Pit the same two teams against each other in different places or in different weather and you’ll get a different match. It’s what makes Test cricket more intriguing than the upside-down picture of a crow with human legs in my local pub.
With such breadth comes varying levels of entertainment though. Efforts should be made to ensure Tests are played in different conditions to ensure that variety but some types of matches are quite simply more exciting than others. Looking at the current Sri Lanka v India Test, it’s shaping up like a fairly typical modern Test match. Good players, good cricket but at the time of writing, a declaration seemed likely at some point and frankly I’m getting a bit sick of declarations.
Compare that Test to the low-scoring thriller played out between Pakistan and Australia at Headingley last week. That’s the kind of cricket that grabs me by the nostril hairs and yanks them repeatedly. It was impossible to ignore.
Test attendances throughout the world are poor but a lot of Tests are poor too. Run scoring’s high but excitement low. Is there some fundamental confusion brought about by one-day cricket and Twenty20? In these formats runs are all that’s needed for victory. You need runs in a Test but wickets are the actual currency. If wickets aren’t falling in a Test, you’re not getting any nearer a result. The whole spectator experience hinges on that.
Declarations are too common. To me, a Test match should be about how many runs a team can score, not how many a team chooses to score. With swing and seam at Headingley, runs suddenly had more value. Rather than being methodically amassed and stockpiled, they were sought out like a valuable commodity. Singles mattered, twos were vital and boundaries were priceless. With runs worth more, field settings were more important. Most importantly of all, bowlers were a source of entertainment, rather than conveyor belts bearing sustenance for the batsmen.
The upshot of all of this was that pretty much every ball was worth watching. You didn’t just think: “Partnership building here. I’ll pop out for a few hours and see if a wicket’s fallen when I get back.” If you went out at some point during Pakistan v Australia, you could have missed a match-winning, counterattacking hundred partnership or a whole innings. The game would have moved on. You’d have actually missed something.
My point is that an innings of 500 is not five times as exciting as one of 100. A target’s a target, so in reality they’re equally exciting. However, for the very same reason, a run is one fifth as exciting in the high scoring match because it’s only one fifth as important. In the highly unlikely event that Test cricket pitches were consistently made a little more challenging for batsmen, maybe people would be five times as interested in each day’s play.
Of course that’s a deliberately ludicrous statement, but is it massively untrue? I do think that there is at least an outside chance that there would be a sufficient rise in interest to make up for the loss of a great many fifth days. Who needs day five? A Test never ends in a draw on any of the first four days.