Under the hammer
Test cricket should not fall prey to an obsession over viewership numbers
The International Cricket Council (ICC) seems to be on a path to change the duration of Test cricket into a four-day affair. To do so, they have highlighted analytical facts of most matches being completed in less than five days and freeing up those un-utilised days for something more useful. The only thought that immediately comes to mind is the commercial advantage and the additional revenue that can be generated from it.
Test cricket is not as lucrative as the limited-overs version of the game as regards media sales and viewership. Therefore, the phrase "money makes the world go round" is appropriate to the thoughts of the ICC in making the change of what has stood firm through many decades of Test cricket.
Another lame excuse given is that the players at present are being subjected to many days of cricket in a year and need time to rest. This does make sense if they actually mean what they are saying. Unfortunately, one does not get the confidence from the statement or the way in which the ICC is progressing towards its mission regarding the use of those free days.
The conventional game of Test cricket is all about patience, strategy, skill, stamina and the ups and downs of what one experiences in one's life. Unfortunately, the patrons, players and the crowd that pay, sponsor and follow the game presently are moving away from the traditional ways of how cricket was appreciated earlier.
A fighting knock by a batsman to save or draw the game was enjoyed as much as one playing a swashbuckling inning. Cricket, it is said, had character and one displayed it in the five days of the match. Cricketers today, understandably, are far more aggressive in their approach. In order to become a superstar and a crowd puller, flamboyant stroke play and performing for the masses is much more important. The sole reason is for them to get more opportunities in branding and marketing themselves, especially in the franchise based limited-overs cricket that is being played around the world.
This is why many matches are finishing in four days. It is not because the batsmen have forgotten the way to play Test cricket but because if they played it in the patient and conventional way, they would be branded as 'bores'. To overcome this, both bowlers and batsmen are experimenting with options that they have still to master.
In the case of the batsmen, it is their shot-making strokes and for the bowlers, it is in the deliveries they have learnt while playing the shorter version of the game. Test cricket is all about being consistent. Therefore, analysing and understanding one's strength and weaknesses is the key element for success. Every player at the international level is capable of playing nearly every shot in the book or bowling a variety of deliveries. The difference, however, is to know when to play or bowl it, especially, when one is under pressure.
Reducing the duration of a Test match from five days to four is not a change that is required at the moment. This will not make any difference in bringing crowds or viewer-ship. It will only diffuse the genuine form of the game, which will gradually lead to three days and then maybe to its ultimate demise.
The issue that is arising is that teams are not being able to adapt to the conditions away from home, especially while playing Test cricket. The paucity of time is not giving teams the luxury of getting used to the playing conditions. This hampers in the preparation of a Test cricketer for making him match-ready overseas.
The ICC has made a good beginning in establishing a Test championship and they should put in the effort to popularise it further. Test cricket should be the ultimate form of the game and performances in it are the pinnacle of achievement as regards awards and recognition. Giving players time to adapt and get used to conditions is another way to make matches more competitive.
World cricket should not fall prey to the modern marketing warfare of the digital world of clicks, hits and eyeballs. The overindulgence of the shorter version of the game to earn every bit of revenue is what is bringing tiredness, fatigue and injuries to cricketers.
Test cricket is fighting a losing battle as the modern viewers have been brought up on the limited-overs version that started with 60 overs per side and is gradually moving towards a 10-over battle.
A winner is all that people want to see. However, cricket is not about winning and losing but about how one plays the game. Time is just one excuse but the major worry that one foresees is that the very core and character that cricket stood for is losing its way to maybe, extinction.
Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are strictly personal