“Test cricket is dead.”
Those were the words of the ever-positive Michael Vaughan during an interview last week. While he holds a somewhat mixed reputation as a pundit, here Mr Vaughan is most certainly correct.
This article is not titled “The Survival of Test Cricket”, as you will no doubt realise after checking the title again, but simply “The Survival of Cricket”. There can be no mistake that if Test cricket recedes into the shadow of the white ball game then “The Most Beautiful Game” will never be the same.
Vaughan’s comments came in response to Chris Silverwood, England’s head coach, refusing to rule out squad rotation in the upcoming Ashes series. If England do persist with a system that saw them without Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran and Mark Wood, how can they expect to challenge, let alone defeat, Australia in their own backyard?
Rotation is important, of that there is no doubt, most of all for the mental health of the players. The “bio-secure” bubbles of modern cricket are rightfully acknowledged as difficult and debilitating, especially when the pre-Covid schedule for some international players was already too exacting. But failure in India and not making it to the World Test Final show that this team is not where it should be. In the white ball game England continue to mix it with the best, narrowly losing 3-2 to India in the latest T20 series and only a few days ago brilliantly winning the second ODI. Nor should it be forgotten that England are still World Champions.
And yet they languish in a distant fourth in the World Test Championship. Clearly improvement is required and forcing rotation upon a struggling squad is not the solution.
However the central issue here is not one of rotation. This is just another example of the cricketing world diminishing the importance and respect given to Test cricket. Perhaps the white-ball game is more exciting and that may be more important in an increasingly fast-paced world. But there is one defining difference between Test cricket and any other form of the game: quality. Only in Test cricket do you see sporting moments of truly exceptional quality. To name but a few examples: the 2005 Ashes which produced a period of ecstasy throughout the country, Ben Stokes’ truly exceptional century to win the Headingley Test against the Old Enemy, or even India’s latest Test victory in Australia.
The quality of these moments is not found in other sports. In no other game must someone play exceptionally for five days. In football, it’s 90 minutes, in rugby, it’s 80 minutes, in basketball only 48 minutes. Yet if a batsman scores a match-winning century they must play without error for several days. Two days of Test cricket amounts to 720 minutes. The difference in intensity is obvious.
All this being said, should a game be saved if it needs saving? Surely if it is not popular then it must take the hint and become a footnote in history? It is hard to argue against this logic. But then again it is hard to argue for it. If cynicism is to become the modus operandi of the sporting world then there is little point anyway. It is the romance of Test cricket that makes it truly special. In no other sport can you amble along to the ground and in searing or feeble sunshine watch a sport slowly come to the most epic of climaxes. Sometimes the match ends disappointingly but when it comes down to a few balls or the final wicket, the wait is always worth it.
Test cricket must be saved and continue to be prioritised. If it is relegated to the same treatment as white-ball cricket then its quality will fade. Test cricket thrives only when it is played by the best of the best. Why the cricketing world would want to take that away is simply a mystery to me.
If the world loses Test cricket then it will have most certainly lost one of its finest games, and perhaps a little bit more of its magic.
Image: Ben Sutherland via Flickr