Welcome to the Virgin Media Midweek Kick-off! With England halfway through the summer’s Test series against Pakistan, we ask writers Matt Blake and Patrick Smith if the five-day format should be scrapped to focus on shorter, faster versions of the sport.
YES! It’s too slow for 2016
“Test has been out-muscled and outdone by his little brothers” – Matt Blake, sports writer, Virgin Media
The modern world is too fast
Test cricket is dying of old age. It’s grown saggy and weak, hobbling into the 21st century with its mind set firmly on the past. It’s a relic of a bygone time, when people took afternoon tea, travelled everywhere by boat and wrote things by hand. Back then, people had time to do those things, just as they had time to spend five straight days half-watching men in white idle about a field. But in today’s world of flat whites to go, high-speed broadband and chasing Jigglypuffs around parks, we neither have the time nor the patience for Test cricket.
Test has been outgrown
If Test cricket were an only child we wouldn’t be having this conversation – we’d still love it despite its foibles. But since the births of his younger brothers, One Day International (ODI) and T20, Test has begun to feel overshadowed. ODI and T20 are just more fun, more dynamic and more charismatic than Test. They’re the guys you’d take to a party, while Test stays home to read a really long book, like the dictionary. Test has been outgrown, out-muscled and outdone by his little brothers. Maybe now it’s time to cut him off and cast him out to give the others a chance to grow.
T20 is leading the way
T20 has exploded in recent years, thanks largely to the extraordinary success of the Indian Premier League and Australia’s Big Bash League. Both market themselves as the future of the sport – a carnival of fireworks and foam fingers, cheerleaders and coloured kits with players’ names on the back. Together they’ve thrust cricket into the 21st century, giving it a much-needed sense of pizzazz. Watching it live is like watching a Test highlights package – all the best bits without the standing about.
Attendance says it all
The popularity of Test cricket is in decline. Consider that the first game of this season, England v Sri Lanka in May, played out in front of a crowd that filled a little more than half of Headingley’s 17,500 seats. Still, the 9,436 fans there were still an improvement on the gate for England’s Test two years earlier against the same opponents. Compare that to the 80,883 fans that went to see the Melbourne Stars play the Melbourne Renegades on 2 January – the Big Bash League’s largest crowd last season – and you see how wide the chasm has become.
Even the players are leaving
In January, Tony Irish, chief executive of the Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations, told Telegraph Sport that more cricketers are mulling the idea of becoming free agents to follow the money and bright lights of T20. West Indies stars Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo have already done it, and others are in pursuit. “It is not just the commercial value and the fan interest [in Test cricket] that is dwindling,” he said, “but players are starting to turn away from the game because they have an alternative market now.” If both players and fans are beginning to lose interest, then for whom are we keeping the old gentleman alive? He’s had a good innings, but let’s turn off his life-support. It’s the kindest thing to do.
Agree with Matt?
NO! Nothing beats it
“Nothing can replace it as the most compelling form of the game” – Patrick Smith, writer, The Daily Telegraph
Never mind the sixes, feel the history
T20 may offer instant gratification, but the enduring appeal of all sport is the stories that are created over time: the long-lasting rivalries, the feats and upsets, the extraordinary moments that live in the memory. Test cricket, which began on 15 March 1877, has almost 140 years of history. Who today would design a sporting trophy in the shape of an 11cm-high terracotta urn containing the symbolic Ashes fought for in Test series between England and Australia? No one – but is there a more coveted trophy, with a richer history, in the whole of sport? I think not.
The clue is in the name
Test cricket is the true measure of a player’s talent, technique and nerve. Where T20 favours big hitting, Test cricket presents a huge range of challenges. When is the right time for a batsman to go on the offensive? Can he doggedly cling on to his wicket on the final day with his team facing almost certain defeat? When should a captain declare? The decision-making alone makes Test cricket more psychologically demanding, and absorbing, than any other form of cricket.
It’s about bowlers, too
A T20 game can be won without taking a wicket. All you have to do is restrict your opponents from scoring. In Test cricket, tidy bowling isn’t enough – you can’t win a match without dismissing the other team twice. A team needs bowlers who can make a breakthrough: spinners who can turn the ball, seamers who swing it, fast bowlers who can generate destructive pace. It was the necessity of taking wickets that created hostile fast bowlers such as Shoaib Akhtar and the artistry of leg spinners like Shane Warne. Cricket wouldn’t be the same game without them.
Test has an unmatched subtlety
There can be ebbs and flows in T20, but in Test cricket the contest can have a chess-like complexity, as two teams seek to establish an advantage in conditions that can change radically between innings. One big-hitting knock can swing a T20 game, but in Test cricket momentum can swing back and forth throughout the course of five days. A Test bowler can set a trap for a batsman that might involve giving away runs, or trying to starve the batsman into making a rash shot. The cat-and-mouse game can go on for hours. T20 has nothing like it.
It’s a joy to watch
The great thing about watching Test cricket on the TV is that you don’t need an in-depth knowledge of reverse swing or the “arm ball” to enjoy it. Sky’s commentary team juggles expertise and humour beautifully, with its carefully balanced mix of ex-players, including several ex-England captains. They dissect the play while also providing a running sitcom, complete with straight men (Michael Atherton, Nasser Hussain), rebels (Shane Warne, Ian Botham), and an out-and-out comedian (David “Bumble” Lloyd). Their affectionate one-upmanship can keep a Test match entertaining even when it’s raining.
Agree with Patrick?
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