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Tests vs T20s

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Cricket_lessons_game_run_inches_line_boundaryThere is a philosophical debate raging in cricket and it revolves around which format, Test cricket or T20 cricket, is the ‘proper’ version of the game. This debate has been ignited by the young upstart T20, a format just over a decade old, but one which has already had a transformative impact on the modern game. Most people are in one camp or the other, but is it possible to like both? I think it is.

To state my preference early, I am a Test cricket tragic. I love the long form of the game, its ebbs and flows, its slowness of pace and change, its traditions. My best cricketing memories have been from Test matches, and there is nothing quite like the first morning of a Lord’s Test match.

At first, I was sceptical of T20 cricket. I believed that the shortest form of the game was an irrelevance, a bit of fun, something to enjoy but not take seriously. My early impressions were not unique; even the first international between Australia and New Zealand was punctuated by retro kits and afro wigs. The players themselves thought it was a bit of a joke.

The Indian Premier League changed all that. With its glamour, international stars and exorbitant fees for players, it quickly transformed T20 from a bit of a laugh to a cash machine.  

 

The success of a new idea is often indicated by people copying it, and the myriad T20 tournaments now in existence are a clear indicator that the IPL model works.

Sport has to compete with other forms of entertainment, and for a consumer who is busier and has a shorter attention span than ever, a three hour game of thrills and spills is ideal. T20 cricket has attracted a different audience to the traditional cricket fan because it fits in to people’s lives better. It is also a good product and the fans and players alike want in.

It is now a valued format taken seriously by players. Planning for T20 games is as thorough and detailed as for a Test match, with player preparation being just as intense. Joe Root, England’s best player in Tests, has admitted to trying to improve his short form game by working on hitting more sixes. Would he have had that focus without T20 or would he have been content to concentrate on Tests? T20 is now part of the package an international cricketer has to master.

 

The argument that T20 cricket is a game that requires no talent has been debunked. Where it was once thought of as a game for players with power and luck but little technique, there is now no doubt the 20 over game has improved skill levels, particularly of fielding, in the modern player. Relay catches are now commonplace, every player can play a reverse-sweep or a ramp shot, bowlers can bowl slower ball bouncers and many other variations. Twenty years ago, these things were, if not unheard of, extremely rare.

There will always be those who prefer Test cricket, but to denigrate T20 is to do so out of snobbery rather than any well founded argument. T20 is different, but it is not to be derided.

My preference for Test cricket is based on it being a test of stamina and concentration. It is an examination of technique and mind, both of which can be tested in different ways and multiple times in a day. I don’t believe a T20 match can test the all-round ability of a player like a Test match can. The game’s greats have all mastered the Test game and I don’t believe a player can be regarded as a true great without being a successful Test match player.

India’s Rohit Sharma is a wonderful player in limited overs cricket, perhaps the best batsman in the world when facing the white ball. He will never be ranked alongside the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting or Viv Richards though, unless he has sustained success at Test match level and nor should he be. That does not mean his high class skill can’t still be appreciated.

Despite my preference for Test cricket, I am looking forward to the T20 World Cup, a competition that promises to be an exciting exhibition of the shortest format of the game which will showcase some of the most highly skilled cricketers in the world. Whilst it may not resonate as much as a Test match series, or have the history and tradition, it should provide drama and entertainment in abundance.   

Rather than debate what form of the game is the best, we should appreciate it in all its guises. Cricket is a game that is vibrant and eclectic. It is a game for the young and old, the traditionalist and the modernist, the energetic and the sedate, and for that, we should celebrate.

Test match cricket or T20 cricket? Who cares. It’s ok to like both.

 


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