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Test is still the best

One question that people keep asking me is that whether we will get good Test cricketers in the coming days after the soaring popularity of Twenty20 cricket, which has changed the configuration of the game completely in recent times. It’s true that Test cricket may not have lost its importance, but other formats have definitely gained more popularity in recent times. For true cricketers though, Tests are and will always remain the ultimate test of character, skill and temperament. But yes, for youngsters, we need to find ways to get them hooked on to this classical version of the game.

There is no denying the fact that T20 has revolutionized the game, which could also have a positive impact on other formats, especially Test cricket. Everyone’s approach to the game has changed, and if channelised properly, it could be a good thing at the end of the day. Batsmen have become more aggressive, which may not be such a bad thing for the spectators. It’s due to this very reason that Tests have become more result-oriented and have recently succeeded in attracting more people to the ground.

Even after the inception of T20 cricket, we have had some fascinating Test series in the recent past. The high-voltage India-Australia cricket series Down Under, the England-South Africa tourney and the last Ashes series were real hits and gathered huge audiences. That’s why I’d rather wait and watch for a while before forming an opinion about the fate of Test cricket.

It is true that the scenario is changing fast but I think it’s too premature to say that good Test batsmen don’t exist anymore. There are quite a few great Test batsmen still playing for their respective countries and their legacy would ensure that this facet doesn’t die anytime soon.

When ODIs came into the scene, critics had said that it would inflict a death blow to Test cricket. But in ground reality, the impact of ODIs was quite encouraging on Test cricket. We witnessed aggressive batting, better scoring rates and more results, and I expect T20 to have a similar impact.

The only danger is that of having too many T20s happening all around the world and the utter negligence towards Test cricket. Bowling four overs in three spells on a regular basis will never prepare you for bowling 8-10 over rounds. Batting for 35-40 minutes will not set you up nicely to bat for 6 hours. Hence, it’s mandatory to have Tests as the main course with a dash of T20 before and after the meal.

As a cricketer, I can vouch that players who are talented and are coming through the ranks still want to play Test cricket, as they know that Test cricket is what will separate the chalk from the cheese. It’s now up to the administrators to ensure that kids don’t just play T20 cricket while growing up because that might lead them to being hopelessly inadequate to play in the longer format, both in terms of technique and temperament.

When I see good teams not lasting 100 overs on good batting surfaces in domestic cricket, I sense the danger. Soon it’s going to be an alarming situation where youngsters may sacrifice technique and temperament to become more adventurous and innovative.

If we don’t change our approach radically, we may have to eventually create different pool of players for Test and T20 cricket. But our endeavour should be to produce cricketers who are able to adapt to all formats. A good player must have the technical know-how and temperament to succeed in all conditions, against all oppositions and in all formats. For that we need to start working at the grass-root level.

Role of the coaches and administrators

Coaches need to focus on long-term goals and should not look for instant gratification. The trick is to go to qualified coaches and not to the ones who’re just running organized net sessions because their ambitions are horribly misplaced.

Coaches must realize that you can make any kind of building only if the foundation is strong i.e. impeccable technique. Technique gives you the freedom to choose whichever way you want to progress.

Cricket bodies including the ones organizing school and age-group cricket must act responsibly. Instead of looking at the financials (a T20 tournament costs a lot less than a 50 overs or 3-4 Day tournament), they must focus on nurturing talent. Maybe there will be lesser tournaments, but those of good quality.

The Way Ahead

To get the viewers back into the game, we must ensure that every host nation should produce sporting tracks that have something in it for everyone. We can’t be producing dead batting surfaces that produce dead and dull draws. That will further push people away from the longer version. If the host nation is found guilty of producing such tracks, they should be fined heavily.

Time has come for us to make a serious effort to ensure the classical version of cricket doesn’t die a premature death. For that we need to invest the money generated from T20 leagues to popularize Test cricket. Make Tests more lucrative financially and let the people know how much a Test cricketer earns in a year. Every Test century and a five-for should attract monetary rewards.

That is for the Pujaras and Rahul Dewans of the world to know that there’s enough money to be made in Test cricket and hence there isn’t a need to change the game radically.

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