Let’s root for Tests
For a die hard cricket devotee, Test cricket has always been, and will always remain to be at the pinnacle, irrespective of the amount of adrenaline pumping action that the shortest and crisp game of T20 can generate. There are no better sights in cricket than to watch players like the burly Andrew Flintoff in white clothes steaming in to bowl on a sunny afternoon at the Mecca of cricket, Lord’s.
But alas, after the recent developments, for cricket fanatics such cherished days may be numbered and those so called breathtaking moments may be limited.
England and world cricket will certainly take time to recover from the huge blow of Freddie’s retirement for he was a cricketer, who possessed the special ability to add that extra bit of tinge and excitement to the pristine version of the game, which it so desperately needs during these trying times. But the reasons that have led to the untimely exit of Flintoff and, for that matter, a lot of other cricketers in the past few months forces one to think if world cricket would ever be the same.
The reason that Flintoff put forth in support of his decision to bid adieu to Test cricket was that his body could not take the pressures of delivering the same kind of performance in all the three kinds of formats (Test, ODI and T20). And the choice was simple, as the difference in remuneration for a 4 hour T20 game compared to a long and demanding 5-day Test is known to anybody and everybody. Add to it the lure of playing in the multi-million dollar T20 extravaganza aka the IPL and you can’t help but wonder how long Test cricket will be able to breathe under the mounting pressure.
Fast bowling quality all-rounders are also becoming a rarity these days and the reasons for the same are not at all hard to fathom. Not only is the huge amount of cricket being played taking a toll on the bodies of the players, the murderous treatment meted out to bowlers, especially in the T20 version is also responsible for numerous cricketers choosing to become attackers rather than the attacked.
The future of the oldest format of the game seems even more in danger when people like Chris Gayle come out with statements openly criticising it.
But is it really that difficult to protect Test cricket and is there a need to raise such a hue and cry over the entire matter? Realistically, Test cricket should never be under threat, for it is a completely different game and commands an entirely unique fan following. Talks of the death of Tests cropped up even after the advent of one-day cricket, but the two have co-existed peacefully since.
Moreover, the similarities between the rules of ODI and T20 cricket such as the fielding restrictions, coloured clothing, day-night games etc. make it a substitute for the one-day game and not Tests. So, if it is so difficult for the three to exist together and it a tedious job for players to concentrate on all of them simultaneously, then it should be the 50 over game which should be worrying about its future rather than the good old Tests.
The safeguarding of Tests, though, will not be automatic and the ICC will have to take concrete steps in ensuring that, because if players continue to retire from the longer version, soon there will be no one left to play this ultimate form of the game. Checking the rise of T20 by regularising the calendar of private leagues like IPL is one way to do that. Another most important way of retaining spectator interest in the game is by trying to produce close results, like the one witnessed at Cardiff. But that will only happen by preparing wickets that besides helping stroke makers also assist the bowlers instead of just a few sporadic bursts.
Test cricket has actually not got such a big problem on its hands owing to its substance and style. While Tests have been in existence for over 130 years, the dwindling spectator interest in the one-day game after just over 30 years of its advent forced people to innovate with the format. And with the amount of T20 cricket being played, there is a high likelihood of it meeting the same fate and probably a lot earlier too. Let’s hope the story goes according to script…at least for the sake of Test cricket.