T20 Is Eating Test Cricket
Fast food? It’s all about instant gratification. Usually laced with salt and oozing with animal fat, it explodes on the taste buds and settles stodgily but satisfyingly on the stomach. Even better, it arrives in one’s grubby mitts within seconds. Who cares if it’s Americanised? Who cares if it’s just a patty in a bun? The queues are out of the door.
OK, I accept this analogy is an imperfect one. T20 cricket isn’t going to kill you if you consume too much of it. But it is Americanised, it is designed for the impatient, and the current surfeit of T20 is slowly killing Test cricket.
T20 is essentially a dumbed down version of the sport. Rather than lasting five days it’s over within three hours. The basic idea is for batsman to score as many runs as possible in a short period of time. This is most obviously achieved by whacking the ball miles – after which pop music blazes over speakers and scantily clad cheerleaders do a jig. The bowlers basically become cannon fodder. There’s skill involved, of course, but it’s pretty one-dimensional.
Test cricket, on the other hand, is a true battle between bat and ball - a game not only of skill but also of endurance, technique and patience. The game ebbs and flows over five days. Teams must be able to attack and defend. It’s more nuanced, tactical and sophisticated. Comparing Test cricket to T20 is like comparing chateaubriand to, well, a meat patty.
So why are crowds flocking to T20 while the traditional form slowly dies? Some say it’s because Test cricket is an anachronism and people are too busy to watch it. They’re wrong. Test cricket is still a brilliant product. What’s more, the enduring success of other longer sports proves there’s still room for epics as well as short stories in today’s fast-paced society. Cycling, a sport which requires even more spare time than it does lyrca, is absolutely booming. The Tour de France takes twenty-one days; a Test match takes five.
The big problem – and this is the crux of the issue – is that T20 is far easier to market to a mass audience. Everyone understands the concept of someone with a huge bat trying to smack the ball into orbit. Test cricket, on the other hand, is a far more complex proposition. It’s more complicated and takes times to seduce you.
What’s happened is therefore this: having euphorically realised that T20 is a real money-spinner, cricket’s administrators have become enamored with their new toy and focused solely on exploiting the windfall. Meanwhile they’ve carelessly, and shamefully, neglected the traditional form of the game.
Rather than trying to protect Test cricket, and market it as the brilliant sport it still is, the moneymen have ignored concerned traditionalists while squeezing in an ever increasing number of T20 tournaments. As a result, there’s no longer room in the schedule for a world Test championship – something desperately needed to provide context to test matches and raise interest worldwide. Of course, T20 already has a number of high-profile tournaments and its own heavily marketed World Cup.
So is T20 ruining Test cricket? The answer is both yes and no. As a game, T20 itself is fun to watch and a good way to introduce youngsters to the sport. The money it generates is also valuable. However, things have gone too far. What’s more, because tournaments like the Indian Premier League can pay leading players millions, the temptation for stars to turn their back on Test cricket prematurely is rising.
Unfortunately T20 is now a real and present danger to Test cricket. Not because the game itself is a monstrosity but because administrative incompetence and pure greed have turned it into a monster.
What’s particularly galling is that it didn’t have to be this way. T20 could have complemented Test cricket beautifully. Instead it’s going to eat it.