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T20: Is it Over for Test Cricket?

The introduction of Twenty20 has been arguably the most innovative and influential development in cricket in the last 40 years. It has brought excitement and drama and a new set of skills to the game. It has also brought exposure, investment and, above all, a new generation of fans in great numbers.

England_vs_Sri_Lanka T20But while Twenty20 packs out 80,000 seat stadia in India and Australia, Test match cricket is struggling to fill much smaller grounds and, in England, attendances at county championship games are dwindling to almost vanishing point.India v SA

To what extent are these two phenomena connected? Has Twenty20 revived a game that was dying on its feet or have its crude attractions and rampant commercialism further undermined the traditional game?

Or are other factors at play? Is Test match cricket simply too slow and time-consuming to meet the demands of our modern lifestyles? Has Test cricket simply had its day?

Does it matter – and if it does, how can Test cricket win back the fans?

James Morgan

The Full Toss

James Morgan is the co-founder and editor of the Full Toss cricket blog.

He is a freelance copywriter, historian and author of Into New Territory: American Historians and the Concept of US Imperialism.

James has worked in advertising and marketing for over a decade and has taught modern American history at Southampton University. But his real area of expertise is cricket.

Founded in 2009, The Full Toss is an independent voice of English cricket and a platform for amateur cricket writers to express their views.

It follows the England team from a fan’s perspective, and gives its community of followers a chance to vent their feelings about team selection, management, officialdom, the spectator experience and more.

The site is all about expressing and revelling in the emotions of ordinary England supporters – the people who follow cricket in the wind, the rain, the gloom and, occasionally, the hot sun too.

Peter Casterton

Drop In Pitch

Peter Casterton left Oxford with a law degree and lawyered in the City before his inner maverick propelled him into the theatre and then publishing. He has worked for The Sunday Times magazine, Dorling Kindersley and the Quarto Group as a writer and editor in adult and children’s non-fiction before launching his own publishing company.

Peter has loved cricket since he was knee high to a grasshopper. He began writing blog articles a couple of years ago. His breakthrough article was Inside the Turtle Tank, which anticipated themes raised in Kevin Pietersen’s autobiography and went viral when it triggered a bitter Twitter fall-out between Piers Morgan and Jonathan Agnew. Since then, he has written for The Cricketer magazine and won the 2015 Wisden writing competition.


Peter launched his blog in 2015 with a view to challenging some of the easy orthodoxy that inculcates the frustrating but ever-engaging world of cricket. Shaped by his views, which slant towards sceptical, he hopes it will develop into a platform where talented writers can prick and prod establishment ideas along with their gate keepers.

Peter blogs and tweets as Tregaskis.


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.


Greed Not T20 Is The Threat

It is part of Test cricket’s ying and yang that every generation looks back at some golden age or other from a vantage point that’s allegedly crumbling beneath its feet. The hand-wringers and doom-mongers have moaned and wailed about the decline of Test cricket from the time WH Knight edited Wisden 140 years ago. When the Sporting Times wrote its obituary of English cricket in 1882, it really had not witnessed a death throe but an early shift in cricket’s evolution.

Cricket between the wars was widely thought to be in decline. Neville Cardus felt the early 1900s were a golden age that ended not because of the Great War but because of the move towards professionalism. The Tablet, in 1946, blamed a fickle public.

Rob Steen in a recent Cricinfo piece in support of five-day Tests reminded us that 50 years ago, Wisden was apoplectic about the drab cricket and grimmer attendances. "English cricket at a crossroads" it roared in a something-must-be-done editorial that would not look out of place today. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Even so, it would be obtuse not to acknowledge that there is an overwhelming concern about the future of Test cricket. Professional commentators and keyboard pundits are filling cyberspace with pixelated angst and pet theories and there is plenty of finger jabbing in the direction of Twenty20. But the charges really don’t stack up.

The measure of Test cricket’s health depends on which metric one chooses. Attendances at Test grounds around the country have been pretty miserable outside London. Then again, attendances at international and domestic cricket matches reached record levels last summer, suggesting a sport in recovery.

Internationally, the picture is more patchy. India seems to have fallen out of love with Test cricket. The IPL T20 competition is now the heart and stomach of the nation's cricket, a beat bought into by its broadcasters and digested by its fans and celebrity moneymakers. Yet in 2016-17, India will play 13 home Tests and just three T20s. In Australia, the Big Bash is an astonishingly successful Twenty20 competition with an average attendance of 28,246. Yet Test cricket in Australia is as robust and rude in health as it ever has been.

The existential battle taking place in cricket is not between Tests and Twenty20. It’s a conflict between self-interest and growing the game, politicking over good governance. It’s a fight for the soul and future of the whole game best described by Gideon Haigh who asks, “does cricket make money to exist or does it exist to make money?”

The money-grubbing boards of India, England and Australia plot strategies and concoct outcomes in their opulent oasis like another Big Three sharing out the spoils at Potsdam. They have stolen the game, grabbed the power, picked the fixtures and pocketed the money. Beyond these three, national boards occupy a precarious financial space somewhere between bare survival and bankruptcy.

Sam Collins got it right in his opening remarks in the seminal documentary film Death of a Gentleman – “140 years of history was buried in the urban desert of Dubai … It’s about greed, power and the endless pursuit of more, and precious things are lost along the way.”

In England at least this angst runs deeper still and is fuelled by a crisis in recreational sport. Participation in grass-roots cricket has been collapsing for years. Clubs are closing, the volunteers are missing, games are conceded because teams can’t be raised. Complex social and cultural reasons are at play in shaping this narrative. The shifting interests of the public are feeding cricket’s decline now just as they did when The Tablet was pressing its readers to shoulder the blame 70 years ago.

The next time you read that Test cricket’s problems rest at Twenty20’s door, think again. The issue deserves better analysis than that.


While it’s true that Test cricket has had problems in the past, it has never played second fiddle to a different version of the same sport before - at least not to this extent. While the ‘big three’ power grab in Dubai was hugely damaging, many of these reforms are being rolled back by new International Cricket Council chairman Shashank Manohar.

What’s noticeable, however, is that despite Manohar’s good intentions, there’s still no plan to resuscitate Test cricket: India effectively vetoed a plan to introduce two divisions, which many believe would have raised interest and added context to matches, a few weeks ago.

While Test attendances in England and Australia are relatively robust, Test cricket is in big trouble elsewhere. India, of course, holds the key: it’s by far the biggest market, dominates the ICC and subsidises other countries to a significant extent. Although India plays a lot of Test matches, the games are not well attended. The IPL franchises and India’s limited overs teams are the priority. While India remains enamoured with T20, the outlook seems bleak.

Sadly, for the first time ever, Test cricket is no longer the pinnacle for many aspiring youngsters. They’d rather be a big T20 star and earn millions for a few weeks’ work than dedicate themselves to Test success. This is having a detrimental effect on the quality of Test cricket because many players now lack the watertight technique needed at the highest level. This is a direct result of the T20 revolution.

While it would obviously be wrong to blame T20 for all Test cricket’s ills – politics, inevitably, is a massive roadblock – the twenty over format simply isn’t helping.

It’s true that cricket administration has become a battle between self-interest and growing the game but T20 is often the means by which nefarious influences pursue their financial self-interest.


We need to address more clearly the focus of this debate. The issue is not whether Twenty20 is a worthy format, but whether it is responsible for a decline in Test cricket. It is no more valid to define Twenty20 as hit and giggle than it is to dismiss Test cricket as boring.

I’m reminded of Lawrence Olivier’s put down of movies – “I suppose this anaemic little medium can't take great acting.” It was a pompous conceit. The worst of it was that the financial rewards of film acting subsidised Olivier’s theatre activities - just as Twenty20 keeps counties afloat today.

Test cricket and Twenty20 are both highly successful formats in Australia. Both are marketed superbly. The cricket is visible and vibrant. The average Big Bash attendance in Australia is 28,346; at the IPL in India it’s 31,750. In England, the Blast limps in behind even the West Indies’ CPL with a damp squib 6,572. The performance of the Blast is the most pressing concern of England's administrators. But in the city-based solution being forced through by the ECB, it could be that the greatest threat to the counties which feed Test cricket flows not from the success of Twenty20 but from its perceived failure.

Maybe Test cricket’s true problem is that it wants to stay the same, just as county chairmen want to protect their historic position in defiance of a changing commercial landscape. Boards and players are reluctant to embrace day-night Tests. A two-tier Test system has been blocked by the Indian administrators. Test grounds in England provide a questionable spectator experience with high ticket prices and poor facilities. Unlike One Day Internationals, Tests have stayed stubbornly impervious to the more aggressive approach introduced by Twenty20.

Twenty20 provides a gateway for players and fans, just as the Chance to Shine initiative does for kids, to cricket in all its forms.


Test cricket is alive and well in Australia. So is theT20 Big Bash. They live side by side in harmony. But this debate isn’t about Australia, or even England. It’s about dwindling Test attendances everywhere else. Test cricket might be marketed well down under but this isn’t the case elsewhere.

Test cricket is not unwilling to change. Indeed it has changed considerably over the last twenty years. Run rates have increased dramatically – a result of the aggressive Australian batting that predated T20. The standard of fielding has improved and fitness levels are incomparable too. What’s more, cricket has embraced technology with both hands: computers are used both to analyse performances and improve umpiring decisions. Test cricket certainly isn’t unwilling to innovate.

Although some might portray Test cricket as an anachronism, there is no compelling evidence that social and cultural changes make it irrelevant in today’s world. If anything, modern technology should make cricket more accessible. After all, it can be followed on a range of devices over the Internet.

The problem, of course, is that Test cricket isn’t being marketed as modern and sexy. Instead it’s playing second fiddle to T20. The marketing men realise it’s hard to sell something that lacks a compelling structure, has no context to matches or a means of declaring an undisputed champion. My question is, why Test cricket doesn’t have these things? It’s because, in the administrators’ eyes, it’s just too difficult. While T20 cricket is filling the coffers, there’s no desperate need to salvage Test cricket.

Although T20 has its place and is an enjoyable spectacle, it’s now the form of game administrators want newcomers to watch. They claim that T20 is a gateway drug: but is there actually any evidence that once kids are hooked on the short form they’ll inevitably fall in love with a longer game that’s very different?

If anything, experience should tell administrators that most cricket fans over the age of 30 fell in love with Test cricket long before T20 was even played professionally. Gateways can open from both sides.

The big issue is not whether Test cricket is better or worse than T20, it’s why our administrators have so little faith in the longer form. In this modern world, where access to different sports has never been greater, Test cricket has to compete with football, rugby, NFL, darts, cycling and a host of others. And now it has to compete with a different version of the same game too.

If Test cricket isn’t even the most visible form of cricket and has to compete for the affections of its own administrators, what hope has it got? Without T20, at least administrators would be forced to show Test cricket some love.


The power of the Indian BCCI administrators is undeniably an issue for world cricket, but it’s a concern that does not start and finish with India’s infatuation with Twenty20. The recent appointment of Shashank Manohar as International Cricket Council chairman and a number of setbacks in the Indian Supreme Court has seen a loosening of BCCI hegemony and some rowing back on the Big Three’s self-serving reforms.

Let’s be clear, the BCCI’s decisions are not shaped by the IPL juggernaut any more than they are driven by altruism. As the ICC and other national boards seek ways to rejuvenate Test cricket, the BCCI measures every fresh proposal against its impact on India’s control of the game and share of the spoils. Two divisions for Test cricket, four-day Tests, cricket as an Olympic sport, Lord Woolf’s proposed governance reforms have each been blackballed by India as contrary to its interests.

A power struggle is emerging between the ICC and BCCI’s new president Anurag Thakur, with India threatening to pull out of this initiative or that competition. But amid even this divisive and uncertain context, Ireland and Afghanistan are expected to acquire Test status in 2019.

India is scheduled to play 13 home Tests in 2016-17. Attendances still flourish at traditional venues across the sub-continent. Beyond the Big Three, Test cricket remains strong in South Africa, particularly at Newlands and Centurian. As cricket writer Jarrod Kimber pointed out, there are so many different ways of following the sport that Test cricket has more fans now than at any point in its history.

Elsewhere, different challenges are affecting the game – security in Pakistan and Bangladesh, politics in Zimbabwe and West Indies. No problem is the same, no format is to blame, no idea a fix-all.

Test cricket and its place in a changing commercial, social and technological landscape is crying out for joined-up thinking from its administrators. Things like growing the sport beyond its colonial outposts, establishing a pathway for affiliate and associate members to gain Test status, addressing the lack of visibility caused by paywalls and high ticket pricing, improving marketing and enhancing the visitor experience, pulling back from ridiculous playing schedules that cause player and viewer fatigue. These objectives aren’t being addressed because the so-called custodians of cricket do not want to release their vice-like grip on money and control.

Cricket writer George Dobell is cautious but sanguine telling me, “Twenty20 is cricket’s shop window … Isn’t it possible that a portion of the new audience attracted by Twenty20 will graduate to the longest form?” The old Sunday League one day game was Dobell’s gateway drug. Twenty20 is simply the current fix to get folk hooked. Its success can be part of the solution. We just need to be less jaundiced and more visionary.