The Ashes has given Test cricket’s identity a much-needed boost

2009-09-09 00:00

THERE has been much debate regarding the effect of Twenty20 cricket on other forms of the game, especially Test cricket. The ICC and the players it governs have made their concerns clear regarding the impact its increasing popularity is having and the possible damage this could have on the future of Test cricket. The advent of Twenty20 has resulted in Test cricket experiencing an identity crisis for the very first time.

So it was comforting to witness the enormous following of the Ashes Test series and to hear the players involved on both sides reinforcing its deserved reputation as the ultimate test of a cricketer’s ability.

There are still many challenges ahead for Test cricket and the lure of the Twenty20 lucre will remain a constant temptation for many players, but it’s reassuring that Test cricket still appears to have the edge.

Recently we have seen how the attractive IPL contracts have caused many players to re-evaluate their commitment towards playing for their country. New Zealand players had to be coerced into signing their contracts when this involved turning down lucrative offers to play in the next IPL tournament. The IPL was also a major consideration (along with his recurrent injuries) for Andrew Flintoff in his decision to retire from Test cricket. Had he not had the safety net of a million dollar contract in the IPL, he may not have decided on such an early exit from Test cricket. Ricky Ponting, Australia’s most prolific run scorer, has recently announced his retirement from Twenty20 cricket in contrast to Andrew Flintoff. Ponting himself must have been tempted by attractive offers from the IPL, but for him Test cricket remains the true test. It’s in this format where he feels he can add value as his career draws to a close and, as a determined and gutsy cricketer, it’s not surprising that he’s chosen to bow out this way.

The English players have naturally expressed their delight in the outcome of the Ashes series, but beneath their smugness it’s hard to ignore their evident passion for Test cricket. They have admitted that the current one-day series is a bit of a letdown after the intensity of the Ashes matches and, although this may be an excuse for their poor performance so far, I have to agree.

The issue is not about the number of spectators at the limited over matches — the crowds are there, but the needle and the aggression in the 50 over or Twenty20 match isn’t the same — there is a going through the motions, practice game feel about them.

Spectators, especially the know­ledgeable English variety, appreciate the intricacies of Test cricket and we saw them loving every moment of their team’s success in the Ashes.

For the players, walking out to bat in a Test match is worlds apart from batting in a one-day match. Test cricket is a lonely place for a batsman when the opposition has worked you out over time, but then it’s also hugely satisfying when you succeed.

However we feel about the outcome of the Ashes series, there is no doubt it has helped Test cricket’s cause immeasurably. The spirit in which it was played was a great advert for Test cricket and it’s given Test cricket’s identity a much-needed boost.

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