Why it is wrong to pick Test players on the basis of limited overs performances
We all know which format of the game is winning in its attempt to grab eyeballs as well as get the cash registers ticking. While the armchair purist of the game will persist on fighting a lost battle, insisting that Test cricket is the way forward and that it is the strictest test of a cricketer’s resolves, the players and more importantly the cricket boards all over the world are far more pragmatic about the issue.
The glamour of short-form cricket
While we have readily given into the glitz and glam of limited overs cricket due to the limited attention span and patience that we can provide to a recreational activity, I address cricket as a recreational activity for it is not just sports that we are looking for, but the complete package. We are on the lookout for the best thing since sliced bread. And to be fair Test cricket for majority of the people is not entertaining enough to give either their attention or their money to.
Thus, with the maxim of whatever mows lawn at its crux, the cricket industry has started churning out players and games that cater to the majority of its target audience. The whole cricket landscape is pretty much a result of what majority of people want to see, loosely, a game that is uncluttered, involving just the high points and is not that hard to follow.
With a lot of so-called entertainment oozing around the arena, it is obvious that people want that the IPL and Big Bash star or that batsman who scored an unimaginable 250-odd runs in an ODI to feature and replicate the deeds in the five-day format. While the concept of making entertainment the mainstay of otherwise draining Test cricket is not wrong in its inception, but to expect limited overs stalwarts to rule the Test arena is somewhat a mismatch in terms of job applicants and the job at hand.
While you can bet your house on Mahendra Singh Dhoni winning you a limited overs game right out of the claws of defeat, scoring at 12 an over in the process; you might as well pay the wager well in advance if you expect Dhoni to save you a Test match by batting out the last day of the Test. For these two scenarios are basically two different ends of the spectrum, as are most of the skills involved in playing Test and limited overs cricket.
Specialists are becoming a common sight
In modern-day cricket, when words like “specialist T20 batsman/bowler” are fast becoming common, you cannot expect players who are hardened to the T20 format to come into the longer format and take to it like fish takes to water. With stakes high to make Tests more interesting and more viable, we are getting the basic material wrong.
Take West Indies’ current South African tour for instance, the team has no doubt been annihilated by the Proteas but part of their annihilation is due to their own failing to treat the Test match as a Test. West Indian skipper Denesh Ramdin’s comments are perhaps spot on in explaining what is actually becoming pandemic in the cricketing world.
“Our bowlers bowl too many bad balls and sometimes we play too freely,” Ramdin said.
The second part of his comment is basically why we relate to the limited overs formats – the entertainment bit in the sport. The conditioning of majority of the West Indian batsmen, who have been part of various franchise-based T20 leagues all around the world can be attributed to the free and intrepid style of batting showcased on the South African tour.
Along with the fact that conditioning is so much vital in how players perceive Test cricket, another subsidiary issue is that related to players’ fitness. How a player’s body reacts to the five-day rigor of Test cricket has changed drastically with the advent of the newer format. To pick a bowler who has been blazing over the limited overs scene is to pick a bowler who is comfortable in a couple of two-over spells or perhaps two four-over spells as is the case in limited overs game.
Test cricket is changing in the T20 era
The chance of various injuries and bowlers looking out of sort bowling in Test cricket is fast becoming common. The endurance level in general has been going down; no wonder the cricket calendar being a little skewed to both international and domestic limited overs games has been detrimental to the way players cope.
So, what lies ahead? An era of fast paced and entertaining Test cricket, as is being envisaged, is something that the shorter format of the game would help in. An era that may produce fast-paced cricket could come at the expense of features that we expect from Test cricket, like teams bundling out quickly and thus making most matches a 3-4 day affair.
Perhaps, we can take some hints from the shorter format after all. With all the specialists of the game bandied around, perhaps, developing a Test specialist may help eradicate the problem of playing the same players in all three formats of the game.
While it will surely help in giving a far bigger catchment area for teams to select players who can be groomed and handpicked for the longer format only and while there are still players who do this job like Chris Rogers, Cheteshwar Pujara and Alastair Cook (after his recent damnation from ODIs), it needs to become a regular practice and more importantly one that is economically viable for the players as well.