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.
[latest_videos_strip category=”cricket” name=”Cricket”]
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.