Alex Bowden: Wickets need to be the new runs

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.

Alex Bowden writes on kingcricket.co.uk as well as for Cricinfo’s Page 2. He also writes TWC’s weekly satirical newsletter – sign up for it here

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12 Responses to Alex Bowden: Wickets need to be the new runs

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  2. sankar says:

    Hit the nail right on !

  3. Sunny says:

    Right on. The current India/SL series is soooo boring. The pitches used are a sure death for any bowler with ‘normal’ action.

    Classic way to kill test cricket. Gimme the Aus/Pak Lord’s test any day than watching the paint dry on Galle/Colombo cricket stadiums. ICC should ban such pitches and venues.

  4. Jacob says:

    But what about the TV revenue? How will the ICC/BCCI/ECB fund matches in the Middle East that no one attends? How will they pay to force cricket down disinterested American throats?

    It’s common to hear after a 4 day match “Oh no! Not having that final day cost us three squllion dollars!”

    If a dull dull test match lasts five days but no one is around to witness it… does it still make a noise?

    (or money)

  5. Nathan says:

    Very, very good article.

    I’d prefer to watch Aus lose in a match like the recent one v Pak, even though I’m a parochial Aussie, than sit through the bat dominated rubbish going on in SL at the moment.

  6. Alex says:

    Alex,

    Congratulations on an outstanding article.

    I live in Australia and have grown up watching and following Test cricket. I am 38 years old and have also just returned to playing cricket.

    Never, ever in my life time has Test cricket been so boring and depressing as it is now. All cricket fans I speak to feel the same way. Too many runs, everything in favour of the batsmen, poor quality bowling attacks. Ordinary Test batsman averaging 45 and more.

    I think your point about confusion between Test cricket and the limited overs games may be the crucial one. Fair enough if the administrators want to create slog-a-thons in the shorter games in order to bring in the magical dollar that they all covet above all else, I couldn’t really care less. They can do whatever the hell they want as far as I am concerned, because as all cricket fans know it is Mickey Mouse cricket. Make the bowlers bowl with the opposite hand once an over, give the batsman 2 lives, or if they are the marquee batsman, give them 5 lives, so that way the guy who doesn’t even like the game can see his favourite player every time he switches on the TV. Make the boundaries 20m from the bat and have signs that give the batsman 10 runs if he can hit them. Who cares?

    But please, please return the balance between bat and ball to the Test arena. No real fan wants to consistently see the score 1-120 at lunch on day 1 as we so often see. Then 3-325 at stumps. This is not Test cricket. I think if we are serious, changes need to be made. Geoff Boycott suggested during his MCC Spirit of cricket lecture in 2005 that Test matches should be reduced to 4 days of 96 overs each. I agree completely. This should be implemented immediately. 5 days in the modern era is simply too long, given that everything is loaded in the batsmans favour and that the real game has been polluted by the shorter forms. The matches must be shortened to force administrators to change the conditions to re-balance the game. I am sick to death of watching matches that are designed to go into Day 5 to keep the TV stations and cricket adminstrators commercially satisfied. What rubbish? Limit the Test match to 4 days. They can play 3 20/20 games on Day 5 if they want and turn the crowd over 3 times, that way they make even more of their wonderful magical dollar. And the real fan hopefully gets a proper Test match. I could go on and on.

    Suffice it to say that there is not long left for the Test game if it continues down this batsman dominated path. Who is going to follow it? The part-time fans will watch the cricket/baseball 20/20 matches. The real fans will find something else to do with their time.

    What is the value of a Test century now? Not very much really, they are handed out with gay abandon. I really believe that most first class batsman would easily score Test centuries in conditions and facing the bowling that India served up against Sri Lanka. And India are ranked No.1 in Test matches. What a joke. They must have fielded one of the weakest bowling attacks in the history of the game for a No.1 test nation. Only 2 quicks, one of whom is 20 years old and has only played 12 first class matches. Are they serious? India has brought the game of cricket into disrepute with this incompetence.

  7. Lots of people, myself included, have been saying this for years and years. But until the people who sell the advertising space/time appreciate that good test cricket is worth risking a game which finishes a day or even 2 days earlier than expected.. boring pitches I suspect will be tacitly encouraged.

  8. Amitabh says:

    spot on! i am an indian team supporter and i was more involved in pak vs aus test and the first india v sl test than the second one, cos both of them were exciting instead of batting feasts!

  9. John Stern says:

    Spot on Alex. Pitches that favour bowlers are deemed bad/poor or if loads of wickets fall there is immediately an inquest into the pitch. batsmen-friendly tracks are referred to as good. This attitude is changing thankfully but very slowly.

  10. Stuart says:

    This is a great article on a familiar subject, but the question is now no longer about convincing us of the superior qualities of a bowler-dominated match (does anyone save the ICC believe otherwise?) but should be about pushing the ICC to do something about it. What we need is some form of available petition to the ICC.

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