Friday, 11 December 2009

The Future of Test Cricket

Ever since the Indian Premier League took off in mid 2008, one of the most recurrent themes I've seen in the press has been the widespread fear for the future of test cricket. Hardly a day goes by, without someone expressing fears for the future of the traditional format of the game. So widespread has it become, that I too am beginning to wonder whether there may be something in it after all.

It reminds me of an incident that once happened to a friend of mine, who's a hardcore vegetarian. One of the guys in our group brought Macaroni for lunch and this chap, who had never seen or heard of it before, took an instant liking to it. Imagine his surprise when one of us told him that he'd just eaten chicken legs. As any intelligent person would do, he didn't believe it but he was reminded of it by so many people and with such frequency, that he actually started believing in it. I can't help likening the fears over the future of test cricket to the 'chicken legs'.

I for one never seriously believed in all the ruckus over the possibility of test cricket dying out. The scaremongers who fear it would do well to remember that the game has survived too many upheavals to die out so easily. Look at the sheer number of them: two world wars, the end of the British empire, the rise and fall of communism and fascism, the fall of aparthied...we could go on. Coming to more recent times, fears about the future of test cricket were also being voiced when one day cricket broke into the scene. What we have seen instead, is a democratisation of the game. Think of it: the top 3 consists of India, South Africa and Sri Lanka- two former colonies that were nowhere in the reckoning barely 20 years ago and one of them still a pariah in the world community.

In fact, I've just seen a headline in Cricinfo, that the BCCI has invited Cricket South Africa to play a two-test series in India in early 2010, removing two one-dayers to accomodate the tests. This pleasant surprise comes less than a week after West Indies and Australia contrived to produce a superb draw, less than a month after a nerve-wracking test between Pakistan and New Zealand and just days after India best Sri Lanka in a series where all three tests were played before healthy audiences. Add to it the prospect of the No.1 position, that has been a monopoly of almost throughout the last 3 decades, changing hands within a few weeks. In fact we're looking at the prospect of having a new No.1 every few months- a far cry from three decades of single team domination of the game. And yes, in the midst of all that I forgot to mention the rise of West Indies- to which I've dedicated an article earlier in this blog.

To me, test cricket has seldom been in better health. Yes the quality of cricket is currently lower than it has been in a long time, yes indeed there is no side to set a benchmark and granted that pitches have never been so loaded in favour of the batsmen at any time since the second world war. But was there ever an age in which there were fewer draws? Was a single-team dominance ever exciting- was it even remotely exciting to watch West Indies or Australia whitewash opposition teams in hopelessly mismatched series?

What is happening is a siesmic shift: new forces are emerging, society is changing and with it, naturally the manner in which the game is played is also evolving. Change frequently looks cataclysmic and is painful in the short run, but inevitable it is and the effects are not always harmful. Remember the fears of computers displacing labour? Look what computerisation has done for us. Periods of change need time and perspective to be fully understood and appreciated. Cricket is currently going through the transition. I daresay we will be looking back with amusement at these fears twenty years from now.

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