Saturday, April 14, 2007

Test Cricket is Real Cricket

I have been a great cricket follower for about 10 years. Initially I used to watch all the cricket matches be it live or repeat telecasts. Later with maturity I started following only Test Cricket, ignoring One-day cricket. I still have more than average knowledge of One-day cricket though. Let me discuss why I have such a prejudice.

The Real Test
The name "Test" is thought to arise from the idea that the matches are a "test of strength" between the sides involved. It is a test of physical and mental strength, skill, character, patience, concentration, strategy and ability to handle pressure. Batsmen is not judged just by the ball he plays but also by the ball he leaves. Again, bowlers are judged on how much he can make the batsmen play. No matter how many matches a team wins on its home grounds on familiar conditions, pitch tailor made to suit their bowlers and batsmen, facing home crowds, enjoying their support and putting their opposition in difficulty by not providing them the facilities, the real test begins when they tour and play overseas. Australia is the only Team to win Test Series in all countries they have toured and deservingly they are the No. 1. The preparation level and the adaptability to conditions overcoming home-sickness becomes all the more important overseas. Nobody can be judged by their performance on 1 day in 1 innings, but we need 5 days and 2 innings to decide the result of a match and a series of at least 3 matches to decide on who the better team is in a bilateral series.

Weight attached
Test is the "highest and the longest form" of the cricket game and is the sub-set of First Class Cricket. Only 10 cricket playing nations have so far got the Test Status after proving that they have all the qualities required to play at that level. A Test Win, a Test Cap, the white jersey, test debut, test century, a 5 wicket haul etc are close to the hearts of any Player and is worth is weight in gold because very few people from his country to have got it. Robin Singh has played about 140 ODIs before finally playing his solitary Test. But, when I see a TV interview of him he is introduced as "Robin Singh, Former Indian Test Cricketer". A world record in tests is a real great achievement as nobody else has done it for 130 years in the game. So many grounds are used to play ODIs in India and everywhere else, but only a subset of them are qualified as a "Test Ground" which means a lot to those grounds. The quality of pitch, it should last for 5 days, facilities the ground provides allowing players to practice for 5 days, providing accommodation and so on. In 1999 world cup in England, Australia lost initial set of matches that were played in non-test grounds. But later when they played bigger matches in Test grounds they won and went on to win world-cup too. Showing that performance of teams should be judged by their performance in quality grounds (Test grounds) against quality oppositions (Test Nations) in bigger games.

Even contest between bat and ball
The real test of the bowler should be his ability to take wickets by planning and working the batsmen out. One-day game is more of a bats men's game, there is nothing in it for bowlers. A bowler is limited to bowl only 10 overs with run containing being his primary goal in defensive and restricted field settings. Whereas in Test cricket he bowls with the aim of taking wickets by placing his fielders in catching positions like slips and gully for fast bowlers and close in positions for spin bowlers. Wickets are very important in a Test match than in a one-day match, a side may be no loss or all down for 250 in 50 overs, still the chasing side needs only to score 251 runs to win the game. When wickets are so important batsmen has to cut-down in his risks and score runs only of bad balls. A good bowler doesn't bowl too many bad balls and then the batsmen has to do something different to break the shackles or try an adventurous shot in the process risks loosing his wicket. The Test for the batsmen here is the patience to wait for bat balls, ability to score runs of good balls, skill in understanding the bowling and fielding strategy, concentration in facing ball after ball and picking it the way it is released by the bowler, practice of playing off-spin or doosra, leg-spin or googly, fast ball or slow ball, short pitch or yorker. Even a short lapse of concentration can cost the batsmen his wicket, it might take him 200 balls to score a 100 but only 1 ball is enough to loose his wicket. Generally 1st innings of the test match is for the batsmen because the wicket is fresh and placid also the pressure on batsmen is lesser as he knows that irrespective of what happens now there still is one more full innings to go, while the 2nd innings is for the bowlers when the wicket wears and tears, odd ball keeps low, spinners get lot of turn and bounce from the rough patches around bats men's foot, pressure starts getting better of the batsmen, batsmen focuses more on the match result than on facing the next ball.

Luck factor
It is always the better team or the team that played better cricket during the period of the test , wins. In a one-day matches one or two lucky/unlucky moments decide the fate of the game. We have heard "Every dog has a day", so the team on its days wins in one-day matches. Whereas in a test match team needs to play well on majority of days i.e. at least 3 days. We have seen Bangladesh, Kenya, Zimbabwe and even Ireland win one-day matches against quality oppositions on its day. We never had such instances in Test Matches over last 130 years. We might have seen sub-continental teams loosing to Zimbabwe in Tests but it is more because of the unpredictability of Asian teams than the real quality of Zimbabwean Team. We also have seen Bangladesh coming close to beating Pakistan and Australia but when it came to the wire Bangladesh were simply not tough enough, while Inzamam and Ponting showed the real class needed to compete at the Test level in those matches respectively. In test cricket unlike one-day cricket it is not a case where somebody has to win. The match can end in a draw, which is very fair. England stole the 2005 Ashes though a draw in their Final Test at oval. A Test win is that much more valuable as the opposition can play for a draw thereby denying other team a win and the winning team should have put in an extra-ordinary effort to force the result. Some might say one or two bad umpiring decisions or unlucky situations as a reason for the Team's defeat. But the test match is not just about those one or 2 moments there are countless other moments over 5 days, 15 sessions, 30 hours, 450 overs and 2700 balls. Why weren't they in control of those moments if they really were the better team? Why did those 1 or 2 moments decide the fate of the test match?

I am not alone who tells this
Having watched so many matches, listened to commentaries, read newspapers, magazines, books and websites, I feel that all true cricket lovers agree with me that Test Cricket is the Real Cricket. When somebody talks about a Cricket Tour they talk about Test Matches or evaluate the winner of the tour by the result in Tests. Indian team of 2003-04 is considered as the best team ever to tour Down Under even though India lost badly in the One-day series. Australia tour of India in 2001 is one of their worst failures as they failed to conquer their final frontier. Who remembers that then Australia won the ODI series 3-2. 2005 Ashes series is considered the best ever series played in cricket and so many books and DVD are sold on it. Does anybody know that there were one dayers also played at all in that Tour, let alone knowing the winner.
Coming to the players themselves, the current generation has produced so many greats the likes of Ponting, Dravid, Lara, Sachin, Inzamam, Waugh, Muralitharan, Warne, McGrath, Kumble etc most of them are quitting one-dayers after 2007 world cup in a bid to concentrate on Test Matches. I am taking the example of current generation players in particular as they have played good number of one-day matches as well unlike the earlier generations. Steve Waugh in his Autobiography "Out of my comfort zone" has openly admitted this., the most popular cricket website run by Wisden group covers all forms of cricket but their focus is more on Test Cricket.

Who said it is boring?
If we see the game only to see batsmen hit sixes and fours or getting out, then it is boring as their frequency is a little less to keep anyone interesting. But if we understand the intensity and state of the game, in the context of the series, with the history of clashes between the teams, the team composition, their strengths and weakness, kind of pitch where the match is being played, contest between bat and ball, kind of fatigue/attrition the players are going through there is nothing as interesting in cricket as the longer format offers. Don't we think and plan at the end of each day, how the team should approach its next day, the first hour, first session and so on. When they should declare, what could be a competitive total, how many overs are necessary to bowl the opposition out the second time? What it it rains? If it is not interesting would we do that? I have seen the tense last hour at Chennai in 2001 India narrowly clinching the series against Australia, the target of 155 in 4th innings looked easy and India were well on track at 100 for 2 but what happened later was dramatic, even the likes of Ganguly, Dravid and Tendulkar couldn't handle the kind of pressure. With so much at stake, stopping Australians from conquering their final frontier, winning the series after looking like getting whitewashed 0-3 mid-way through the series. I don't remember how many heart-beats I have missed then. Whoever has watched the Centenary Test 1977 in Melbourne or The Greatest Test at Birmingham in 2005 Ashes or the India vs Pakistan Chennai Test in 1999 or Australia vs West Indies in Bridgetown in 2000 or the Tied Tests would get irritated when a naive cricket lover says Test Cricket is Boring.

Importance of One day cricket
Having debated the superiority of Test Cricket, One day cricket also has a role to play. One day cricket is useful in promoting cricket to the masses including not so serious cricket followers, it being the abridged version, we can see more sixes, fours, wickets at a faster rate, all matches have result and hence more entertainment. It is also the form the game that decides the World Champions which is the most prestigious tag to have in Cricket. Even lesser teams like Kenya, Ireland and Canada play them on a regular basis and cricket as a sport is spread there too. It is very important from Revenue point of view too. There are so many viewers hence so many companies promoting their advertisements and so many jobs created and so much money exchanged. Hence it is a win-win situation to the Cricket Board who sell the media rights, Media who broadcast the match luring advertisers, advertisers market their products effectively and reach more customers. It also creates a whole new market for gamblers. Players also find a stage to increase their popularity, endorse products and deepen their pocket. Better the performance of the player, better is his demand for advertisements, hence a great incentive for him to perform better which is good for cricket. So many non-cricket lovers become time-pass cricket lovers and become real cricket lovers and start following Test Cricket too. With the advent of one-day cricket we are seeing a revolution in Test Cricket as well. There are more results these days in Test Matches. Runs are scored at a faster rate, 4 runs per over has become a norm these days compared to 2.5 runs per over in pre-one-day period. Few of the most under-rated aspects in the past were fitness, ground fielding and running between the wickets. Come one-day cricket, these aspects got its much deserved importance. We see a lot more commitment from players now. We don't see many quadragenarians playing Cricket now, although we cannot rule that out with improved levels of fitness especially among Australians in recent years. One-day cricket now has scaled such a height that a score of 434 has been chased successfully but the highest 4th innings total to win a Test Match is only 418 ! Co-incidentally Australia was at the receiving end on both of those monumental occasions.

So all in all, both have their roles to play in Cricket and it is important for us to understand them too.

Disclaimer: Everybody is entitled to his opinion but the contents of this page are not merely my opinions but facts.

1 comment:

  1. Prasanna Kumar2:24 pm

    I found some long and complex sentences.It would have been better if they are broken down into simpler sentences.I know it is difficult but still you can master that art by practice