In recent years, I have spotted a noticeable trend: that modern One Day cricket has given birth to more and more cricket being played and also televised. It is very rare these days that you switch on the sports channels and there won’t be some form of cricket being broadcast, even if it is just highlights rather than live action. T20 Competitions, such as The IPL and The Big Bash, attract a worldwide audience – which means any armchair fan can watch cricket matches, even when their season is over.
That’s fantastic, because cricket lovers can watch the game all year round. But I’m getting the sense that there is now too much cricket being televised and it’s almost futile to keep up with it all. One Day cricket has well and truly exploded over the last two years, with the franchise T20 format – so popular with the Indian Premier League and The Big Bash – now spreading across the globe, with similar formats in South Africa and The Caribbean.
Franchise cricket has yet to seriously develop here in England, despite many arguing a case for it, but it is still almost impossible to keep up with cricket within England too. With two county championship divisions, the Royal London One Day Cup plus The Natwest T20 Blast; there isn’t a day that goes by where a cricket match isn’t televised. The modern one day format has made cricket far more of a spectator sport than in years gone by – I’m not disputing that at all – I just feel that perhaps there is over saturation of these types of matches and it almost devalues them – making them almost ‘throwaway’ cricket matches. Do we really need all that overkill of T20s and ODIs and One Day Cup Matches on TV? Why not instead showcase and derive more focus onto what many – myself included – believe is the pinnacle of the sport, Test Match cricket?
Call me old fashioned at the young age of 23, but I look forward to Test Matches far more than any ODI or T20 that is televised. There is the hubbub in the atmosphere, especially in the first morning of the Lord’s Test, the intense physical and mental battles amongst players – and the ebb and flow of the match – three things you would never really get in any one day game.
Young players today will have grown up with T20 cricket and are accustomed to it. They perhaps prefer seeing the shorter format of the game, and I suppose it is good for the game, as it gets more bums on seats, more people spending their money, which keeps clubs and stadiums going with the increased revenue generated by the spectacle of the ball being pummelled out the ground in a relentless fashion, by box office star players.
But I find that format of the game rather one dimensional, all or nothing cricket and defined by nothing more than what happens on the day, rather than over the span of five. I grew up very much on Test Cricket and my heroes in the late nineties were Atherton, Hussain, Caddick, Gough and Thorpe, a far cry from the superstar franchise cricketers of today. As I got older, I idolised Vaughan, and Flintoff, before in recent years admiring Cook, Strauss, Root, Stokes, Anderson and Broad. There’s only a few players in that list that play the expansive ‘throwaway cricket’ that I think often can take the gloss off Test cricket.
I think One Day cricket has also given birth to a different attitude to some of the fans too, with negative connotations. I can admit that cricket and beer go hand in hand – the relationship is almost symbiotic, and in fact I own a T-shirt with ‘cricket and beer, what else is there?’ printed on the front – but I feel perhaps the rise of T20 and other short formats of cricket has given many members of the public simply an excuse to go out and get drunk, rather than going to watch and enjoy an entertaining game of cricket. I’m no saint in this, as I too have enjoyed a beer or two at a recent T20 match when Kent beat Surrey at The Nevill, but it wasn’t the sole purpose why I went – I also enjoyed seeing England Players, Jason Roy, Sam Billings and England Lions Player, Daniel Bell Drummond, all score valuable runs.
But I would take much more enjoyment by going to watch a Test Match, or sitting and watching the game at home than any other format of the game, beer or no beer. To me, it’s a little like the lure of Wimbledon on the tennis calendar – with the prestige and history, getting one’s name on the honours board as an example. I would much rather see a player score a match winning hundred or a fantastic, match defining spell of bowling for their country, than to be paid mega bucks to play for a random side that involves smashing the ball around to all and sundry for only a handful of matches.
Of course, I can understand the lure of One Day cricket, it is true box office cricket and it is a joy to watch the special players in full flow; such as Chris Gayle hitting these mammoth sixes, AB De Villers and Jos Buttler tearing up the record books, or seeing bowlers terrorising batsmen with fast, in-swinging Yorkers that we have seen from the likes of Mitchell Starc and Tymal Mills.
But for me, there is a definite lure of Test Cricket that makes it the supreme format above all others. Firstly, the title ‘Test’ is a perfect indicator of what it does to players: it is the highest level and a massive psychological – as well as physical – test for every player. Many fantastic county players have often failed to properly graduate to the game’s highest stage. I hold a greater admiration for players like Alastair Cook, who famously scored that double hundred in the UAE, with an innings spanning over 14 hours, than a T20 fifty smashed in record time, because without trying to sound churlish, almost every professional batsman could do that, but only a handful of players could have done what Cook did against Pakistan.
While T20 and One Day Cricket is all about what happens on the day, Test cricket is an evolving, ever flowing version of the game. Of course, the cricket novice or casual fan would say ‘Crikey, isn’t cricket boring, it lasts nearly a week!’ and that’s perhaps why one day cricket attracts these bigger, Friday night audiences, but Test cricket can hang in the balance a lot of the time: perhaps one side dominates the first two days, but wobbles on the third day and has to spend the final two days papering over the cracks or even hanging on.
The recent Test series between England and Pakistan was a true advert for Test cricket: it again not only proved that England can’t win test matches in London – but both teams had sessions of play or indeed whole days where they were clearly the more dominant side and, subsequently, the final score of 2-2 was a fair result. However, I don’t think there could have been a greater advertisement for Test Cricket in this series than the match at Old Trafford, where it seemed likely that from early on Pakistan would take a series lead, but England were able to turn things around and win the match and head to The Oval with the score at 2-1. It was bit of a shame then that there wasn’t a fifth test, as the decider.
I’m not saying that I’m totally against One Day Cricket or T20 cricket, especially as the series last year where England played New Zealand, unveiling the ‘New England’ under coach Trevor Bayliss was incredibly exciting, but I feel that Test cricket is the best format of the game and shouldn’t be undermined at the expense of pyjama cricket that is rigorously broadcast day after day. Call me a purist, but I take far more enjoyment in seeing a text book drive being crunched through the covers than an almighty agricultural heave through the leg side.
Although what I am noticing of late, is that Test cricket is sometimes played in a One Day mode – such as the marvellous fastest ever 250 by Ben Stokes in South Africa and the fastest ever Test Century, by Brendon McCullum in New Zealand against Australia. I hold no grudges against this, it can help turn a game in a session, and serves as a greater advert for Test cricket, giving the format extra majesty – and thus further proving the ebb and flow that Test Match cricket can provide.
But then again, ODI cricket has been nitro charged of late, where the white ball is under constant bombardment, being pummelled to all corners of the ground. Records are tumbling almost every game – as just recently England played Pakistan at Trent Bridge, where a whole bunch of records were smashed as England notched the highest ever total in an ODI with 444-3 in their 50 overs, an almost an absurd amount of runs. It leads me to question – is this any good for the game? Often it’s the low scoring games that provide the most excitement.
I guess that times have changed and ten years ago a decent one day total would be relative to what many club sides are scoring now, anything between 200 and 300. But is all this six hitting good for the game? Surely the endless, relentless boundary hitting is turning cricket into a batsman friendly game and taking out the contest between bat and ball? I guess that you can attribute these higher scores to updated fielding restrictions, strength and conditioning of modern cricketers, plus the addition of a different ball from each end – making the ball harder for longer and above all a change in attitude and approach from the players.
But I do believe that deep down, Test cricket is, and shall continue to be, the highest format of the game. Okay, the run rates may be lower, there may not be as many boundaries and the scores might not even be as high, but the ever changing, evolving way that Test cricket brings adds a certain X-Factor to me and to many others. Furthermore, you could argue that this serial overkill of One Day Matches actually adds further to promote red ball cricket as this saturation of limited overs games makes for a dumbing down of the format, due to its mass appeal and frequent broadcasting, throughout the year and around the world.
If One Day Cricket is lager, cheap and accessible, Test cricket is fine wine: high quality, sampled sparingly and good over long periods of time. I don’t feel that there is a need to make Test cricket into something like the schedule the One Day arena is right now, with a game played almost daily, as it would take away the high quality appeal of the format – and what Test cricket has been and should be for years to come, where the very best of the sport play at the highest level.
Test Cricket, the very best.