Sunday, June 21, 2009

Test Match or T20?

This debate seems to be happening everywhere. Newspapers, websites, cricket forums, columns, news channels, debating shows, on the tea-stalls near offices, canteens, messes, buses, trains, airplanes, and even on the cricket field. The latest format of cricket seems to have taken the world by storm. Reducing the five-day game to mere 3 hours of action packed hitting around the park. Of course, bowlers too have their say, and fielders have to be athletes of the highest quality to prevent runs from being scored.

Talks have been doing the round that Test cricket is on its way to death, T20 is the 'in'-thing. To justify their arguments, people talk of the huge response to IPL and the T20 world cup. What also provided fillip to T20 in India was the Indian team's victory in the inaugural edition of the T20 WC. And then IPL took T20 a step further and tried (with some success) to become like the footballs leagues in England. Building loyalties around cities and franchises, rather than states. Critics point out to the decreasing popularity of Test cricket by pointing out to the empty stands in the Nagpur test between India and England in 2008. They point that Test cricket is unsuited for the fast lifestyle of today and T20 cricket allows us to enjoy the game in under 3 hours and then get on with our work. Yes, we have changed. Our lifestyles have changed. Quick value for money is the mantra for today.

But then, really, does T20 provide all the excitement that we desire in a sport? As Sachin Tendulkar said, in T20 a batsman is 'good' if he can hit the ball around the park for three or four overs. So, a Yuvraj Singh is a must in T20. When he hit Stuart Broad for six sixes in the WC match in South Africa, it was considered a great display of batting. A bowler with bowling figures of 4-0-20-0 (O-M-R-W), is considered 'good'. The bowler's main activity is to stop flow of runs. The bowler doesn't need to trap a batsman into committing mistakes to get him out. So, we see spinners of the highest quality relying more on line and length, rather than flight and turn. Imagine Harbhajan Singh bowling yorkers, straighter and flat through the air deliveries. Where is his craft as a spinner put to display? In very very few situations, I would say.

The other end of the spectrum is Test cricket. Spread over five days, it requires a team to bowl its opposition out twice over. Or, if batting second, score more runs that the other team's combined first and second innings total. Only then can it be declared a winner. It tests the grit and determination of batsmen and bowlers alike, their skill to endure onslaughts. Batsmen have to face swinging deliveries, bouncers, four slips, and a point. A slight nudge outside the off stump and the batsman may loose his wicket. Sachin faced this problem in the 1999 and 2004 tour of Australia. But in the third test match, he was determined to get back the flow of runs. So determined that he didn't touch any ball bowled outside his off-stump. Such was his judgment that he knew exactly where his off-stump was, and left everything that was outside it. Almost all of Sachin's runs came off the leg side. People may call this defeatist mentality, but Sachin managed to frustrate the Australian bowlers and simultaneously get back the flow of runs. In the 2007 tour, he was seen teasing Brett Lee by hitting him over the slip cordon and scoring runs easily.

The grit and determination of V.V.S. Laxman, in the third test during India's tour to Australia in 1999 is also an innings to remember. Though Laxman's century was played in a lost cause, the sheer determination and cricketing shots displayed in the 167 runs that he scored is amazing. Australia didn't have it easily. Not to forget, the second test match of the India-Australia series in 2001. Where he and Rahul Dravid stitched together a record-breaking partnership and India went to score a victory over Australia after being asked to follow on, the third instance that such a thing happened in Test cricket's history.

I am not a very good cricket historian. So spotting anecdotes from cricket history is difficult for me. But, Maharashtra's famous cricket historian and writer Shireesh Kanekar has a thing or two for Test cricket. He says that while in one-day cricket (or T20 for that matter) how the runs are scored do not matter. But in Test cricket, it is very important for the batsman not to play rash shots. In Test cricket, bowlers always have a chance of coming back, not so in ODIs or T20s. It is actually appalling to see bowlers bowling flat trajectory balls or yorkers in T20s. In a test match, the bowler would have to bowl a mix of flighted deliveries, straight, flat and yorkers. Add to the fact that there would be a slip, a short-leg, silly mid-off and possibly a leg-slip, all waiting to pounce upon the nick that the bat might produce. A few runs given wouldn't matter if they could bring a wicket. In swinging conditions, bowlers would bowl with three slips and a point maintaining a line just around the off-stump. If the batsman manages to hit a few strokes through the off-side, it didn't matter, because the bowler could always try what he wanted.

On the other hand, for a batsman, it is essential to play strokes as correctly as possible. Test cricket can have a lot of scenarios in which batsmen would be required to change their batting style. There could be periods when attacking is possible, periods when wickets need to be conserved and periods where the run rate needs to be maintained. All these situations require a different skill set from the batsman. Not all batsman can be good Test players. Scoring runs in any possible manner isn't the name of the game in Test matches. Scoring them according to the situation is much more important. Sometimes conserving the wickets itself helps save a Test match. Remember England 2007? India couldn't win the third Test because they couldn't bowl England out in the second innings. Although India had the upper hand all through out the match.

Overall, I feel that a Test match is like our life. It goes through periods of highs and lows and we have to fight it out and overcome our adversaries to score a victory. There is no victory if the opposition is not vanquished. Remember Chennai 1999? Sachin Tendulkar, nursing an injured back played a brilliant knock of 136 to bring India close to the target. While India lost the test match by 12 runs, Sachin's knock was a display about how Test cricket should be played. About T20, my feeling is that it is like drugs, which give a temporary high, but then leave us with a vacuum.

So, let T20 remain for those who like to enjoy the temporary highs, but let Test cricket flourish for fans like us, who want a wholesome game.

P.S. Did anyone mention the empty stands during IPL-2? Well, it seems that T20 cricket can't attract enough crowds either
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  1. Yea my hubby felt the same...they were playing cool as if it was a test match...

  2. Nice post! I am not that much of a T-20 fan either...but it gives a temporary high...

    T-20 is one dimensional at most....a bad start, or two quick wickets, and the team then just starts to hope that the other side implode...I've hardly seen the comeback from behind kind of victory (which even though really short, you can see in Football,Soccer, Hockey, Basket-ball etc)...Even in ODI's, the player and the team gets ample opportunity to show their resolve and grit....
    Afterall, there is nothing better than a fifth days play, with one team throwing everything that they have to get the other team all out and the batting side hanging by the thread to save the game!
    Of the many Indians here, I am in a minority of people who wake up early/sleep late watching test cricket (I saw most of the Aus-SA series). Hopefully, Test cricket survives!

  3. @Radhika,
    Thanks for the comments.

    Welcome to the rare and diminishing flock of Test-cricket lovers!!

  4. @Kaushik,
    Yes, this coming back from behind is what makes Test cricket exciting. Of course, the pitch on which the match is played should also support competitive cricket. The pitch shouldn't be a batting paradise only. It should offer support to bowlers as well. Neither should it be a batsman's nightmare. Although, it is sometimes fun to see batsmen being tested. This separates the boys from the men.

  5. Phew.. dont have an opinion here..Better to be quiet here :P

  6. @Shweta,

    Don't you watch cricket? Why, it is a religion in India, and if you do not watch, you are a kafir. It is blasphemy!

  7. t20 is fun, commercial, quick. its a different kind of test while TEST is a different class. until till have a 3-day test cricket, which i think did happen sometime--maybe cause of rain delays--Test cricket is there to stay. maybe it will become a retired club cricket! goodness knows. im watchin the 50 over game today and it seems long! too much of t20 sure is not good.

  8. @puresunshine,

    Yes, that is all T20 is about. Commercialisation of sport. It serves no other purpose. About being a 'test' of different kind, yes, probably when you want to improve your crunch-time decision making skills. But no display of those classic strokes, where each ball is played to its merit. Only brute-force action to deliver as many runs as possible.