Why I Love Test Cricket
In this era of instant gratification and short attention spans, it’s no wonder that the quicker forms of the cricket game: T20 and ODIs are gaining more popularity over Test Cricket. In fact, T20 seems to be doing to ODIs, what ODIs did to Test Cricket a couple of decades back.
At the outset let me be clear that I love all forms of the game. Cricket is such a wonderful sport that each format has its unique flavors. Each version places its own unique sets of demands and challenges on the players. It’s like having to make a choice between great fast-food snacks vs. a gastronomic filling multi-course meal. You want both!
Still, I think the younger generation is increasingly being pulled away from the mothership – Test Cricket. Hence I am going to ‘bat’ for this classic version in this blog. Cricket purists have used various attributes to compare Test Cricket: ‘Fine Wine’, ‘Classical Music’, etc. While I agree with most of these comparisons, I will use more direct factors to highlight why I love Test Cricket so much. Note – many of these factors discussed below are applicable to varying degrees to the other versions of the game as well.
1. Mental Game
Test Cricket is as much played in the mind, as it is played on the field. From subtle field placement changes, to more direct bowling changes…from resisting the temptation of going after a wide ball to playing a few attacking shots to send a message. And body language also plays a big role as well. Each team is trying to guess what the other team is thinking about and planning. Verbal chatter is also an important part of these mind games, though it is being increasingly ‘policed’ by the authorities.
These subtle mind games are very interesting. And when two traditional rivals are playing like India-Pakistan or England-Australia, these mind games reach a new level. The crowd joins in as well. One of my favorite books on cricket is Sunil Gavaskar’s ‘Sunny Days’. Chronicling his early career through 1976 (when all International Cricket was pretty much Test Cricket), this book provides great insights into the mind games and planning & strategy associated with classic Test Matches.
2. Planning And Strategy
Test Cricket is a lot about Planning and Strategy. Literally like chess moves, decisions are thought through and made many steps in advance. Strategies are created by the team think tank at the beginning of each series/match/day and then revised as things progress. Often individual strategies are made to tackle individual bowlers and batsmen. These strategies and their implementations are like following chess grandmasters or battlefield generals in action!
Probably the most infamous of this pre-series strategy planning process dates back to the 1932 England tour of Australia – the famed ‘Bodyline Tour’. England Captain Douglas Jardine came up with his this new ‘strategy’ to curb the Australian run-machine, the great Donald Bradman.
3. Batting Defense
To a casual follower of the game, a dull defensive batting display is often very boring. On the other hand, if you understand the pitch conditions, the match situation and other factors – this defensive battle can also get very engrossing. Good defense is as skillful as playing a good attacking game. And remember, for a batsman, one mistake and you are out!
Rahul Dravid epitomizes this batting defense display and has numerous amazing innings to his credit. It’s unfortunate that these innings don’t get the mass appeal of a Sehwag or a Tendulkar innings.
4. Battle Of Attrition
Whether in bowling or in batting, as well as in fielding, Test Cricket is often a game of attrition. Its all about who has more staying power – mentally and physically. Who has the ability to maintain their quality and standards of performance after many hours in the game? It’s all about who blinks first, and commits that initial mistake. It could be lazy shot…could be bad over…or a dropped catch.
5. Physical Staying Power
Ultimately, cricket like any physical sport, requires good athletes. However, the athletic attributes of a Test Player are often more akin to a Marathon Runner, as opposed to a 100 Meter sprinter. Dean Jones battling extreme dehydration and cramps in the oppressive Chennai Heat and Humidity in the 1987 Historic Tie Test, and going on to score a Double-Hundred is just amazing. He was rushed to the hospital from the cricket game and came back!
6. The ‘Old’ Ball Dynamics
In the shorter versions of the game, the variations in the ball don’t make a big difference. Comparatively, this adds a whole new twist to a Test Match innings. Once the ball is 10-15 overs old, it stops swinging and spinners can utilize it better. But post 40-50 overs, the ‘reverse swing’ comes into picture. And post 80 overs, the new ball is an option, which brings in another strategic decision element.
7. The Pitch Factor
The cricket pitch (along with the environmental conditions (temperature, humidity, wind, etc.) is probably the most important external variable in the game. And it is dynamic! In the shorter version – the changes are not drastic. But in a 5 day game, often times the pitch characteristics are drastically different from day 1 to day 5. This adds a very interesting new twist to the game. Winning the toss is very important. As the Pitch evolves, different batting and bowling skills become important and relevant. Just think of the variability that Test Pitches bring to the table – whether they are the bouncy wickets of Australia or South Africa, the batsman and spinners friendly wickets in the Indian Sub-Continent, or the Greenish wickets in England or New Zealand. There are so many games where winning the toss and deciding the right upfront use of the pitch (for bowling or batting) have been the primary deciding factor on who comes out at the top.
8. Bowler Advantages
The shorter versions of the games are increasingly becoming more and more batsman friendly. The poor bowlers are primarily reduced to containing the batsman. The rules are also going against them. However in a Test Match, the bowlers can dominate – especially when you have bowler friendly pitches. The sight of a Dennis Lillee/Jeff Thompson bowling with 9 Slips in the 1970s(click link for the image), is probably gone for ever now!
9. Intense Concentration
As mentioned earlier, test Cricket is a game of attrition. As a fielder, a batsman or a bowler, you have to often wait for hours for the other party to make a mistake. Conversely you could concentrate all day, and that one lapse can lead to a dropped catch, or a clean-bowled! The concentration power exhibited by the Test Stalwarts is just amazing.
10. Television Commentary
Last, but not the least – the Test Cricket TV Commentary when done by good commentators can be extremely engrossing. Even when the game is moving slowly, the discussions, the statistics, the anecdotes, and the humor – can all be quite entertaining.