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By Partab Ramchand
It has survived since 1877 and it has not been easy going for cricket’s traditional format. It has survived scandals and controversies, it has undergone several surgeries and in recent times has had to beat back the challenges from shorter and seemingly more enduring and glamorous versions of the game. But Test match cricket whether played over two days or ten has its own inimitable charm. It has emerged stronger through the crises and I venture to predict will stand the test of time however much the cynics predict its demise. I for one have always believed that the three formats can and will survive side by side.
It is well known that cricketers are firmly of the view that Test cricket is the ultimate when it comes to exhibiting their talent and skill. Simply put it is cricket in its highest art form. All said and done the game is not just about quick runs being scored or quick wickets being taken. It is about drama and character. Twenty20 and Fifty50 are enjoyable as entertainment, good for the game and its finances and certainly they have a place in cricket. But at the risk of being called old fashioned, let me emphasize that there is no real substitute for Test cricket, the engrossing tussle between bat and ball and the elaborate strategic moves and tactical planning.
Sometime back Ricky Ponting touched upon the joys of notching up a Test hundred, saying it was such a pleasure to bat six hours instead of being able to play just six balls or six minutes. A performance in any art form of the highest order – and that’s what Test cricket is as I mentioned earlier - should last for a considerable length of time and not be restricted in time, overs and minutes.
One cannot overemphasize the significant qualities of Test cricket where the plot is built up gradually like a well directed suspense movie or an unputdownable whodunit where one cannot really guess the denouement. There is still a following for the game’s traditional format. Slam bang cricket is time pass. You see a game, enjoy it for what it is worth and hardly remember anything of it. It is like seeing a three-hour Bollywood formula film. But events of Test cricket stay in your memory for long. ODI records and Twenty20 records for example are long forgotten and hardly cherished by the players for long but Test cricket records are remembered by fans for long and held in high esteem by the players.
With all the frenetic activity associated with the shorter versions of the game my attention is frequently diverted to the pleasures of Test match cricket. Yes, pleasures for as a bit of an old timer, as a traditionalist who grew up on a staple diet of five day matches that sometimes did not produce a result even after 30 hours of play I have really enjoyed the fare served out in the longer version of the game even as I savour the happenings in Fifty50 and Twenty20.
The leisurely proceedings, players in white, day cricket and the red ball have provided a refreshingly different scenario from the surfeit of slam bang cricket and taken me on a trip down memory lane. There is an undying charm about Test cricket. The heightened suspense spread over days, the fluctuating fortunes and the fact that bowlers are trying to take wickets and not restrict the runs are a few of the factors that one relishes. Ask any budding cricketer and with all the many attractions associated with the shorter versions of the game he will say his ultimate aim is to play Test cricket. A cricketer who shines only in ODIs will still lament the fact that he didn’t play Test matches. Ultimately it is the Test record of a player that stands the test of time and is set as a yardstick not the figures in Fifty50 or Twenty20 however impressive the latter may be.
As a traditionalist I would like to believe that whereas interest in Test cricket is still high this is not reflected in the spectator response. Empty stadiums during a Test match is admittedly a most discouraging sign and except for perhaps England and the Ashes series dwindling crowds are now the norm for Test cricket. Perhaps the time has come for changes to be made in the format so as to attract more spectators and among the ideas being mooted are day-night matches, a Test Championship, four-day matches and restriction of overs.
Test cricket has undergone several changes over the years – for better or worse – and the way I see it all these proposals too have positive and negative viewpoints. But perhaps Test cricket should shift to the day-night format and become more broadcaster friendly. It is the view of many knowledgeable experts that if Test cricket is made day-night people can watch it on TV when they get home from work - or they can even go to the stadium. They are convinced that the big drop in Test cricket viewing is because people don't have the leisure time in the day to watch it.
The time has come for a bit of a shake-up in the traditional format in keeping with changing times even as it celebrates its 2000th match – fittingly in the home of cricket.