It is a rite of passage for a serious cricket fan to give a full throated speech embracing the majesty of test cricket. You feel that to belong, be a real fan you ought to like it, buttressed as it is by opinions of people who we think knows lot more about cricket. I myself have fallen into that trap few times but once you spend a few nights watching Suranga Lakmal try to bowl you tend to question your deepest convictions about test cricket. And in that frame of mind, I wonder whether the real fans are just trying to be pretentious and whether the cricketing gurus lack the outside the box thinking to take an objective look at test cricket. I wonder whether watching test cricket is like drinking wine, more an expression of our status and perceived superiority than an actual fun thing to do.
Football, basketball and badminton games are done in about two hours and crickets’ distant cousins, baseball with its own fading popularity, takes up all of four hours roughly. One would be hard pressed to find another global sports contest which takes five days to perhaps, if the curator has got it right and the bowling skills are upto it, decide on a winner. Golf comes to mind but one wonders whether that’s more a rich man thing or a business tool rather than a sport. Now let’s think about it. Forget what you know and feel about test cricket and let’s imagine you and your friends are thinking of a fun new game. Imagine if a friend, let’s say Chaminda, comes up with idea of a five day game potentially without a result and just think how crazy that would sound to his mates. It’s the kind of idea which is bound to come up in the Chamindas wedding toasts and serves as an auto retort whenever he gets too snarky with you. Yep test cricket is such a crazy idea. One can only surmise that test cricket is a product of English aristocracies’ fascination with doing anything other than work. Why else would the duration of test cricket fit perfectly to the five day work week?
Ashes might be fun for Poms and Aussies but that has a lot to do with the traditions associated with their upbringing. One gets the suspicion that, given the white man’s fixation with not looking pale; it is more a matter of getting a proper tan rather than anything else. The vastly different socioeconomic conditions existing in Sri Lanka probably doomed the assimilation of test cricket to our culture. Many of our people are in a constant battle to make ends meet and it is impractical to expect one to take five days off at a stretch. No, this is not the land of month long summer vacations. One can only imagine the death stares a private sector boss or a farming father would give if one dares to ask them for a five day break to mostly see guys’ dead bat a ball. As a developing country, people have lot of other things to do and frankly it is doubtful whether it is economically healthy for a country like ours to spend time watching test cricket. And Thank You but we are tan enough.
Perhaps cricket is the ultimate Trojan horse from our cunning colonial masters, designed to perpetually keep us in economic mediocrity. You could make the flimsy argument that Japan and Korea would never have developed as rapidly if they whiled away their hours watching cricket. Or you could even further stretch it that test cricket is the reason why the South Asians are still looking up at their East Asian cousins. Now if only the British had done cricket properly in Kenya and Uganda and Aussies had messed up their economy we would have a full blown fool proof politico-economic theory. Flimsy, but intriguing thoughts, for a few seconds. Only fun part of this stream of thought is to think that the South Asians took the Trojan horse and made him into a more galloping fun product in which the Poms, to their secret indignation, is horrible at.
Now we are told a thousand times by cricketing gods that tests are the ultimate examination of cricketing skill and that it should receive the highest priority from the cricketing establishment. Of course this only applies to times we don’t have IPL or any of the other fun and lucrative T20 leagues as even gods need to make ends meet. High levels of skills being displayed are apparent on the first day and the last two of a test match but one sometimes wonders what kind of skills are actually being exhibited in days two and three of test cricket when pitches resembles roads. To the untrained eye of a casual fan only “skills” that might be in display would be patience and perseverance .Now these are virtues in life in general but to the viewer this is only palatable in very small doses. Heck there is a reason that gardening is not a hit in sports channels.
Now if ICC really wants to develop test cricket as a viable product, it needs to dramatically change the game, pun intended. Few ideas which come to mind include Three Day Day-Night test matches and guaranteeing a result. Three day matches would ideally remove the day two and day three snore fests which really no one is going to miss other than Chanderpaul, Trott and those old guys at MCC. It would be like the Galle tests before the last one, which if ICC knew what they were doing, would actually have gotten a star instead of a warning. It would also fit neatly into the Friday to Sunday time slots where you would actually have a chance of getting a few people into the ground even with free entry. This would require more demanding pitches to be developed such that in general we would obtain a result in three days. Now if a groundsman is not talented enough as Mr Warnaweera to develop a three day pitch, they could actually utilize two pitches, a green one for the first innings and a turning track for the second half. Another advantage of the three day limit would be to reduce the wear and tear on pace bowlers who are falling like nine pins. If we put it right, even Lasith Malinga could be willing and able to put on the whites again.
No sporting contest should end without a result and it would be good to guarantee a result either based on first innings advantage, a per wicket scoring average or in the true spirit of test cricket, a percentage of balls faced without scoring or even a penalty block out system. Now the penalty block out system would be designed such that five batsmen from each side would face one over each with a wicket twice the normal size. The team losing the least number of wickets would win the match. I also have the sneaking suspicion that DRS leads to more results oriented cricket, though ideally I should have the stats to back me up on this. Through DRS, we can eliminate a significant portion of the benefit given to the batsmen in close decisions. The odd are stacked in favor of the batsman as is and if the ability to stretch your legs and kick a ball is a skill to be admired that should be in football not cricket.
In a world where entertainment options are exploding and attention spans are shortening, it is a valid question whether test cricket is a relic of times past. If it is indeed a relic, then the right thing to do is to build a museum of test cricket and get on with the more fun and exciting formats of cricket. I doubt that many people in Sri Lanka are really going to notice.