For the cricket tragic (me included), Test Cricket is the ultimate form of the game. As the format name suggest, Test Cricket is a test of a player’s resilience, skill, determination, sanity and fitness. The flow of a test match can change with a single ball, a single moment can win or lose a game that can last five days. What other game can give the audience drama and entertainment spread over five days with six hours of play per day broken by a lunch break and a tea break (as well as drinks breaks every hour)?
Most players will say that, for them, this is what they want to play as it represents the ultimate challenge to their skills. A career up until recent times was always judged on a player’s test record. How many test centuries or test wickets they had taken.
And in a time when life travelled at a much more leisurely pace, the cracking sound of leather on willow made a summer’s day. Cricketers wore whites or creams, the crowd appreciated the lulls in a day’s play and all was good in the world.
Then along came Kerry Packer and his one day cricket revolution. Coloured clothes, 50 overs, funky advertising and rowdy crowds who would create their own fun if the game wasn’t entertaining them enough.
White cricket balls, night cricket, the game had changed bringing with it a new type of fan. A fan that wanted to be entertained, who wanted a good time and wanted it packaged to take away in one day, not over five days. The late 70’s, early 80’s was where this revolution began and changed the game forever... or so it seemed, until NOW!
Whilst the one day revolution was evolving, Test Cricket was still the king and still attracting crowds and interest. The best players in the world were still those who were able to perform best in the Test Arena. We will never forget the crowd chanting ‘Lillee, Lillee’ as the great Dennis Lillee charged in to bowl to Viv Richards, the best bowler in the world verses the best batsman in the world. It was the end of Day One of the world famous Boxing Day Test match in 1981 and Dennis Lillee bowled Viv Richards with the last ball of the day. The crowd went mad, the players stormed off. As I mentioned earlier, the crowd was able to be entertained and enthralled at the end of a six hour day of cricket. This was summer, this was Australia and nothing was better than this.
Today we see many days of Test Cricket around the world played to empty stadiums. It is not unusual, in fact it is normal to see crowds of a few thousand at test matches played between test nations. West Indies, once the box office team in world cricket can barely attract any crowds to their tests. Sri Lanka will often play in front of very small crowds both home and away. In fact, Sri Lanka probably attract a bigger crowd in Melbourne than Columbo due to the large Sri Lankan expat community residing there.
The exception to this rule is Australia vs England Ashes Test Matches, the oldest contest in world cricket. Every match is usually played in front of sold out crowds both in England and in Australia. Although, actually, most tests played in England tend to draw strong crowds, many days sold out due to their smallish venues.
That was until now. The latest test series between England and India has failed to draw the sell out crowds predicted. India are the super power in world cricket. They have a massive following, not only in India, but also in England with their huge expat community there.
England vs India is a test series which should sell out everywhere in the UK. The very presence of Indian great Virat Kholi would normally attract Beatles-like mania. But this test series has not attracted Full House signs and this must now be of grave concern to all at the ICC. We know that Test Cricket is not what it used to be and many have questioned its future. This current series which has been scheduled around the Caribbean Premier League and after a One Day series and between many other T20 tournaments.
This test series has some great personal battles; Anderson vs Kholi, Ashwin vs Butler and many others. But to see empty seats is alarming and I feel is adding to the fear for this traditional and great frat of the game.
For me, test cricket is my favourite format for all the reasons discussed in this article, but I must admit that I do enjoy T20 cricket and the way it highlights the skills of the players in an action packed three and a half hour window. The big hitting, amazing fielding, skilled bowling and crowd interaction are a clear favourite amongst the new modern day cricket fan.
But who will win? Will one stay and the other disappear into cricketing history, or is there room for both of them?