Cricket is a sport in seemingly constant turmoil. From funding to public interest and entertainment value, the future of the game and its viability continuously seems to be in question. Since the 70s, attempts have been made to make cricket more accessible and entertaining with the advent of one-day cricket and a further 30 years later T20 cricket was unveiled to introduce a further dimension to the game, with another format known as the Hundred recently announced by the ECB. These forms of cricket are relatively fast-paced, explosive and have the potential to be nail-biting. They help raise awareness and are an important part of the modern game.
Despite these developments, one must not forget the pinnacle and foundation of cricket, living amongst the ultimate sporting tests of character, mentality and endurance – 5 day cricket. It was the format in which the sport’s ‘golden age’ was played out and the format in which consummate players such as Bradman shone brightest. Feats such as Brian Lara’s record score of 400, Bradman’s average of 99.94 and Muralitharan’s 800 test wickets were all accomplished in this format. In fact within the cricketing world it is achievements in this format which distinguish players as greats and legends. Amongst the players themselves and the most learned fans test cricket is regarded rightfully as the highest format.
Despite being a spectacle of teamwork, skill and mental strength, amongst sports fans test cricket remains among the most acquired of acquired tastes. Outside of England, attendance at test matches is extremely sparse, creating a saddening juxtaposition between the talent and history being generated on the pitch. Why is this the case? Why is the most pure and difficult form of cricket treated with such apathy by countries with significant numbers of cricket fans such as India and South Africa?
The nature of the game is its relatively slow pace and the fact that the result is not guaranteed on any particular day of attendance. Despite this, as evidenced by my aforementioned points, Test cricket is a sporting spectacle. However it is still draws apathy from many.
There are two perspectives from which this issue should be considered, that of the players and that of the supporters. From the supporter’s perspective, greater efforts need to be made to advertise Test Cricket (when played well) as the exhibition of a collective of skills such as endurance and technique, because there are few in the game who possess the combination of the skills required to shine at the highest level of cricket. From a batting point of view, every century scored represents history being made and a hero being born, so the prospect of this should be exemplified and batting in test cricket should be presented as an exhibition of talent and technique.
Bowling in Test Cricket can be devastating, with both economic and brutal spells changing the game in the blink of an eye. Bowling with speed and accuracy is physically and mentally demanding. The psychological battle between batsman and bowler is one of the most intense tests of mental strength in sport. The chance to witness some of the best bowlers in the world bowl for a protracted amount of time should be a mouth watering prospect for most cricket fans, and this point should be appropriately advertised to cricket fans.
A major part of the appeal of sport is the drama that it generates. A 5 day test match provides the perfect stage for a full narrative to be observed, with sledging being abundant and batsmen facing bowlers more than once. Though competitiveness is a key part of cricket, this edge can be lost in the heat and excitement of a limited overs game, and animosity cannot simmer as it can over five days.
There are noticeable changes being made to make Test Cricket more accessible. The advent of Day/Night test cricket has breathed fresh life into the game with both its novelty and more convenient timings. The 2019 Ashes heralds the introduction of the ICC World Test Championship, which provides some necessary context to bilateral series giving further incentive for players to perform.
This brings me to my second perspective, that of the players. As I mentioned, Test cricket is widely regarded as the highest format of cricket by all those involved. However, players are being lured by the financial prospects of T20 leagues worldwide. Big money T20 leagues exist in countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, South Africa and Australia. These take place over different periods throughout the year and provide a far more lucrative option for players. The solution to this problem lies with the ICC itself. Contrary to popular belief there is money in cricket, significant amounts of it. The ICC need to use its funding to make Test Cricket more financially attractive to players, by bringing match fees on par with those offered in T20 competitions. Within the ICC itself it is up to the BCCI, ECB and CSA, the three richest cricket boards, to patronise the longest format in which their respective sides perform so well.
Overall, though Test Cricket seems to be in danger unless the correct steps are taken by the relevant authorities the future is bright. It is still undeniably held in the highest esteem, but this opinion needs to be enacted upon. The introduction of day/night Test matches and the World Test Championship is a commendable start to the inevitable upheaval the game needs. However, the future lies in the vision of those who wield power in the game.