Changes needed to popularise Test cricket
ICC panel should get on the job immediately
Fatigue of the players and disinterest of the masses are good enough to turn any sport into an elitist entertainment with a handful of enthusiastic spectators. Test matches were already showing these symptoms, with matches wrapping up in less than the projected duration and the frequency of centuries and five-wicket hauls diminishing.
The reason was attributed to increase in limited-overs matches. With the overwhelming popularity of T20, the problem will now be compounded.
In the duration that is required to finish one Test match, a T20 tournament can easily be completed with time to spare. A Test match is of 450 overs. There is a tussle between the ball and bat, especially from the third day onwards.
A Test match is a test of skills, temperament and stamina. Apart from pure entertainment and fitness, how T20 helps the game grow is something purists and former cricketers are unable to fathom.
Instead of criticising the T20 format, the best way to popularise Test cricket would be by making some innovative changes. In a life that’s getting more stressful, the cricket lovers were looking for entertainment as watching a five-day Test series was time-consuming without the guarantee of any entertainment.
In the sub-continent, teams try to gain home advantage by doctoring pitches. Either the series is a dull draw or matches get over under three days. Either way, the skill level is not truly tested.
Without tinkering with the ingredients that make a Test match interesting, the 450 overs need to be divided, 125 overs per first innings and 100 per second innings. On an average, Test innings is of 100 overs but when there is a limit on overs per innings, the strategy-management will devise methods for posting a big score so that a team batting first gets a decent lead.
There are advantages for both teams. The team batting first could go on the attack if the score was over 450. The team batting second would have to reach 450 before accelerating. Here the crucial part is that both teams would know the number of overs remaining and that would make their batting line-up change, which doesn’t happen in the existing pattern.
The batsmen would have the same urgency in running between the wickets that they show in limited-overs cricket. Bowlers would have 225 overs in a match to try all the tricks without having to resort to containment, which is killing the joy of Test cricket. The reason why the T20 format is popular is it has no negative stuff. But in Test cricket, it’s to the discretion of the umpire to call a wide if the bowler keeps persisting with the leg theory.
The most interesting part would be in the last 30 overs of the first innings. No team would want to get into those 30 overs without a minimum of five wickets in hand, as fewer wickets in hand would mean losing scoring opportunities.
The cricket committee of the ICC needs to take measures for Test cricket to be made more entertaining and purposeful. There is no substitute for Test cricket. But cricket in all three of its versions is a spectator-oriented game. And when the longest of its three versions is losing its charm, the problem should be addressed at the earliest.