Will the sport succumb to the challenge from T20—or does it have life in it yet? Our contributors debateby Zafar Ansari Mike Selvey / June 21, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in July 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
Yes: Zafar Ansar
Test cricket is a bit like democracy. Both are apparently always about to collapse, ready to be replaced by inferior alternatives. Where democracy is threatened by the spectre of populism, for test cricket the current fear is T20.
These worries are not new. Following defeat to Australia in 1882, English cricket was infamously pronounced dead, with its body “cremated” and its ashes memorialised. And ever since then, anxieties about the longevity of test cricket have existed.
Yet beneath this there has remained a fundamental confidence that test cricket will adapt and endure. After all, its proponents argue, it always has, and the expansion of the women’s game and inclusion of new countries are the most recent proof.
I think, however, that the belief that test cricket will survive because it is “test cricket” is mistaken.
Let’s consider the audience, without whom test cricket cannot persist. The already narrow group of people who watch test cricket in this country is being hollowed out further by high ticket prices and the cost of television packages, as well as huge competition from other less traditional sports.
Likewise, internationally, the marked decline in crowds for test matches seems to speak to their inability to capture people’s imaginations compared with the game’s shorter formats.
To write these pressures off as “external forces” is to deny the way they reflect test cricket’s structural weaknesses in the contemporary world. These stem from the mismatch between a slow, five-day game and an era when most people feel their free time is increasingly limited.
It is this mismatch that must be overcome if the case for test cricket’s long-term survival is to be made successfully. A restatement of its innate value and historic durability won’t do.
No: Mike Selves
In his poem “The One-Way Critic,” the cricket writer RC “Crusoe” Robertson-Glasgow, himself a Somerset captain of the 1920s, has a crusty ancient at a match, reading the Daily Moan, and grumbling about the decline of the game. “The state of cricket goes from bad to worse;/ Where are the batsmen of my boyhood’s prime?/ Where are the bowlers of the pristine years?/ Where are the fieldsmen of the former time?” The narrator can stand no more, gives him a mouthful and then turns back to “Larwood’s bounding run/ And Woolley’s rapier flashing in the sun.”