A question that has been raised a lot over the last few years has been: “is Test cricket dying?”. The response to this question generally differs depending on who is answering. For example, cricketers, and undoubtedly international players, will commonly answer “no”. By contrast, some fans, mostly the older generation, will respond with a “yes”.
Despite the negativity that some fans feel about the new adaptations to the game, Test cricket is not dying. Statistics can back this statement up. Between the 1980s and the 2010s, the average gate at grounds across England has increased by 46%. This not only proves that Test cricket is more popular than ever, but it also proves that the crowds were a lot smaller during the glory days that many reminisce about.
It is the same story in Australia, with the 2017 Ashes series drawing bigger crowds than any other since 1936-37.
Granted, Test cricket has had to adapt with the times, but it has changed for the better, not the worse. One such adaptation is the introduction of more day/night Tests, allowing the public to watch more Test cricket live, outside of their working hours.
The older generation may be sceptical over these moves, just as they were when the umpire Decision Review System (DRS) was first introduced, fearing that the umpire’s decision would no longer be final. However, DRS has undoubtedly improved the accuracy of decision-making, with the use of ‘umpire’s call’ ensuring that significant power still resides with cricket’s officials. Like DRS, I believe that cricket’s purists will slowly warm to the newer changes, such as the increased use of day/night Tests.
With games being increasingly televised, such changes are inevitable.
However, some claim that, in the United Kingdom, cricket is decaying from the ground level up. This is because village cricket has been declining. There are fewer children playing cricket in the playground, at the park, or in back gardens.
The declining numbers of children playing the game is ultimately the result of the England and Wales Cricket Board’s decision to take cricket from terrestrial TV and give it to Sky. The decision was made in 2005, coming off a historic Ashes series win that had caused many people across the country to fall in love with the game.
Many people have criticised the ECB for this move, as it limited access to the game and, seemingly, adversely affected its popularity among the younger generation. That being said, this trend may be set to reverse in the near future as, for the first time since 2005, Test cricket returned to terrestrial TV for England’s four tests away in India that began last February.
The avid cricket fan will always value test cricket as the highest form of the game. It is the ultimate test of a player: character, skill, longevity, and fitness. The five-day format is known as being very unforgiving.
Test cricket allows for a player’s weaknesses to be found out quicker than any other format. A great example of a quality first-class cricketer who did not perform as well as hoped at Test level is Graeme Hick. Hick was very prolific in county cricket, scoring over 40,000 runs. However, despite a career in which he played 65 Tests, he failed to translate this same form to the international stage, with his England batting average paling in comparison to his domestic equivalent.
This highlights the beauty of Test cricket; it is unknown. Countless players are tagged as the next big talent, but many have failed under the pressure that Test cricket brings. Test cricket is still every young cricketer’s dream; they all want to earn that illustrious cap and play in front of the famous ‘barmy army’.
The shorter forms of the game, like T20, will likely stay as the sport’s big money-makers, enticing new fans to watch and fall in love with cricket, as they are exciting, fast-paced spectacles to watch. However, true cricket fans will know that they are merely a gateway to the longer forms of the game, that remain the pinnacle of the sport.
Without T20, there would be far fewer new fans coming to watch Test cricket. This is because it appears as this long and almost endless game that is not anywhere near as exciting to most outsiders. However, once fans have understood the game on a basic level, they will begin to fall in love with the theatre of Test cricket, as I well and truly have.