How can Test Cricket catch up

The dust has finally settled. Poor Ben Stokes. He’ll come back. He’s too good not to. The exhilarating thrills of the T20 World Cup came to a dramatic end as England cricket fans everywhere felt the familiar pains of heart break while millions watched on. Even for those that look down on the shortest format of the game there has to be some acknowledgement of its appeal and how it has become so popular. Just from following England throughout the tournament you would have seen everything that makes cricket so special. In the opening match against the West Indies, we got to see how the individual brilliance of a great player can single handedly win a game after that great Chris Gayle century. The stroke play and power of that man alone creating such a brilliant spectacle. Next came England’s miraculous victory over South Africa, where England somehow managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat by performing the largest run chase in T20 World Cup history against one of the strongest teams in the world. Following this England experienced a large scare against Afghanistan, in a game many thought would be a stroll in the park. England managed to grind out a victory in the end but it can be fatal to underestimate an underdog in this form. Then in their final group game, a winner takes all encounter against Sri Lanka, England looked comfortable, were in a very good position as Sri Lanka were trying to chase down a just-above-average total. Until suddenly they weren’t comfortable. The reigning champions were suddenly clearing the rope with their hitting and were steadily getting nearer the target. England managed to hold their nerve though, to set up a semi-final against New Zealand which they won with ease. The final saw England facing the West Indies, the only team to have beaten them so far. What a game it was! It had too many ebbs and flows to document but left me with the familiar heartbreak that I’ve become used to from following England cricket. I never thought I could feel this way about T20 cricket. This isn’t real cricket. Why do I care? But care I did. T20 cricket just gained another fan.

So while this format is thriving, the same cannot be said for test cricket. For the purist, particularly for us in England, test cricket is still considered the best and most important format. However, we are increasingly becoming a minority in this respect. Test matches in England are often sell-outs and the atmosphere is great regardless of the opponent. When Australia, the best test team on the planet right now, hosted the West Indies in Melbourne for their famous boxing day test, the average attendance over 4 days was just under 32,000. This seems like a lot on the surface, but it was the lowest total for an MCG test for 21 years and saw only 7000 turning up for day 4. Put into context, the following week the MCG hosted a Big Bash T20 league game between the Melbourne Stars and Melbourne Renegades which saw over 80,000 people pouring through the turnstiles.

The appeal of T20 cricket is obvious. To me though, even as a T20 convert, test cricket is still the pinnacle, the most interesting and the format I get most excited about. I want to see It remain relevant but to do so it may need to change in order to increase its global appeal. To me the biggest difference that T20 has in appealing to the masses over test cricket is its accessibility. T20 matches are only about 3 hours long so they can be played in the evenings. This means that spectators can go along after a day at work and see the whole game. The nature of test cricket is that it is long and drawn out, potentially taking a whole 5 days. If someone wants to go along for a day of test cricket, they either have to give up a whole day on their weekend or take a day off work. This is less of an issue in England where cricket is often seen as a sport for the middle and upper classes so fans can afford to take a day off work to go to a test game. Many other test playing countries don’t have that luxury.

Luckily it seems that the ICC has already recognized this and the very first day-night test was played in Australia last November. This test started play in early afternoon and continued until late evening. Essentially the morning session was move the just after the traditional evening session. This could be a very important move for test cricket as it allows to spectators to show up after a day at work, at a reduced price, and still have a lot of cricket to watch. It’s not a perfect solution though. Mostly because the host venue will need to have the right conditions: dry. It wouldn’t work in England, for instance, due to the dampness from dew that forms in the evenings here. There are also worries that the pink ball that has been developed for its visibility behave differently to the traditional pink ball, as it noticeably scuffed up more quickly.  It’s definitely a step in the right direction and there have been more day-night tests announced in Australia for their next season. The technology will only improve and hopefully will signal a new lease of life for, what is in my opinion, the greatest form of the greatest sport.