrong here, I love Test cricket far and above the limited overs varieties. But Gideon, to cite the Cardiff Test as an example of a fine game of cricket is just poor appreciation of cricketing skills (or a desperation to unearth classic Test matches where there are none, simply to score a point over ODIs and T20s). The only dramatic swing in that Test match was from fourteen sessions of aimless indolence to one session of clueless ineptitude.

Posted by Praxis on (June 21, 2011, 6:55 GMT)

One of the better articles I have read in this site. Thanks you Mr. Haigh. Test cricket still remains the standard by which we judge the player's skills and capabilities. A player can win dozens of one day match or slog as many as he wants in a T20 game, but to achieve greatness and be remembered he's got to do well in this format. But now time has changed a little bit, the new generation of cricket fans are watching tons of one day and T20 games, with the overall bowling quality decreasing too much in the past decade, batsmen with beefier bats, shorter boundaries & the game being commercialized to such extent...We can't hope to see anyone else becoming like the great West Indian Quicks, or Indiia seeing another batsman with temperament of Dravid's. Its not only the future of test cricket we should be worried about.

Posted by   on (June 21, 2011, 6:52 GMT)

Hats off. It is an excellent piece. Well done sir.

Posted by shrikanthk on (June 21, 2011, 6:36 GMT)

Another interesting point brought out by your article is the "unregulated development" of test cricket. It is often claimed by sceptics that Test cricket is anti-free market since its existence is not "dictated by market demand". To my mind, this is spurious reasoning. The gradual piecemeal, often unregulated, development of the Test match format is closer to the ideal of free market conservatism than the "central planning" that has imposed the One-day and T20 formats on the cricket loving public.

Defiance of "standardization" and "one-for-all" solutions is another virtue of free, competitive markets. Test cricket's evolution exemplifies this virtue better than Limited overs formats that are too standardized to suit the myriad tastes of the public.

Posted by shrikanthk on (June 21, 2011, 6:05 GMT)

Supratik : Nice description. Now, a sceptic might ask - a similar over might have unfolded in a limited overs game. Possibly, but not likely at all. Why? Because in a limited overs game, Dravid most probably wouldn't have been on strike for 6 balls against Bishoo. The field would've been much deeper and well spread out. As a result, he would have been off strike thanks to a single off the first ball. There is no room for a bowler to "work" on a batsman in an ODI or a T20 game.

Posted by Jeeves2011 on (June 21, 2011, 5:53 GMT)

This article is as boring as test-cricket. I couldn't get through it. Bring on 20-20.

Posted by   on (June 21, 2011, 5:48 GMT)

"apparently unfriendly to the young, or at least to the condescending conception of the young as too dumb for anything but the bleeding obvious". I like that.

Posted by   on (June 21, 2011, 5:23 GMT)

What a way to begin the day. A love letter to the game I love most from the best living writer on the game. Thank you, Mr Haigh. The conclusion was as chest-thumping a finale to a cricket article as anyone could hope for.

Posted by Supratik on (June 21, 2011, 5:09 GMT)

Brilliant Piece, Gideon. We saw test cricket at its best even yesterday at Jamaica. While the ceremony of end naming was done after the great Holding & Walsh, the post lunch over by a 'rookie' leggie to a modern day great batsman. Bishoo to Dravid. Ball 1 - Short in length, Dravid goes for the cut but hits it to silly-point, Ball 2- Pitched up Dravid comes forward and drives it for 4 to the right of cover, Ball 3 - Bishoo shortens the length and Dravid goes back and square drives it for 4 to the left of the cover this time, Ball 4 - Another short one and Dravid mistimes a pull and gets 2, Ball 5 - Pitched up again and Dravid is defensive playing it square & Ball 6 - Still more flight, dipping and spinning away, sucks Dravid into the drive again, edged to slip and the drama ends with the catch. Test Cricket at its best. Cricketainment is not needed at all or the dancing girls!

Posted by shrikanthk on (June 21, 2011, 4:32 GMT)

Aditya Anchuri: It is not about which format originated first. The problem with a lot of Test cricket enthusiasts today that they defend the format by making sentimental appeals using history and tradition as their selling propositions. I am opposed to that. Test cricket ought to be defended on its inherent merits. I watch Test cricket not because it has a 130 yr history but because I think it is a format that is a lot more successful in separating the wheat from the chaff than other limited overs formats.

As Haigh says, it is fundamentally a difficult sport to understand and appreciate. Test cricket is never going to be as popular as lawn tennis or football or even T20. Let's accept that. It is a niche sport with a niche appeal (similar to Chess or classical music). Attempts to democratise it is a sure recipe for its destruction.

Posted by Kemcho on (June 21, 2011, 3:51 GMT)

A very good article and I agree that test matches are without doubt the supreme form of the game of cricket. But unfortunately, we live in the age of "Capitalism" where economics drives everything and cricket is no exception. T20 generates loads of money and humans do not need second invitation to take that road.

Posted by shrikanthk on (June 21, 2011, 3:48 GMT)

The other great thing about test cricket is that it reveals the character of the people playing it. By watching Ponting captain his side in a Test match over 5 days, you get to know the man. You get to know him by the way he paces his innings, the timing of his declarations, the length of the spells he affords his bowlers, the fields he sets when the opposition is cruising at 200-2.

There's nothing in any textbook which suggests standardised responses to the situations encountered in a Test match. The captain is free to reveal himself by the choices he makes. In contrast, in a limited overs game, the captain's personality is circumscribed since the format often makes the decision for him! Eg - Bring the field up when the opposition needs 1 run off 1 ball. The captain has no choice there.

Revelation of character can happen only in a format which gives utmost scope for the expression of human genius and human stupidity. Test matches do this better than any other ball game!

Posted by   on (June 21, 2011, 3:48 GMT)

You say the one-dayer was born into the global estate that Test cricket created. Yet, in the history of the game two-innings cricket came first. So who originated what?

Posted by shrikanthk on (June 21, 2011, 3:36 GMT)

One of your better pieces! I like to think of Test cricket as a high risk-high return game. In contrast, Limited overs cricket is a low risk-low return game.

Consider a bowler who pitches the ball up just a foot outside the off-stump. Let us suppose the batsman goes for the cover drive. In test cricket, the likely outcome is either a boundary or a catch in the slips! High risk, High return.

Whereas in an ODI, the likely outcome is neither a boundary nor a wicket. What's likely to happen is either a single down to third man off an outside edge or a single down to deep extra cover (since the field is deep). Low risk, low return.

It is often said that Tests demand more from batsmen. But I'd say the format demands more from bowlers as well. It's not possible for a Mark Ealham or a Collingwood to build a Test career as a bowler by bowling tidily for 10 overs. Their ability to contain is also severely hampered in a test match since the field is up.

Posted by andrew.henshaw on (June 21, 2011, 3:34 GMT)

Love it - long live test cricket!!!

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Gideon Haigh Born in London of a Yorkshire father, raised in Australia by a Tasmanian mother, Gideon Haigh lives in Melbourne with a cat, Trumper. He has written 19 books and edited a further seven. He is also a life member and perennial vice-president of the South Yarra CC.

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