How can a game that stops for lunch, tea, a spot of rain or bad light, with the potential to be unresolved after 30 hours spanning 5 days, still bring such joy in an age of haste and shortening attention spans?
There is talk of the death of Test cricket, with diminishing crowds and increasing demand for the fire and brimstone of T20. But anyone who witnessed the first Test victory for England against India must be wondering how support for the longer format of the game is waning. Test cricket is a unique sport. The length of the game allows patterns and key battles to develop and mature throughout. No other sport combines so many different elements of the technical, tactical, physical and mental.
The best format in the world
In the first Test, after three days of tension, we were still no closer to establishing a winner. Akin to an injury-time winner in football, or a tie-break victory in tennis, it was sport at its most enthralling. As I sat in the Eric-Hollies stand and saw Joe Root gesticulating towards us, and the crowd responding to spur the England team on to clinch victory, I knew I was once again experiencing a special sporting moment at a day of Test match cricket.
Every time you thought you could predict who would end up on top, the game changed: Kohli’s run out of Joe Root; 3 wickets in 8 balls for 20-year-old Sam Curran; A last-wicket partnership of 57 for India; Curran’s run-a-ball 63; Stokes’ wicket of Kohli. Barely an over went by without intrigue.
T20 cricket has now got greater pulling power than Test cricket. It is short, explosive and exciting. But it is not a comprehensive test of the skill and resolve of a professional cricketer.
Test cricket is a 10-course tasting menu, with a sommelier and great company. You will be regaling others of your experience for weeks to come. T20 cricket is a bucket of chicken and a litre of coke. You will really be enjoying it at the time, but when the sugar high has worn off and you get that last taste of the “special blend of herbs and spices” from your fingers, it won’t last long in the memory.
For those who remember a time before T20 competition, Test cricket will always be king. The challenge is attracting the younger generation.
What can be done to ensure Test cricket’s enduring legacy?
Don’t start Test matches on a Wednesday. People like to drink at the cricket. No-one wants to drink all day and go back to work for another two days.
Four day Test matches. The game now rarely stretches to the fifth day. Even when it does, the result is almost always a formality by that point. Four days still allows for the ebb and flow that makes Test cricket what it is.
Speed up the play. If a Test match is to be reduced to four days, the umpires have got to ensure that the full 90 overs are bowled in a day. A shot-clock between overs could be a way to do this. A set amount of time by which the bowling team have got to be ready to start the next over.
Part day-night Test matches. For example, play could start on Thursdays and Fridays at 3pm and at 11am on Saturday and Sunday. This is bound to increase attendance on the opening two days of a Test through the post-work crowds, whilst maintaining the prospect of a family day out at the weekend.
Free after tea. Doors should be open after tea if there is space in the ground. A novice to Test cricket is unlikely to spend £50 plus on a day of entertainment on a whim but may be tempted to catch the end of a day’s play if it doesn’t cost them anything. People like free stuff.
Free for Under 16’s. Test cricket cannot be expected to engage a younger generation if they are not exposed to it.
Even pitches for bat and ball. We all love to see a batsman scoring runs, but not when you don’t feel there is a possibility of getting that batsman out. Obviously, it’s financially beneficial to make sure the Test match goes the distance, but that should not be at the cost of the entertainment itself. The International Cricket Council (ICC)
Scrap the coin toss. In 150 Tests since the start of 2015, the away side has won only 45 matches. England are strong favourites this summer against India for example despite being four places below them in the world rankings, as they are used to the conditions and pitches on home soil. Give the visiting captain the outright choice to bat or bowl first and you will reduce some of this home advantage.
Test cricket requires thought, patience and precision. A game for the purest – the connoisseurs. With world cricket as it currently stands, Kohli’s “captain’s innings” and Stokes sinking to his knees as he took the prize wicket of the Indian captain could be things of the past. The ICC has got to ensure that whilst the enthusiasm for T20 cricket is fostered and encouraged, it’s not to the detriment of the most authentic form of the game.