By Zaheer E. Clarke
Published May 30, 2016
Test cricket has been the mecca format of cricket since 1877, almost 140 years. However, with the emergence of One Day Internationals (ODI) – 45 years ago – and lately the onslaught of Twenty20 (T20) cricket – in the past 11 years – many believe that Test cricket’s death is imminent. We heard the same conversation shortly after 1971 when ODIs came on the scene. The argument has now reached new fortes with T20’s dominance and appeal among diehard and casual cricket fans.
The antagonists all point to the dwindling crowds attending Test matches in the Caribbean and in other countries as to the reason why Test cricket will take its final breath. However, the overgrown grounds in England and Australia during the summers are no surprise and hints to Test cricket’s fever pitch appeal. West Indies once had that same draw wherever in the world they toured, but the downward dive of the West Indian team’s performance has coincided with the plunge in spectatorship around the world and in the Caribbean.
Some have called for Test cricket to quickly and quietly rest in peace. Others have suggested changes that will garner greater crowds, interest and revenue. Some of these recommendations range from the sensible to the senile. Nonetheless, let’s have a look at a few of the interesting and practicable proposals.
1. Abolish the Toss
Several pundits have proposed that the toss in Test cricket be eliminated and the visiting team be given the preference to choose whether to bat or field. What? Home teams win 61 percent of the matches that end in a result. Therefore giving the visiting team the decision to bat or field will even out the advantages of the home side, who is already familiar with the conditions and have oftentimes prepared the pitches to suit their bowlers.
2. Eliminate Draws
One interesting proposal is the elimination of draws in Test cricket. In a few instances in the past, we have had matches ending in exciting draws, but in most cases, matches heading for a draw can be boring contests also known as dead rubbers. These appeal neither to fans nor the players. Currently, just over a third of Test matches have ended in a draw, 34 percent. This is too much for some. If every match had to end in a result, win, loss or tie, then fans, whether attending or watching on TV, would have a keener interest in the game. The aimless batting out time by teams to achieve a draw would be a thing of yesteryears.
One interesting proposal out there says that the team batting last will have to chase down the runs in the available overs and would have lost the match if they fail to do so, irrespective of whether or not, at the end, they have wickets in hand. Yes, I can hear someone saying, “what if my team is given 500 runs to make in 10 overs?” We have yet another proposal to eliminate those occurrences.
3. Maximum of 100 overs per innings
Each team will have a maximum of 100 overs to make as many runs as possible. If a team gets bowled out before the 100 overs, then they would have relinquished their opportunity to put themselves in a formidable position. The game would become more exciting with batsmen and bowlers going at it, to maximize their team’s fortunes. The over rates will be quickened and the overall liveliness of Test cricket would increase.
4. Strictly Day/Night Matches
In the past five years, there has been a substantial increase in day/night matches in ODI and T20 cricket. Test cricket should swiftly join this culture. Last year Australia and New Zealand played the first day/night Test match and this should become a reality across the board very soon. Day/night Test matches should start around 2/3 p.m. locally and end around 9/10 p.m. This would result in larger crowds and TV viewership since the times for the match would coincide with most individuals in the local markets finishing with work or school. Subsequently, they would be able to attend these spectacles without missing valuable time or income, which could affect their current or future livelihoods.
5. Four-day, not five-day matches
Currently, most Test matches end within four days with a maximum of 360 overs being bowled over those four days. During a five-day Test match, the maximum number of overs bowled is 450 overs. With the proposed reduction above to 100 overs per innings and the elimination of draws, each team would bat out their innings during a single day. Therefore, a Test match would have 100 overs being bowled per day with a maximum of 400 overs in the match, over four days. This is well above the number of overs that usually yield a result and would limit the time for the game, which has been a big cry by the casual spectator.
6. Stricter rules for wides
These days, for a wide to be called in Test cricket, the bowler has to bowl the ball in the direction of second or even third slip. If ODI and T20 rules for wides are applied to Test cricket, the number of ‘nothing balls’ which cannot take a wicket or that the batsman cannot play would reduce significantly. This would remove some of the bore that is often lamented by the casual fan who seeks some amount of excitement and action from every delivery.
The amalgamation of abolishing the toss, eliminating draws and implementing an over-limit per innings will modernize Test cricket while retaining the key tenets that make Test cricket, Test cricket. Sensible batting and tenacious bowling by teams will still be essential, but at a quicker rate. All these coupled with day/night games, four-day, not five-day matches along with stricter rules for wides will increase fan engagement, TV viewership and increase revenue for Test cricket.
ICC, please consider the adoption of these recommendations quickly, or else Test cricket might be reduced to archaeological remains like the dinosaurs from the Jurassic period.
Until next time…
Zaheer E. Clarke is an award-winning freelance sportswriter who believes the true test of one’s cricket prowess occurs in Test cricket.
This blog article is from the “Lies & Statistics” column in the Western Mirror (Published May 30, 2016)