The recently concluded Border Gavasker trophy between India and Australia was a testament to why test cricket is the premier version of the sport. Even the first test between Bangladesh and West Indies, where the visiting side pulled off a daunting victory, was a great game to watch.
Although the glamour, excitement and action of the T20 game makes it more attractive for the neutrals, to the purists and cricket connoisseurs, test cricket will always be the ultimate form of the game.
In a lot of ways test cricket resembles human life. You survive long periods of hardships and exhausting battles, and then take advantage of whatever opportunities you can manage. Test cricket truly is the peak examination of a cricketer’s skills, patience, grit, tenacity and resilience.
However, the fast-paced nature of the modern day means shorter versions of the game (ODI and T20) are given more preference by fans. As a result, test cricket, apart from some odd exciting series here and there (Ashes 2019 and Border Gavaskar Trophy 2020/21), has created a dull environment around itself.
Long hours of blocking, one sided wins for home teams and boring draws have taken away a lot of the excitement that this game can provide. Low viewership and ticket sales have created a need to revive the most premier format of the game. We look at a few changes which can help rejuvenate this format.
The 4-day test
There has been continuous debate about shortening the length of test cricket from 5 days to 4. This, in fact, would be a broadcasters’ dream. A normal test match requires 5 days of play and minimum 3 days of rest before the start of the next test (total 8 days). With the calendar having only 7 days a week, this 8-day system prevents all matches of a test series to be played on weekends.
A 4-day test match would ideally start on Thursday and end on Sunday, then provide 3 days’ rest before starting the next test another Thursday. This Thursday to Sunday schedule offers viewers a chance to watch the game on tv or visit the stadium on weekends. It would also take the 4th and final (also the most thrilling) day of each test match on Sundays, a day considered as a weekend almost all around the globe.
However, purists of the game and the players have been pretty vocal against this, stating that it would take away the beauty of the game. Indeed, 5th day thrillers would not happen anymore, and the odds of getting more draws would increase in 4-day tests.
Day Night test matches
Day night test matches were introduced with a hope of increasing the audience for test cricket. It provides people the option to visit the stadium or see the game on television after work.
Nevertheless, the number of day-night test matches has been very few. Teams opt to play a maximum of 1 day-night test per series. Since its inception in 2015, there have been a total of only 15 day-night test matches till date. It goes without saying that this number needs to be increased to make test cricket more attractive to the public.
For far too long, pitches for test matches have been made suiting the home team. As a result, there has not been enough competition between. Home teams tend to dominate and win; or play out draws. Hence it is important to create pitches that have something to offer for both teams, in terms of batting and bowling.
The Ashes 2019 was a perfect example of that. Sporting pitches were created for the test series that resulted in one of the most amazing test series in recent history. Thrilling games will always attract crowds. Hence, it’s important that ICC looks into this matter. Attempts need to be taken to ensure sporting pitches are created for test cricket.
Holidays and festive tests
Test cricket should be scheduled around holidays and vacations to let people visit stadiums or view the sport from home. Teenagers and young adults make up a big chunk of the fans of the sport. Semester breaks and religious holidays offer people free time to enjoy the sport.
England and Australia have made festive tests a tradition in their countries. England has the Lord’s test in July every year while Australia has their Boxing Day test in December. These festive tests offer a proper family outing, one that can be planned a year beforehand. Hence these tests receive special attention from their fans.
This technique can be implemented in other countries to garner attention for test cricket. Celebration of the new year and different cultural events can serve as the basis for these festive tests.
The correct branding
However, alongside these techniques, what test cricket requires is attractive marketing, similar to what ODIs and T20s get. The longest format of the game needs to be branded for the excitement it brings. India can be a good example of this.
The BCCI created a lot of buzz surrounding India’s maiden day night test against Bangladesh in 2019. In terms of quality, there is definite mismatch between the two sides and not much reason for fans to attend the match. However the promotional strategies taken by BCCI made the event a success as almost 50,000 people attended the test. BCCI, in the past, have also partnered with schools so that children could go to see test matches as part of their field trips.
The overall aim should be to create an atmosphere around test cricket that makes people buy tickets or at least tune into the television to watch the game. As such, both on-field and off-field work must be done to ensure that the most demanding and challenging format of the sport does not go extinct.
Ayman Chowdhury is an undergrad student studying at Dhaka University.