Kumar Sangakkara: ‘Test cricket is where your name is made’

Given the prestige attached to World Cup victories, does Test cricket need a World Test championship tomaintain its pre-eminence?

I was all in favour of starting that concept as soon as possible, even though putting it back [to 2017] has given Sri Lanka some breathing space to rebuild. It would only increase the drive and enthusiasm of Test players to really fight it out when the going gets tough, and this can only increase the spectacle of Test cricket.

Personally, and I expect for a lot of other players as well, I find that each Test match is a genuine event in itself and doesn’t require more meaning. But what a World Test Championship would do is give more meaning for fans, especially in Sri Lanka, where Test cricket is not ingrained and for a lot of the public it does lack meaning.

After the two recently concluded World Cups in the shorter format of the games, it would have been an ideal way of gauging exactly where Test cricket does stand with the cricket watching public in comparison with ODIs and Twenty20s.

Putting it back is really disappointing. Cricket does need it and I would be fascinated to feel the intensity of a Test final. Test cricket is the most intense format and I thrive on it. Notching it up another gear would be the ultimate test. Personally it’s a real shame that I will not be around to experience it now.
Despite your record in Test cricket, you’ve never had the chance to experience a five-Test series. Does this annoy you, or is it something you have grown to accept given Sri Lanka’s long-held status as minnows? And do you think that England’s attitude to Sri Lanka, right up until Murali’s Test in 1998, helped to damage the version of the sport they hold most dear? 

I think if in our early days we had been given more Tests the standard of Sri Lankan cricket would have improved a lot quicker and, to me, it was very shortsighted to introduce a new country to the international stable then treat them with disdain. But such is life and we have managed to rise above it.
I know the players in the generation that preceded me felt deprived of opportunities in the Test arena. I would love to have experienced the challenge of playing a five-Test series, especially from the mental side, but I never expected to and thus I am not disappointed that I haven’t. What I can’t stand are two-Test series. They cheapen the product and are not worth the trouble. Abolish them now and make it compulsory for all series to be at least three matches long.
I think the mistake the old guardians made was in not seeing where cricket was going in general and thus not being ready to deal with the challenges that Tests faced when Twenty20 exploded. In fairness even at the start of my career it was unforeseeable that the game would change so much in a decade.
To me, though, when the future of cricket is discussed it should be just that, cricket and not the individual formats. ODIs kick-started a more aggressive approach to the longer format of the game and Twenty20 has accelerated it. Look at Test run-rates for example, Test cricket is definitely better to watch now. All the formats make up cricket and they should be seen as an entirety that all benefit the overall good of the game.
Have you noticed a sea-change in Test cricket’s status in the course of your career? If so, how does this impact on younger players coming into Test cricket? Is it harder to motivate players for a five-day game than it might have been before the limited-overs boom?

 No it isn’t. Players themselves love Test cricket. There are so many ODIs and Twenty20s that players who have experienced Test cricket really start to crave it, especially when in our case we can go months and months without playing a Test. Just about every player accepts that Test cricket is the most complete test of skills and that the best in the long run always shine.

No matter how lucrative other versions get, hearts and minds are still held by Tests for the vast majority of players.

All the young players in the Sri Lankan set-up are totally focused on Test cricket, because it’s where your name is made and you are recognised as a quality player.

There is obviously a lot more competition for the public’s attention since my career started and the challenge is to achieve the primacy that the game holds for the players with the public. There needs to be discourse between players and the public, and players should take every opportunity to promote the game and establish its primacy.

How culpable are the boards in undermining Test cricket as a spectacle, not least in Sri Lanka, by moving matches from beautiful atmospheric grounds such as Kandy to soulless concrete bowls? How vital is the spectator experience to the overall product? Seven hours for five days is a big investment to ask from viewers. How much does it affect the players when there’s next to no crowd?

 I think some of our scheduling around Tests is not the best. Two-Test series must go and playing West Indies last season during the monsoons was not ideal. I wouldn’t describe Pallekelle as a ‘soulless concrete bowl’, but I take your point. It is absolutely crucial, especially in the subcontinent where public transport is not of the same standard and reliability as in the West, that internationals stadiums are built in areas of high population density, preferably in the cities themselves.

 This is a bigger problem in India, which is bigger than Sri Lanka and some of the out-station stadiums seem to be miles from anywhere. If people are 50/50 about coming to a day at the Test, then a two-hour bus journey is not going to swing them.

In Sri Lanka we have to improve facilities at the grounds make it a real family day out, with more sheltered seating, kids attractions, better food etc. It’s vital that we get the kids watching Test cricket as they are the ones who will carry the tradition forward over here.

It would be a bit of a dream come true for me to play a test at the SSC in front of a full house of Sri Lankans. The only time it’s full is when we play England and the Barmy Army takes over. Wouldn’t it be great if we could have the Sri Lankan fans enjoying themselves like they do at the ODIs and the Barmy Army all in the same stadium?

Sri Lanka is cricket mad and although most of our Tests outside of Galle are poorly attended, the public will still be following. I would like to see a TV blackout for Tests in the city where they are being played. I’m sure that would get people inside. It’s a tricky one though; broadcasting money is so huge and so important to so many different levels of the game in Sri Lanka, that nothing should be done to harm the deals. All the same …

Is it too easy to find something else to do these days? Have attention spans been limited by proliferation of cable TV, smartphones, or does that actually help people to follow the sport, albeit from a distance?

I think technology is great for Test cricket especially. In Sri Lanka I reckon people are so intrigued by the technology that they tune in just to see what’s it’s all about. I would like to see more of it. Even get GPS involved. If Test cricket is to achieve the global primacy we want, then the technology for it has to be world-class and there is a lot more need for it in Tests than the shorter forms of the game. I am all for using social media to build up interest and following in the game. Businesses are now using it, so why shouldn’t we? Technology and the decisions they produce are great talking points on social media forums.

How will you be judged for posterity? What would it mean to be bracketed, say, with men such as Bradman, Hammond, Miandad and Gavaskar? Is that more important than the money that can be made from the game?

Personally I would love to be remembered as the greatest player who ever lived. The great thing about modern-day cricket is that you can do both. No one should be scared of saying ‘this is my job, I have a family, I want to make as much money as I can’, but the youngsters must realize that this entails hard work, serious work over years and that to sit on the top table of earners 99 times out of 100 you have to do your stuff in Test cricket. I happen to think that superstar Twenty20 specialists are a misnomer. Look at Warner of Australia, if you can perform amongst the best in Twenty20, you can do it in Tests.
Eventually I would like to see a reversion to the old order, and Test cricket returning to being the highest-paid form of the game.

Is this viable?

I hope so, in fact think so eventually. It’s all about making Test cricket the pinnacle.

by Richard Browne

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