If Test cricket isn't dying, it must at least be moribund. Ticket sales are dwindling, the relevance of the format among younger audiences appears to be decreasing, and the sport's governing bodies are having to think up even more radical ways to make the format appealing to both viewers at home and spectators in the stands.
You will have read variations of the above paragraph for several years now. To whatever extent it is true, that Test cricket finds itself needing to adapt to ensure its survival into the future, is by now consensus. Is the sport too inflexible with respect to weather conditions? Does it produce a few too many draws, and is there too much meaningless cricket knocking about?
All those boxes were ticked on day five of the first Test between Pakistan and Sri Lanka in Rawalpindi last year. After a near-full day's play to kick off the Test, a grand total of just 23.4 overs had been possible across the following three days. Rain and a wet outfield had accounted for some of the delay, bad light a major factor for the remainder. And then, on day five, the skies cleared and the sun rose in its full majesty, while in Rawalpindi, the first innings of the Test was yet to come to its conclusion.
"The last day of the match, I promise only we know how much joy we felt at seeing that. Even though the game ended in a draw, it was so uplifting to see the crowds fill up like they did." Azhar Ali on the 2019 Rawalpindi Test
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It was, by all accounts, the sort of meaningless Test cricket that has been blamed for the ostensibly existential fight for survival Test cricket finds itself in. And yet, little by little, as Pakistan were put in to bat, the crowds started to fill up. There was never a chance of anything but a tame draw, but bathed in warm sunshine, you could see not the stone steps at the Pindi Stadium that are testament to years of under-investment at a ground that has seen international cricket all but desert it, but masses of humanity piling in, ever-growing, as they watched the home side bat.
By the time Abid Ali and Babar Azam completed their centuries, this ground was heaving. And all for a tame, pointless, dull draw. "I think Pindi was fantastic last time, the way the crowd came," Azhar Ali said, speaking ahead of the series opener against Bangladesh. "The last day of the match, I promise only we know how much joy we felt at seeing that. Even though the game ended in a draw, it was so uplifting to see the crowds fill up like they did. My only wish is the fans come to this Test the same way they did on that day and send a message to the world that tells them how much we love our cricket.
"That final day, remember that the game was dead with no hope of a result. But it was a full house and we had a lot of fun. Hopefully the crowds will be like that for this Test match and also the PSL."
When Azhar spoke of that series, the first Test in Pakistan for over a decade, it almost appeared he drew more pleasure out of that full house than from the thumping win he led his side to in Karachi the following game. And with the return of international cricket to Pakistan becoming ever more regular, it was the spirit of that sun-kissed afternoon in Rawalpindi two months ago that he looked to draw on as Pakistan gear up to face Bangladesh at the same venue for the first Test starting Friday.
If it is the winter sunshine that drew people to the cricket that day, there is good news in store. The forecast for the upcoming Test is far more encouraging this time, and neither rain nor overcast skies are expected on any of the five days. Despite Bangladesh being on a five-Test losing streak, and having only ever won four Test matches away from home, Azhar was confident complacency would not get the better of his side.
"Potential wise, I think the Pakistan team is an excellent team," he said. "I don't want to get drawn into who is better, because who is better is the side that plays well on the day. Test matches aren't easy to win. In any match, we think we'll have to play our best cricket to beat Bangladesh. We are not taking them for granted whatsoever, and I think despite the absence of their senior players, they have players who can deliver match-winning performances. From the start, we just need to play our A game.
"We're trying to continue the combination we had in Karachi. We'll try and attack as we did in Rawalpindi. Last time, we barely played two full days in Pindi, so we couldn't get a result. But this pitch should produce a result, and hopefully that result should be a positive one. With [the World Test Championship] points being at stake now, every Test match is important because we need to be at our best."
There should be little extra motivation for the Pakistan players than that, but the idea of 10,000 cheering them on should be a nice bonus. This might not be the most high-profile series, nor is it replete with the sort of quality most believe the format needs to display to bring the crowds back in. However, if at any point you have found yourself worrying that Test cricket was dying out, come to Rawalpindi to see the life support they are ready to offer it.