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Monday, June 23, 2008

Test Cricket is Heart of Cricket

Tony Becca, Contributor

WHEN I was a boy, cricket was a simple game. In those days, cricket, club cricket, first-class cricket and Test cricket, was a game played two days, over three days, and over five days.

It was a game involving the use of a bat and a ball, it was a game in which runs were scored and, at the end of it, the team with the most runs was declared the winner.

If, however, the team batting second and last in a one-innings match or last in a two innings match, had not scored more runs that the other team, and had not been bowled out, the match was ruled a draw.

Sometimes, when the match was over, when there was no one else to bat and the runs were equal, it ended in a tie.

Over the years, however, some things have changed, and some of them understandably so.

In a bid to increase the pace of the game, to get rid of the draw, and to make it more exciting for the casual observer, the 50-over per side contest was, for example, introduced to add some spice to it.


Then, with some people eventually finding that version of the game boring, the 20 overs per side contest was introduced and nothing was wrong with any one of them - certainly not as far as I was concerned.

With the bowler attempting to get the batsman out - or rather to keep him quiet, with the batsman trying to hit the ball as far as possible, with the bat hitting the ball, and with the sweet sound of bat hitting ball, as far as I was concerned, it was still cricket.

For me, however, despite the excitement it brings to the game, in spite of the crowds it now attracts to the game, cricket is more than swinging one's bat and hoping.

Test of stamina

For me, cricket, apart from being a test of stamina, of physical strength, is a test of skill. It is skill versus skill, mental fortitude against mental fortitude.

For me, cricket is a contest between a bowler and a batsman with the bowler matching his skill against that of the batsman. The bowler goes through his bag of tricks in an attempt to get the batsman out, and the batsman defends those deliveries he does not feel he can attack and attacks those which he believes he can deal with.

For me, that is cricket, and it matters not how long it takes, or the result.

A draw, for example, can sometimes be as exciting as victory. In fact, sometimes a draw, with the last pair defending, and defending, with every man on the field around the bat for an hour or two, can be more dramatic, even more memorable, than a victory.

Loves longer version

That is why I love the longer version of the game and why it annoys me to see, as is happening around the world and even in England, the moves, the rush, to push something like Test cricket into the shade, while spreading the gospel of 20/20.

Next month, the counties of England will meet to discuss changes in the game and there will be changes to accommodate 20/20 and its flood of money.

While nothing is wrong with accommodating 20/20, while everything is good with welcoming 20/20 for what should be obvious reasons, there is no need to trouble the first-class game and Test cricket.

According to those who are looking at the almighty dollar - including those who talk glowingly about their love for and the importance of Test cricket, Test cricket is boring and people no longer watch it.

That, however, is not true.

For those who love cricket for what cricket is, and as cricket is, Test cricket, the highest level of the game, is the true test of the skills of the game and it is far from boring. In fact, to watch, for example, a skilled spin bowler flighting or looping the ball seductively, dropping it, tantalisingly, on a good length, spinning it this way and then that way, and disguising the type of spin in a battle against a batsman is a treat - and especially so if it happens over after over.

When the batsman goes back and confidently drives through the covers or skips down the pitch and confidently drives through the covers, there is no element of risk, no luck.

It is skill versus skill.

Heart of cricket

And when it comes to crowd support, it is also a myth that people do not appreciate Test cricket. In England and Australia, and particularly so when it is England versus Australia, people still flock the grounds; and the same is true in India and in South Africa.

Test cricket is still the heart of cricket, and money or no money, it should not be pushed aside, and especially so when the three versions - Test cricket, 50-over cricket and 20/20 - can live together and without a problem.

There is no reason why those who love cricket as cricket was and as cricket is should be forced to change and settle for something which, although they appreciate it, even though some enjoy it, they do not really love it.

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