Test cricket is a severely challenged format and for the game to prosper it requires serious consultation.
The last thing the five-day game needs is benign pitches, large first-innings scores, or distinctly uneven matches. The pitch in Rawalpindi for the first Test between Pakistan and Australia was described by former captain Steven Smith as “dead and benign”. A paltry 14 wickets were claimed by bowlers in five days of thankless toil, which fully vindicated Smith’s assessment. The match was not a great advertisement for Australia’s first Test encounter in Pakistan in over 23 years.
Test cricket is not a statistical exercise and most games ought to result in a decent contest between bat and ball. The main task for administrators is to ensure the laws provide an environment conductive to this contest.
In longer games, the participants need to seek victory from the first ball. If one team eventually realizes it can’t achieve a win, it’s acceptable to fight for a draw. Some exciting drawn Tests over the years have resulted in the final few overs being a pitched battle.
I’m not one who believes the home side should produce pitches that help gain a contrived result. The best pitches are prepared by groundsmen without any outside interference and then it’s up to the teams to provide a decent contest. No matter the standard of the pitch, no team is guaranteed to win the toss.
The number of hard-fought Test matches is in question, partly because the ICC has wrongfully burdened some teams with an unearned reward: the list of teams with Test status requires a significant overhaul, preferably resulting in two divisions, with the number of top- tier teams being culled.
In addition to having a chance of victory, all qualified teams should maintain an acceptable standard, while their infrastructure needs to be of a competent level. The future tours schedule has to reflect balance and competitiveness, and hopefully this will lead to an even more worthwhile World Test championship competition.
Complaints about pitch conditions can be a red herring. In the case of India, the team is competitive in all regions, and while their pitches do encourage good spinners, they also provide results.
Playing good spin bowling well shouldn’t be a foreign art. If a number of teams played spin bowling better, they would be more competitive in India and those pitches wouldn’t prove such a headache.
It’s also disturbing to witness how the slow-bowling standard in many countries has slipped.
A lot of teams’ thinking has transferred from producing good spin bowlers to desperately seeking reverse swing. This has resulted in some moderate trundlers being selected in Tests on the basis that they might swing the old ball at some point in the match.
Test teams should try to select well balanced sides, and ideally that includes good swing and wristspin bowling, as both are attacking weapons. Both forms need encouragement as they can result in either wickets falling or runs flowing. Both aspects are an enjoyable part of the longer game.
To achieve this balance would require the coaching philosophy on spin bowling – both how to produce it and how to play it – to lean towards attack.
If the reward for strong captains is a team of competitors and a suitable surface to play on, a Test match can be an enthralling contest. This should be the aim of administrators worldwide, and if they are serious about the future of the format, Test cricket needs encouraging.
A Test match is fulfilling if it’s competitive and played well. Players of the 21st century deserve an opportunity to enjoy the thrill of participating, but serious thought needs to be given to reducing the periods of boredom in the format.