An argument circulating a lot in recent years among those in cricketing circles, is that of the battle for relevancy between Test cricket and Twenty20. Is Test cricket dying? Is T20 the format with which to go? How much longer does Test cricket have at the international level before it is forgotten?
Those are questions that are asked over and over, all around the world at all levels of the game and the views and comments from a number of persons, including spectators as well as current and former international players were analysed and taken into account.
Test cricket was the once seen as main format of cricket, the ultimate test that every international cricketer looked forward to, and the perfect examination of teams and players’ abilities at the highest level of the game. From the Ashes series between Australia and England to the Sir Frank Worrell Trophy between West Indies and Australia and the Border/Gavaskar Trophy contested between India and Australia, Test Cricket is where the legends of cricket were made, where the world’s fastest bowlers would run in to bowl for hours with searing pace and batsmen having to be wary that they could be struck by a vicious delivery at any moment. Spectators would crowd cricket venues for days in a row to watch every ball being bowled or every boundary being hit by the elegant, classy batsmen before a mean, grim fast bowler attempted to knock off their heads the following ball. That image of cricket now is seemingly a thing of the past.
Test cricket has been taken over by the shorter formats of the game and the crowds have diminished significantly. Games in the Caribbean fail to partially full stands with many persons opting to stay away from the games and do other things. The hype and energy from T20 cricket as opposed to the dull nature of Test cricket has won the hearts of the fans from the young to the old according to chief executive of the CPL Damien O’Donohoe commenting during a Caribbean Premier League fixture.
“People from all different age groups are at the games from 5 years to 85 years of age and they do have an absolute blast for three and a half hours while watching the best cricketers in the world in one of the most beautiful parts of the world.”
Alvin Forde, a spectator at the CPL game between Barbados Tridents and Jamaica Tallawahs noted: “T20 cricket is more exciting, Test cricket for some people is too long and sometimes you can sit for a whole day and get bored watching Test cricket.”
Forde went on to state that runs were scored a lot quicker and easier in T20 cricket than they were in a Test match and T20 cricket appealed a lot more to the younger audiences than Test cricket does. Norville Lashley on the other hand is a fan of Test cricket.
“I love Test cricket, Test cricket is the real game of cricket. One-day cricket as well as Twenty20 is an exciting game, it’s entertainment for the spectators and therefore I do not have a problem with one-day cricket or twenty20 cricket, however my main thing is Test cricket.”
National Hero and cricket legend Sir Garry Sobers believes that a comparison should not be made between the two formats.
“At the present moment I don’t think you could make comparisons between the two. Test cricket is a far different game to the CPL (T20). CPL is the type of cricket you need because Test cricket seems to be dying and nobody is really playing it at the level they should be and there is no money and finance in the game at the present moment,” the cricket icon suggested.
Sir Garry said Test cricket would only survive in certain countries because it was embedded in their national structures.
“Test cricket would always survive between England and Australia, and probably New Zealand and South Africa.”
Sir Garry specified the importance of T20 cricket to the success of world cricket in England and their county tournaments.
“If you look at England in their counties I think you have to recognise that if you didn’t have Twenty20 in England, county cricket would have gone through the door a long time ago, but If I had to choose between the two I certainly would choose Test cricket.”
Former Australia Test captain Bill Lawry commenting during the 2015-2016 Big Bash League, did not see the battle as Test cricket versus Twenty20, but as Twenty20 being a stepping stone towards Test success.
“I don’t see it as T20 versus Test cricket. T20 is the kindergarten you go to before you go to proper school [Test cricket],” he said.
“As a spectator I love to see T20 cricket, it’s very entertaining, but I think Test cricket will always be the ultimate,” noted cricket fan Andy Payne. But he called for some changes to be made to Test cricket, inclusive of night games.
“If you see the crowds come out for night cricket and how the night cricket is structured, you might have to look at that for Test cricket where some of the games are played during the evening into the night.”
Former New Zealand captain Brendan McCullum in a recent interview with Sir Ian Botham suggested that T20 cricket at the international level should only be played at World Cups to allow more attention to be placed on Test cricket, making it the main format at the developmental stage and to avoid the rapid decline. McCullum also emphasised on how cricket was structured in New Zealand among the various formats with T20 cricket being seen as a reward for Test success.
“T20 cricket should only be played at World Cups internationally and then the rest in club competitions around the world. Test cricket as the pinnacle is something we try to instil in New Zealand. The T20 leagues are a result of the hard work you’ve put into international cricket and I think some people lose sight of that sometimes.”
England great Sir Ian Botham had his own strong views on the formats. “Test cricket is the king in my eyes and T20 is the icing on the cake, not the main event.”
Veteran Barbadian entertainer Richard Stoute also had the opportunity to share his views on the issue of Test versus T20. Stoute said the CPL was a good move for the Caribbean and it had brought a lot to Caribbean people but suggested Test cricket was here to stay.
“CPL has brought a lot of excitement to the Caribbean people, Twenty20 cricket itself is a very exciting part of the cricket but I think Test cricket is here to stay, Test cricket is the real test.”
Test cricket may be down but it is not out. Many ideas have been suggested to save the format and bring back the crowds. The day and night version of Test cricket played with a pink ball is the perfect eye-catcher for public and players. In December 2015 Australia played their first international pink ball Test against neighbours New Zealand and the game had remarkable crowds and incredible television ratings for all five days of the match, with the game being very exciting for both teams and players enjoying it. According to retired Australian pacer Ryan Harris: “It [pink ball Test] was a spectacle.”
Twenty20 may be the showpiece format for now with the tremendous atmosphere and the vocal crowds, with the stars of the game blasting sixes and gaining great wealth. But the Test game will be back to its best, sooner rather than later.