In the past 6 months , apart from the hotly contested Ashes series , we have witnessed some hopelessly onesided test series of late where the final results appeared to be foregone conclusion. True, few of those defeated teams are going through transition phase, and also there have been very few draws ,but utter lack of contest is presenting a poor health of test cricket and therefore its viewership is dwindling.
Cricket has now officially become a game of 3 formats- Tests, ODIs and T20s. A 4th format , T10 is also threatening to acquire official status. Since the T20 revolution late last decade, the popularity of test cricket had waned in many countries , West Indies being a classic example.
Test cricket was the oldest form of the game played over five days. There was big following of the game in the 20th century. During the age of quality fast bowling in 1970s ,and also with the advent of many quality allrounders all of whom were great crowdpullers, test cricket used to thrive and grounds used to get filled up , even though over rates and scoring rates were slow and there were many draws.
Probably the best period of test cricket was experienced from 1980s till before the T20 revolution . The scoring rate in tests gradually increased due to greater number of one day cricket being played accross the world in those times . Also the cricket world was blessed with many quality fast bowlers accross teams and also some of the greatest spinners during 1990s, not to speak of the high turnover of top quality batsmen during this period. Test cricket was played with more positive mindset than earlier decades, and number of draws lessened with better overrates and runrates in tests overall . Also South Africa’s return to test cricket in 1991 helped as they had a quality team which kept improving and was extremely competitive. The Australians became a great force from 1995 onwards and started playing high octane aggressive cricket.
However with the arrival of T20 cricket and also ICCs inclination to get more budding cricketing nations into full membership status seems to have resulted in dwindling of test cricket standards. The current generation seem to embrace T20 cricket and thrives on its competitive aspect which they do not seem to appreciate in Test cricket. T20 cricket prematurely took away many quality cricketers from test cricket as the lucrative franchisee leagues made many cricketers to decide on early test cricket retirements . Players like MS Dhoni, AB Dvilliers, Mohammed Amir were good enough to extend their test careers beyond their actual retirement dates. However they were loath to give up the T20 format and hence increased demands on the body made them decide to give up the longest format when they still looked good for test cricket much longer. Also new teams or minnows like Afghanistan, Ireland , Bangladesh did not have the required ammunition to challenge top teams like India, Australia and hence this resulted in disappointing viewing of test cricket as matches of least competitive interest were played, where the results were a foregone conclusion. Add to that is a dip in fast bowling talent in most test playing countries as talented young fast bowlers playing T20 and bowling just 4 overs in a match in exchange of high payment ,are no longer getting inclined to bowl 20 to 25 overs in a day at much lesser returns financially.
Probably the greatest tragedy to test cricket has been the decline of the West Indies. Gone were the days when they were biggest crowd pullers with full ammunition of intimidating fast bowlers and strokeful batsmen which destroyed teams during 1976 to 1995 and attracted people to the ground. Things started to decline soon after with their younger generation moving to other sports and finally T20 cricket taking them away from tests whereby some of their best talents have kept away from test cricket. Hence currently the West Indies team is playing like minnows .
Therefore the time has come now to look into ways and means by which we can revive the interest in test cricket so that crowd comes back to the oldest format , which helps the best players to perform in test cricket in front of full houses.
Some of the points /areas which can be considered. :
1. More day/night tests to enable crowd to come to ground after office hours and also take out the aspect of bad light out of equation.
2. Traditional weather patterns accross countries should be followed for scheduling, to avoid rain interruptions etc as far as possible.
3.Glamourise test cricket more with catchy advertisements like we see in T20 & ODIs.
4. More top players should talk on test cricket in various media to attract fans. Sort of influencer marketing.
5. Mini interviews of participating players during drinks break, lunch break, tea break about the match situation, much in line of recent tests in Australia.
6. In an effort to fill up grounds, distribute free tickets to school children, trainees from cricket academies , younger fans .
7. Runs to be docked from teams for slow over rates
8. Introduce free hit on no ball in test cricket.
9. Some alternative entertainment arrangements at test centres for the fans , like we have a mini swimming pool in couple of Australian test centres.
10. Two tier system with currently best 6 teams (India, Australia, England, NewZealand, Pakistan, South Africa ) in 1st tier and rest in 2nd tier (Bangladesh, Srilanka, , Afghanistan, West Indies, Ireland, Zimbabwe) and relegation system with lowest team from tier 1 going down and best team from tier 2 going up after each World Test Championships (WTC).
11. More robust points system in WTC. For example points system based on current team rankings, greater points won for a win against better ranked India compared to a win against low ranked Ireland. And also more points for overseas wins.
12. Pitches should be lively & bowling friendly where batters with good technique can also score runs.
13. Apart from the current concussed subs, allow one more substitute in tests, where a bowler can be replaced by a batter if team batting last or a batter can b replaced by the bowler vice versa.
14. Abolish shorter boundaries. Play on proper sized grounds.
15. If a test is washed out totally in 1st 2 or 3 days, the match refree & umpires should sit and allocate overs per side in each of 4 innings in remaining time to keep alive result hopes. Easier said than done but something on above lines can be worked out.
16. In Day/night tests new pink ball should be due after 50 or 60 overs since its losing its shape rather quickly making it tougher for bowlers to swing and batters to sight.
17. Play triangular series in test cricket preferably between equally strong teams ,which can have it’s own point system apart from World championship points.
18. In cases top teams are playing tests against minnow nations, they should rather play their A sides against them to make the game more competitive and that will also test out their bench strength before contesting bigger series.
19. ICC should overview that all test playing nations are giving enough priority to their domestic first class structure.
20. Show vintage test cricket batting/ bowling achievements of previous eras on large screens in the ground during lunch/ tea breaks with adequate announcements.
21. Increase the match fees of test cricket and create a separate performance based retirement fund (graded basis tests played, runs scored, wickets taken) for players who have played minimum of 20 tests or more for the country. This fund should be exclusively for test cricket. This should encourage more cricketers to play and stay in test cricket.
We strongly feel that if many of the above options are looked at by ICC, test cricket can get back it’s popularity to a great extent as it is upto ICC to take robust steps for revival of test cricket back to it’s old glory.