T20 glamour pushes Tests further into the margins

After the entertainment and atmosphere in the Caribbean, the ICC cannot play a long game in reviving five-day contests as a spectator sport, argues Stephen Brenkley

All cricketers presume it to be their duty to protect Test cricket. Whenever they are invited, which is often, they rattle on about its virtues, intensity and skill. Kumar Sangakkara, the captain of Sri Lanka, was enlisted to the cause the other day and he seemed to be following the script perfectly. "To me there's nothing better than playing Test cricket," he said.

Then he embellished: "To a spectator maybe it will be different. Test cricket is something that probably the players and maybe the purists value very, very highly. But in the modern day not many people have the time, nor do many grounds cater for a family day out, to watch the cricket. So maybe the entertainment, the pace at which it is played, the convenience of watching a complete match in three hours appeals to a lot of people."

And there you had it. Twenty20 cricket has been around for seven years now since it was devised in England and there is as yet no sign of an itch. The third edition of the World Twenty20, following hard on the heels of the third version of the Indian Premier League, or IPL III, has been a ripping success.

Not every match has been close, some have been dire, but it has been constantly engrossing. The atmosphere has certainly helped. It seems that at every match rows of local musicians have been invited in to ensure an authentic Caribbean atmosphere in which it is impossible not to become caught up. Not every match has been a sell-out and there were worryingly few at England's semi-final against Sri Lanka in St Lucia, but then again this was a match involving neutral countries, the ninth at the venue in a fortnight (13th counting warm-up games) on a workday morning in a country of 150,000 people. By and large the spectators have been excitable, the cricket exciting.

Nor has it been solely a batsman's game, which is in any case a myth about Twenty20. Bowlers may have to display different skills from those they require in the longer game, but they are not merely cannon fodder.

Until yesterday's final the 52 innings so far played in the competition had yielded 337 wickets, just as the events in 2007 and 2009 had brought 348 and 337 respectively. Until Pakistan clobbered their bowling on Friday night (and look what good that did them), Australia had bowled out their opponents in all five of their previous matches.

Run rates have dropped slightly in each of its versions, from 7.99 per over in South Africa in 2007, to 7.63 in England last summer and down to 7.52 in the West Indies until yesterday. Part of that has been down to the slowness of the pitches in Guyana and St Lucia but it has also been assisted by smart bowling – bowlers have always had to respond to batsmen through the ages – and athletic fielding by almost every side. In the recent IPL, 8.13 runs were scored an over which might, just, indicate that the bowling and fielding were not quite as good as the batting.

The number of fours has fallen dramatically from 667 in 2009 to 482 in 2010 (better fielding, slower outfields), but there has been a record number of sixes. Batsmen have always been prepared to gamble in T20 but they have become more adept at recognising when it is safer to do so. Nobody can deny that the format at this level demands a huge level of skill since nobody on either side has much time for formal sparring.

So, the question now is not whether T20 is here to stay (it is) but whether Test cricket can survive its assault. For months, perhaps years, the International Cricket Council, has been promising a paper with recommendations to make Test cricket more appealing. Whispers suggest these largely revolve round a Test match championship but, whatever it is, it has been too long in coming.

When England arrive home tomorrow at least seven members of their squad must start preparing for the Test series against Bangladesh which starts at Lord's on Thursday next week. It is a Test series in name only because in England at this time of year the tourists will be more out of their depth than a nun in a bordello.

As an international event it could have been designed to ensure no spectators turn up and few will. By itself the unfortunate juxtaposition of an engrossing World Twenty20 and a pitiable Test series will bring into harsh focus the very raison d'être of the latter. Not even players hell-bent on paying lip service to tradition will be able to keep a straight face.

Immediately after his triumphant innings for Australia in their improbable semi-final win against Pakistan last week, Mike Hussey said it was his best moment on a cricket field. He liked Twenty20, he said, because the people liked it and it was obviously a way for youngsters to become involved in and enthralled by the game before moving on to Test cricket. He fell just short of saying it was like moving from low pop to high opera.

Test cricket should not be doomed because it remains at its (rare) best a riveting, brave spectacle – the Ashes last summer, the matches against South Africa last winter. But it has lost spectator appeal not only because T20 is more obviously exciting and tends to narrow the gap between competing sides (how refreshing that the two best sides reached the final yesterday) but because too many series are far from being between equally matched teams. Test cricket may be the best form of sport devised by man but it needs people to watch it and that means contests in which both teams have a chance of winning. It was never meant to be a private affair.

In every country but England, the watching of Test cricket is out of fashion, to put it politely, and the Bangladesh visit will push that loyalty. The senior players today mean what they say. But there is no reason to believe they will be followed by their younger colleagues, who have known only Twenty20 cricket.

It demands as much of their attention but less of their time and the rewards will be greater. Test cricket is alive still but it is less than sprightly. It would be well advised to keep looking over its shoulder, not necessarily because it might be stabbed in the back by T20, but to keep checking that everyone has not disappeared.

The statistics

2 Centuries hit in the tournament - by Suresh Raina (101) against South Africa on 2 May and Mahela Jayawardene (100) against Zimbabwe the next day.



14 Leading number of wickets, taken by Australia's Dirk Nannes



7 Sixes in an individual innings, the top amount, scored by Chris Gayle and David Warner, both against India

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...