Flamboyant Future of Test Cricket

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So we are back at it again. It has become fashionable these days for players recently retired from the game to lament about the future of the oldest form of the game – Test Cricket. A new entrant in this list is a former England captain Andrew Strauss who issued a calamitous warning in a typical English manner about the future of Test Cricket by stating that ‘Test cricket could fizzle out’. Geoffrey Boycott too in his recent interview with BBC Sport quoted that ‘We might have missed the boat, it might be too late’ when questioned about whether Test cricket is in jeopardy. While it is a fact that Test cricket is in a state of despair with its future looking more and more gloomy; but it’s annoying to hear these cricket pundits only identify a problem for us, whereas what they should really be doing is to find a solution to the problem keeping the current standards of cricket in mind.

So, unlike the cricketing pundits, I would not talk about issues with Test cricket but present to a solution to the issue of ‘future of Test cricket’. For that we have to first accept that ever since the mistimed Misbah scoop which was caught by Sreesanth in the 2007 T20 World Cup in South Africa, cricket has seen an unparalleled transformation. What was considered once considered a stuff of genius has now become a norm, what was once thought insurmountable has now become a walk in the park and more importantly the skills that were possessed by a chosen few are now possessed by every new kid walking into the game. All of which indicates that this is an era of a new type of cricket governed by flamboyance, flair and unorthodoxy. And Test cricket for all its traditions must adapt to it, as change is the only constant. I propose a minor tweak in the format of Test matches at present which not only helps Tests retain its purist’s nature but also allows players bred in current generation to be successful at it. A disclaimer before I make my suggestion, I am an ardent fan of Test cricket and given a choice would prefer watching 2005 Ashes over any of the IPL matches (MI’s 190 chase included). But this change is necessary otherwise our most beloved format of the game might not get to see the new generation stars playing it in the coming decade.

Proposed Changes:

  1. Reduce No. of Days to 4 from 5 at present
  2. Maximum No. of Overs/Team per match – 180 (Assumption being 90 overs/day and hence 360 overs/game)

All other rules and regulations regarding the game and the result of the match remain the same.

The major reason for the change is not to let pitch be a significant variable in deciding the result of the match. The change would bring life, particularly, into matches played on flat/dead/unresponsive tracks like the one we saw at Nottingham for 1st test between India and England. On most occasions after 2 big 1st innings, if 3rd innings last for more than 40-50 overs matches end in a tame draw; a result which becomes obvious well in advance thereby reducing the anxiety and anticipation in the game. Reducing days in match from 5 to 4, though not a big change, is backed by statistics of Test matches played by all the teams* since 1st January, 2000. The numbers for analysis have been divided into 2 groups:

Group A: Matches between 1st January, 2000 and 1st October, 2007 (Before 2007 T20 WC)

Group B: Matches between 1st October 2007 and 4th October, 2014 (After 2007 T20 WC)

Overs before and AfterAs it is evident from the graph that average no. of overs per match in the last 15 years has remained fairly constant at around 348 over per match confirming the fact that 360 overs per match should suffice to complete the match irrespective of the result. Also test matches which otherwise are termed as a boring to watch can only benefit by reducing its length by 20%.

Putting a cap of no. of overs/team per match would mean even on flat tracks you can be rest assured that the game wouldn’t be over till last session. Captains now would not only need to keep in mind runs they need to score but also overs they would need in 3rd innings to bat well in advance. This would also provide an excellent opportunity for players born and brought up on T20 to relish in Test cricket. A player with decent technique and ability to strike the ball big can bat at No 6 and make an impact in both innings by batting for last 25-30 overs in each innings and give the innings much needed impetus. A case in point here is Australia vs England Test match at the Oval in 2013 when Clarke promoted Faulkner at No 3 in the 3rd innings to get quick runs to force a result in an otherwise dull match which led Australia setting England a target of 227 in 44 overs and England in reply ended with 206 in 40 overs when bad light ended play. The change would thus bring foresight and strategy into the game making captain’s role all the more crucial. I am taking into consideration that matches played on true surfaces like Brisbane, Durban, Mohali would not be affected significantly by a reduction in overs from 450 to 360 since these matches would anyway have enough help for bowlers to pick up 20 wickets in stipulated 180 overs.

The reason for choosing 180 overs for each team in a game is also backed by same statistics as used below but segmented based on the result of the match. The chart below depicts inning-wise display of the number of overs faced by all the teams in case of matches where the result was a draw or a win/loss.

Drawn vs Result Before

 

Drawn vs Result after

 

To simplify our analysis (as the intention is put forth an idea) we assume that Team batting 1st will bat in 3rd innings and hence Team batting 2nd will bat in 4th innings. We have observed following on overs played by teams before and after the T20 WC:

No. of Overs Result Matches Drawn Matches
1st and 3rd Innings before T20 WC 183 217
2nd and 4th Innings before T20 WC 153 180
Total Overs for the match 336 397
1st and 3rd Innings after T20 WC 182 211
2nd and 4th Innings afterT20 WC 157 189
Total Overs for the match 339 400

 

The above table makes it clear that result games need less than 360 overs maximum overs played by a team in case of a win on an average is 183 in last 15 years. And we would also be able to achieve the ultimate goal of reducing dull draws by implementing the proposed change.

Admist all these numbers being thrown at you if you are wondering that the real essence of test match could be lost then you are mistaken. A test match is won by picking up 20 wickets and a team would need to do that even in the proposed format to win a game. Nuances of test match cricket like facing Anderson with a new ball or Steyn with a reverse swinging ball or a Ajmal setting up batsman like KP with his doosras (provided his action is cleared) or watching Amla survive a hostile spell from Johnson would all retain its appeal. Also the proposed change wouldn’t take away an exciting draw as well from the spectators. My suggestion only reduces the need to bat those extra overs/innings in case of a draw. There is a clear possibility for a team requiring to bat out 120 overs in last innings to save a test match on a crumbling track. So exhilarating draws like the one we witnessed recently between South Africa and Sri Lanka at SSC in Colombo too are not out of the picture.

The tweak would require us to answer few questions like what happens to overs/team in a match affected by rain but given that we embraced D/L method we would figure a way out for this too. Right now my intention is to get the lovers of test cricket embrace this change for the greater good of the game. We already know that the primary reason affecting test match cricket highlighted by one and all is money involved in T20 and the call is for the ICC and BCCI to use its power to force countries to continue to prioritize Test cricket. While that is an option which can be exercised but it would be next to impossible to convince administrators who see excellent returns from T20 leagues. The other options like day-night matches haven’t found many takers and Test Championship was called off even before it became a reality. So having seen the plight of these alternatives I propose to you an alternative to make test match a product which could pave the way for players of the calibre of Maxwell or Raina a chance to make their mark in games’ purest form in their trademark flamboyant style.

* Data from ESPN Cricinfo. Match involving ICC World XI and Australia has not been taken into consideration

This is guest post by Poojan aka cricaddict is an ardent fan of the gentleman’s game and one of the greatest admirers of Harsha Bhogle and MS Dhoni. A banker who did his MBA from SPJIMR aspires to watch a cricket match at MCG, Lords and Johannesburg someday.

3 Comments

  1. It would be interesting to see how the game would look like with the proposed changes. ODIs have changed a few rules to suit the fans and I feel test match format should adapt for its fans as well. Other than wins, losses and thrilling draws there are more than handful number of matches that hit the dead wall (For eg; Like you mentioned on matches on dead tracks or when both the teams have batted for 4 days to complete their 1st inning) I feel even the players would be wondering can we just skip the 5th day and prepare for the next test match. Its like studying for an exam that you have already passed (and you know the result).

    • Exactly the reason why I want these changes to be adapted. Imagine Ist test between Aus and Pak. Pak batted loads of overs in Ist innings and if oz score runs quicker even with a significant deficit you dont have just 1 team in the game as the team which batted Ist would have fewer overs to bat in the changes I have proposed

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