There has been a growing lack of support for the format of the game
The stadium once full of life is now deathly quiet, the roar of the crowd has long since faded. The gladiators that were once cherished, that fought for the pride of their nations, are now ghosts of a dying past. Unlike the gladiators of ancient Rome that fought battles of brutality and survival, the gladiators that fought within this stadium fought battles of courage and honour that lasted for five days.
Considered the purest form of the sport, test cricket, in the eyes of the Australian cricket legend Tom Moody is “seen as the pinnacle of the game,” and has been around since 1877. It is a game of patience, endurance and skill that test the mental and physical strength of each team. The objective of test cricket is simple: Score more runs than your opponent in two innings. However, attaining this objective is a lot tougher, as is expressed by current West Indian all-rounder Dwayne Bravo, “Test cricket is exactly what it is called. It tests players’ true ability under tough conditions.”
The younger generation has less time to enjoy leisurely activities which has led to a decrease in popularity of test cricket. Nicky Daryanani, a university student in Exeter was once a firm test cricket enthusiast; however his love for test cricket has diminished, “after being a close follower of test cricket for most of my childhood…I simply did not have the time to watch 5 days worth of cricket.” Shivang Baid, a current University of Southampton player and former Hong Kong team member, agrees with Mr. Daryanani’s views. Mr. Baid feels the shorter versions are superior because of “quick results.”
The first significant change to test cricket was the introduction of the One Day International (ODI) format. This format reduced the length of the game to 50 overs. Generally, an ODI lasts for eight hours. The format has grown so much in popularity that former Pakistan Captain Ramiz Raja said “heroes are made out of ODI performances, and test performances mean less.”
The International Cricket Council (ICC) has also come up with a 20 over version of the game, which ends within four hours. Twenty over cricket has taken the spotlight at the cost of tests. However, ICC Media and Communications Manager, James Fitzgerald stated “Twenty20 is a great new vehicle to develop the game…the short, sharp nature of the format allows tournaments to take place over a short period of time.”
Many of the world’s leading cricketers and cricket experts find this shift to be very alarming. Both, Ramiz Raja and former England bowler Simon Jones have expressed concerns over the takeover of the shorter formats. Mr. Raja claims that “the shorter version is kind of a shortcut to making money and name.” Mr. Jones added that the shorter formats provide “more money and a larger career.” England Captain, Andrew Strauss in an interview with The Times, agreed that financial incentives are drawing younger players to the shorter forms of the game. Furthermore, Indian batsman, Rahul Dravid, in an impassioned speech at the Sir Donald Bradman Oration 2011, appealed for the reduction of meaningless ODI matches to help preserve test cricket.
Youth these days are looking for sports that are action packed, fast paced and dynamic. Twenty20 and ODI cricket fulfill these expectations by throwing the rules of slow paced test matches out the window. Batsmen are expected to hit big or get out, and bowlers are expected to keep batsmen guessing. The shorter versions of the game are seen as more trendy since they incorporate popular music and cheerleaders during games to brighten the atmosphere. Since these formats are a lot shorter, end results and close finishes are almost always guaranteed, which keeps fans on the edge of their seats.
As a naturalist would try to save an endangered species, so too are Testing Times trying to save test cricket. The group is trying to raise awareness amongst the cricketing world that test cricket is not only worth saving, but is also worth nurturing so that the younger generation will not allow it to die out. Testing Times is currently on a mission to find 28,000 people, the number of people that it would take to fill Lords Cricket Ground, to sign a petition to express that there is still interest and love for test matches.
Under extreme criticism for the falling popularity of test matches, the ICC has accepted the responsibility to restore the once famed and proud format of the game. One of the major changes the ICC is planning to introduce is day night test matches. Colin Gibson, head of media and communications at the ICC, believes that “day night cricket is more popular and viable.” Gibson added that the ICC is working with the England and Wales Cricket Board and with Cricket Australia to promote day night tests.
After the highly successful and talked about twenty20 and 50 over world cups in 2010 and 2011 respectively, the ICC are also looking to introduce a test championship to create excitement amongst youth. Mr. Fitzgerald says “what we need to do is find a way of making all test cricket meaningful and relevant…including the formation of a Test Championship.”
Besides the ICC, players and Testing Times have voiced their own solutions. Testing Times claims “test cricket needs better marketing and that includes spreading its appeal to the younger generation as they are its future.” They also proposed giving “free entry to children and schools in the area.” Mr. Raja suggests that increased interaction between players and fans should be created by asking “players of each team to sign autographs for the crowd.” South African batsman Herschelle Gibbs believes the solution is simple, “just play more test cricket worldwide.”
What exactly is the future of test cricket? With numerous proposed ideas, we can expect a test championship by 2017 and perhaps the introduction of day night test matches. But will any of this help to rekindle the passion that once made the stadiums roar?