It’s time to take a baseball bat to Test cricket

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    Recent Major League Baseball pace-of-play reforms serve as a shining example to Test cricket of a sport that is raging against the dying of the light.

    That Test cricket and baseball share so many parallels – right down to shrinking popularity – only heightens the value of the lesson on offer from the other side of the Pacific.

    Both core bat-and-ball games, these sports represent traditional national pastimes occupying a throw-back cultural space.

    As stop-start sports with downtime aplenty, Test cricket and baseball have always relied heavily on statistics, commentary and acting as a sort of backdrop to social interaction. Yet both are now clinging to relevance in a contemporary context where fast-paced, action-packed sports are king.

    Despite these similarities, the fundamental difference between the two sports appears to be the relative urgency being shown by their administrators in confronting this challenge.

    MLB recently announced the introduction of a number of measures – including capped visits to the pitcher’s mound and reduced innings break times – aimed at combatting slow pace-of-play, which the league has recognised as being central to the slide in interest.

    Compare that to Test cricket, where continued cries for change have seemingly fallen on deaf ears.

    Minimum over-rate rules have always felt toothless and more designed to curb bowling side shenanigans than provide any real benefit to the viewer.

    Even day-night Tests, which are admittedly a fantastic innovation, have been played sporadically since their inception and more worryingly do not appear to have been embraced by cricket’s kingpin, India.

    Further suggested reforms (some even echoed by greats of the game), such as four-day Test matches and visiting teams electing to bat or bowl, have gained little traction.

    That such relative intransigence is being shown by the administrators of such an obviously bleeding dinosaur of a sport is staggering.

    After all, we have just endured an underwhelming Ashes and now a (thus far poorly attended) Australia vs South Africa series confined to pay-TV in what had loomed as a showpiece summer of Test cricket.

    Not to mention the unseemly scrap between South Africa and (unsurprisingly, as I have written about on this site before) Australia engulfing the first Test in Durban, which has reignited the futile ‘crossing the line’ discussion and underscores Test cricket’s ongoing identity crisis.

    Yet, the question remains as to what change can properly address the most significant modern-day flaw in the game – the captive dead-time between deliveries.

    Watching a fast bowler’s interminable stroll back to the top of his mark has become nigh on unbearable when taken against a contemporary backdrop of relatively uninterrupted sporting gratification.

    While many other sports (think tennis, for example) experience breaks in play, generally they are either shorter or long enough to afford the viewer the opportunity to do something else.

    The problem is compounded in Test cricket where, unlike shorter forms of the game, the remote chance of batting fireworks or a wicket from any given delivery does not generally justify the wait.

    MLB has identified a similar issue in respect of time elapsing between pitches and, in line with its proactive approach to safeguarding the future of baseball, has threatened the introduction of a pitch clock if other reforms do not adequately speed up play.

    Perhaps a solution for Test cricket lies no further away than the nearest net session. Other than breaking with tradition (and let’s not forget how far that has got us), is there any reason why we couldn’t fill the dead space with another delivery?

    While admittedly outlandish and logistically challenging, make no mistake that these are desperate times.

    As a cricket-obsessed kid, I remember how incredulously defending the Test cricket wall came so naturally to me. Unfortunately, while the sporting landscape has since evolved, Test cricket has refused to move with the times.

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    The Crowd Says (23)

    • Roar Rookie

      March 7th 2018 @ 6:45am
      El Loco said | March 7th 2018 @ 6:45am | ! Report

      Nah, people have been writing test cricket’s obituary for twenty odd years, it’s more solid than ever. You say administrators are doing nothing but gloss over the advent of day/night tests. That itself is a major revolution in a traditional sport, and is logically undergoing a gentle growth. It will get bigger.

      The crowds in SA, can I suggest don’t play cricket in rugby season?

      • March 7th 2018 @ 10:40am
        sheek said | March 7th 2018 @ 10:40am | ! Report

        Yeah sure, the demise of test cricket has been oft quoted.

        But then again, if nothing is done, it will surely wither & die.

        Test cricket is under different pressures now, many of them from within. T20 is game requiring an entirely different skill set.

        Today’s players are increasingly lacking the patience to develop an innings as a batsman, or work a batsman out as a bowler. To wit, patience is dying.

        if players no longer possess the skills to play test cricket, the quality will fall off, followed by interest.

        • Roar Rookie

          March 7th 2018 @ 12:52pm
          El Loco said | March 7th 2018 @ 12:52pm | ! Report

          But realistic things that don’t attack the integrity of the sport are being done and it is surviving. I’d sooner it wither and die than become a circus.

    • Roar Rookie

      March 7th 2018 @ 6:46am
      El Loco said | March 7th 2018 @ 6:46am | ! Report

      As for your main suggestion – a neatly lobbed grenade at the end of your article – man, T20 is that delivery between deliveries. Technology has sped up our ability to communicate but it’s a myth that people only want instant gratification. What they actually want is content, and test cricket is the ultimate as far as sport goes. If I’m wrong and it ends up the death of an intelligent game, then I’m willing to stand by its death bed knowing it lived a good life.

    • March 7th 2018 @ 7:17am
      Duncan Smith said | March 7th 2018 @ 7:17am | ! Report

      That could be it. Six bowlers in a line waiting to bowl one ball each to make up an ‘over.’ If it was a maiden, it might be done in just over a minute.

      Starc, Cummins, Hazlewood, Marsh, Lyon, Smith in a tag team assault.

      Only one problem – no time for sledging.

    • March 7th 2018 @ 8:40am
      Paul said | March 7th 2018 @ 8:40am | ! Report

      Still trying to work out how you compare apples with cabbages.

      MLB for example, threatened to shorten the time between pitches to 30 seconds, which is about the time it take for a quick to get back to their mark and run in to bowl. The howls from Clubs, owners and especially pitchers could be heard on the space station. In the end, they did nothing about it.

      They also average at least 2 players a year testing positive for banned drugs, but took well over 20 years to do anything about that.

      The only changes made recently relate supposedly to player safety but they’ve done nothing to speed up the game, which should be easy, given they have one Commisioner, versus 10 or more Test countries, one set of rules versus all the different sets used in different countries, etc.

      • Roar Guru

        March 7th 2018 @ 9:25am
        JamesH said | March 7th 2018 @ 9:25am | ! Report

        This was essentially my thought. Speeding up the time between pitches is a basic tweak; moving to day-night tests or four-day matches is a fundamental change. It would be akin to reducing the number of innings in MLB matches.

        The only things that need to happen are (a) better use of lights and/or earlier start times to reduce the number of overs lost to bad light, and (b) actually getting tough on slow over rates. Those changes, with a few more regular day-night tests, would be sufficient.

        I’m glad the author linked that article he wrote about sledging in the Ashes, though. Gave me a bit of a chuckle. Honestly, with the benefit of hindsight does anyone actually think the Ashes series was marred by sledging?

      • March 7th 2018 @ 9:48am
        Kris said | March 7th 2018 @ 9:48am | ! Report

        Apples with Cabbages indeed.

        MLB has seen the time it takes to complete a game rise from under 2 hours in the 1920-30s to 3 hours now. Same number of innings and outs. Games were going over 4 hours in some cases. Since 2015 these pace-of-game rule changes have reduced the average game by 6 minutes to 2 hours 56 minutes.

        I doubt an extra over a day will see floods of support coming back to cricket. Test Cricket has had slow-over rate rules and minimum over rates for a while and it is not toothless – captains are banned and fined.

    • March 7th 2018 @ 8:45am
      bigbaz said | March 7th 2018 @ 8:45am | ! Report

      Test cricket is evolving all the time. The game today is very different and funnily enough very much the same as the cricket I started watching and playing in the 50s, when it was also dying. Test cricket then was basically between 4 country’s and if it ends up back there so what.
      The ashes was the best attended in history.

      • March 7th 2018 @ 1:29pm
        Blanecoach said | March 7th 2018 @ 1:29pm | ! Report

        How are the TV ratings though? The whole gig is up. No way our kids are watching test cricket. No way.

        • March 7th 2018 @ 2:09pm
          bigbaz said | March 7th 2018 @ 2:09pm | ! Report

          had no TV in the 50s

    • Roar Pro

      March 7th 2018 @ 9:31am
      The Doc said | March 7th 2018 @ 9:31am | ! Report

      Test crickets doesnt need to change drastically – just needs a few tweaks. Most ideas mentioned already but come down hard on over rates – fines dont achieve anything and neither do suspensions it appears. Perhaps run deductions from a total may do the trick (a bit drastic perhaps but a thought). Day night tests I think are a massive step forward and need to be embraced by all nations. Its simple math – on a weekday many people that would ordinarily come are at work and cannot attend but plenty would go for an evening session.