Tests: Another knife in back

2010-10-06 08:28

Rob Houwing

Did you have the good fortune to see the final day’s play in the first Test between top-ranked India and visiting Australia in Mohali on Tuesday?

It was, in a nutshell, an utterly enthralling climax to a see-sawing and often delicately-balanced contest more or less from day one.

The tension only mounted to heart-palpitation levels during the session-and-a-bit required for completion of business on day five, when the Indians fought back from the apparent brink of doom to snatch a priceless one-wicket victory -- their closest by that manner in history.

Those last few hours had everything for the Test purist and probably a much wider constituency too: an injured hero (VVS Laxman, batting with a runner), a gritty tail-end fighting partner in Ishant Sharma, highly questionable umpiring decisions affecting both teams at critical moments, narrowly missed run-out attempts, mid-pitch mix-ups and influential overthrows.

You could not have scripted it better – instructively? -- in the contrived arena of Twenty20 cricket, where the electric finish is intended to occur with frankly monotonous regularity and will one day eat itself, just as we jocularly anticipate pop music to do.

Which brings me to my big beef: the scandalous fact that this is another mere, two-Test series.

Yes, it’s Bangalore from October 9-13 and then bye-bye to the extended format between these great countries, as attention shifts to the ubiquitous ODIs.

Such was the quality of theatre at Mohali that a five-Test series (ah, remember those!) might have been in order.

But two? Ridiculous … about as daft as buying a wonky, two-legged table at a market when the top is clearly triangular-shaped.

Or as former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar put it: “It is like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal playing a best-of-two-sets Wimbledon final.”

I appreciate that in this age of jam-packed international and other cricketing schedules, there will and should be occasions where top-tier nations play only a pair of Tests against weaker ones. (And maybe a two-tier system really is the solution.)

But it is a desperately sad state of affairs when any series involving two of India, Australia, South Africa, Sri Lanka and England is played out on such a basis.

Hardly surprisingly, considering the crass incursions of the IPL and associated Champions League T20 there, it is in India where the curse of the two-Test series between nations of comparable strength has most ominously taken root.

All it does, of course, is greatly increase the risk of an unsatisfactory, stalemate series when the situation so often cries out for a potential decider – think the 1-1 outcome against the Proteas a few months ago.

Ironically, the Indian team is the one primarily being done no favours when such condensed series are scheduled: it is a gruelling, mentally-taxing place to tour and a shortened itinerary really only buoys the opposition into believing they might stage a cheeky little smash-and-grab.

But it is still just not right.

Tests are increasingly becoming afterthought, “liability” occasions rather than main events. At a time when they require the utmost commitment to preservation, instead they are getting only increased kicks to the chops.

If the so prolifically criticised International Cricket Council has anything resembling a backbone left, it needs to rule forcefully that any strength-versus-strength series at the top of the Test ladder be played out over a minimum of three contests.

Thank goodness, when India visit South Africa in mid-summer, we’re getting a trio of five-dayers (Centurion, Durban, Cape Town) rather than an all-too-fleeting brace, which will go a lot closer to ensuring that the better team comes out victorious.

Test cricket certainly isn’t dead. The players still deeply treasure it – revisit the conflicting on-field emotions of Mohali to remind yourself -- while a raucous, pretty swollen crowd attended the last-day dingdong in the first encounter.

I gained some strange measure of personal satisfaction, despite the inconvenience, when I got (unusually) timed out repeatedly for more than an hour as I tried to access the sport’s premier website as the drama unfolded and masses of enthusiasts worldwide kept apace of developments via the site’s live scoring options.

After all, that hindrance hadn’t happened to me during the very recent Champions League T20.

Yet the long-term future of Tests is assured only by much greater commitment to essential “TLC” for it …

Rob Houwing is Sport24’s chief writer and winner of the New Media category at the 2010 SAB Sports Journalist of the Year awards.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.


  • Fat Man - 2010-10-06 08:45

    Hey Rob, I'm with you 100%, this test was a real treat! I wanted to know your views on the West Indies trio (including captain Gayle) refusing central contracts...personally I find it disgraceful but if you can maybe do a little article sharing your thoughts, that would be nice

  • sakmaz - 2010-10-06 10:03

    spot on, rob. tests are really the epitome of cricket. long gone are the days when it was a five-day snooze fest. a lot of matches, as you rightly demonstrate, are exhilaratingly tight! thanks for the article!

  • BC - 2010-10-06 10:19

    Nothing better in cricket than a good test played on a wicket that is balanced between bat and ball. Unfortunately money rules the game in todays world and tests just don't provide the revenue except in Aussie and the UK.

  • Staalburgher - 2010-10-06 10:42

    There is a reason I no longer frequent Cricinfo. If they continue along this path I would just stop watching. I am already apathetic regarding T20s in all forms, and beginning to feel the same for ODIs. If Test cricket was to die out I know I won't be pushing my kids to play cricket.

  • Sakpas - 2010-10-06 13:05

    It has been years since I bothered (gone to any trouble) to watch T20 cricket. I'll maybe watch SA vs another top country, but IPL and Champions league and one of the many ICC trophys and "world cups" whatever just does not interest me. T20 is baseball and they might as well replace the bowlers with bowling machines. T20 also made me loose interest in ODI's, as it also just "tonking" these days. But every December holiday, I'm glued to the TV to watch the visitors play proper cricket against a proper team. Viva test cricket, VIVA

  • Steve - 2010-10-06 14:22

    Finally, comments on an article that make sense!! Long live test cricket...

  • Doringtoon - 2010-10-06 14:32

    Hi Rob - i am hoping you missed a crucial detail...if i recall, there were NO tests scheduled initially for this series, so it is really good that space has been included. If my facts are accurate, it won't be the first time in recent history that an ODI has given way to a test match. Agreed though, this would be a hell of a series, were it to go to 5 matches. I think additionally, to hold the wolves at bay, there is an idiom along the lines of quality bring a permanent trait, and if so, cricket has stood the test of time, and Test matches, being the purest form - will, by definition, continue in perpetuity.

  • Nas8701 - 2010-10-06 15:01

    @ BC, Better check your stats next time you comment as India are and has been the revenue King for some years now, South africa also brings in huge amount of revenue on both TV audiences as well as ticket sales, maybe you must actually go and support some test matches locally then you will see how thegrounds fill up.

  • darkwing - 2010-10-06 15:29

    T20 is like the WWW. Not real, but fun for those who enjoy watching a farce. Test cricket is not even the same family of sport. It stands head and shoulders above and apart.

  • NeilA - 2010-10-06 15:56

    I said it when it started and will say it again that 20/20 will be the death of test cricket and ultimatley cricket altogether, unless the ICC make major changes, but i dont think that will happen as they are more interested in the money spinning 20/20 as it fills their pockets. Its like a pharo selling bits of his pyramid before he dies, if you know what I mean

  • Arthur - 2010-10-07 08:06

    Rob a very good and accurate column. If T20 is the futrure there is no future. The ICC needs to develop a strategy to protect Test and ODI cricket and also T20 cricket as well. There must be equity in the structure of the game globally. Also, the principle of supply and demand must be respected for the game of cricket to have a future.

  • Navarac - 2010-10-07 08:42

    It's difficult to conceive of someone being enthralled by a cricket test unless that person has played the game. Only then can the ethos of the sport be appreciated. In which other sport are (were?) there "unwritten rules" that are "just not cricket"? Unfortunately, the modern game has thrown up naturally talented players who are more intent on accumulating a nest-egg for their future retirement ... at 35? ,,, It pains me that television replays are required to ascertain whether a ball has touched the boundary rope or whether the ball has touched the ground when a fielder has attempted a diving catch but I am thrilled when many internationals walk or acknowledge an excellent ball. Call me a purist if you like, but test cricket is still the best.

  • Stirer - 2010-10-07 14:58

    September 1986 Australia vs India at Chenai. Test was tied. Isn't that a historically "more close" than this one? Or maybe the 1960 test in Brisbane between Australia and West Indies with a run-out on the last ball creating another tied test. Perhaps that historically this one was even closer? Do sports writers ever check their facts before presenting their statements of wisdom to the world? And no less than 12 tests have been won by a single wicket, and another eight tests have been won by seven runs or less. Those also seem to be historically close to me.

  • listen up - 2010-10-09 13:34

    I have to disagree with all you ' purists ' and the 5 day vs. the limited overs versions of the game.Now before I am shot down hear me out. I love the game and believe Test Cricket is an integral part of the sport , BUT It's loss of popularity speaks volumes about the mood of that most vital ingredient applying to all sports - the paying public . You cite some exciting conclusions in Test matches, but in truth they are the exception,rather than tthe norm. Face facts , nobody really wants to attend or for that matter watch on TV. a game that meanders it's way for 5 days and ends up in another boring draw.The paying public wants action, on going drama and most of all a RESULT ! All sports have to compete in the vast entertainment arena and bang for buck is all that really matters with the paying public - do they really give a hoot about the intricacies and subtleties of Test matches - nah they want a result. Hence the rise in popularity of the shorter form of the game. This is an undeniable fact and reality. Test Cricket needs to save itself ,from itself if it hopes to compete in the highly competitive ENTERTAINMENT industry. Other than a couple of tweaks like 3rd. umpire referals,the game has not moved with the times. Why dont the ICC consider certain radical changes -- play the game over 4 days - bring in a limited overs component to ensure that both teams get to bat in two innings,anything that will make a result more likely than a draw. Those of you claiming that T 20 Cricket is merely a fad,likely to eventually fade away,have got it totally wrong . Judging by the full stadiums,this is what the People want and it's here to stay . I see it as the saviour of the sport and believe it will become even more popular. The only question really is can Test cricket reinvent itself in order for it's very survival ?

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