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The continuing love affair with Test cricket

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Oliver Brett | 11:18 UK time, Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Two things happened on Tuesday that summed up the tug-of-war between commercialism and tradition in international cricket.

In New Delhi, India captain Mahendra Dhoni signed a deal with a 'talent management company' that will net him a minimum of 2bn rupees (about £28.2m) over the next two years for a mind-boggling string of endorsements.

In London, the first neutral Test at Lord's since 1912 began, and a healthy crowd of nearly 15,000 turned up to watch Australia take on Pakistan. Pointedly, the two-match series is sponsored by the MCC itself in the absence of any interest from commercial partners.

There is no great love for Test cricket any more across so many of the countries where it is played, often in front of stadiums which are virtually empty and on wickets which reward only the most conservative cricket.

And yet in England, cricket fans remain defiantly fond of the old format, with its unpredictable ebb and flow, and those that turned up on a gloomy day that made the recent heatwave seem an illusion were rewarded for their loyalty with a thoroughly absorbing day.

Danish KaneriaKaneria took two of the six wickets to fall between tea and stumps on Monday

Yes, Twenty20 is easy for the marketing men to package and sell on. Dhoni, who has led India to win the ICC World Twenty20 (in 2007) and Chennai to glory in this year's Indian Premier League, has become its standard-bearer, and thus cricket's richest performer.

But for 15,000 souls to turn up to a Test match on a grey Tuesday morning, when many don't even have a country to cheer for, is an encouraging enough gesture from the old school.

Political instability in Pakistan has put international cricket there on an enforced and indefinite sabbatical, leaving the players an essentially nomadic unit, many having not played Tests or one-day internationals in their homeland.

If that sounds bad enough, then it only gets worse when you consider what has happened in the past 12 months since Pakistan won the 2009 World Twenty20 - a miserable tour of Australia in the winter, reports of in-fighting, the coach and captain sacked, players banned, and no IPL deals for any players.

But England has provided intermittently happy memories in the past for them, not least last year's World Twenty20 success, and last week there were two exciting wins, again in Twenty20 format, when they were cheered on by some raucous supporters on successive evenings in Birmingham.

And so to Lord's, where Pakistan found themselves occupying the home dressing-room as they sought to end a run of 12 consecutive Test defeats against the men in baggy green caps.

It was hard to judge scientifically, but on the first day the crowd was probably split along the lines of 50% "neutral" fans (many privately supporting Australia), 30% Australians (a figure aided by the 400,000 ex-pats based in London) and 20% London-based Pakistan fans.

The MCC members did not turn out in huge numbers, a fact that could best be ascertained following a brief glance at the Coronation Garden at the lunch interval - normally such a busy hive of picnic activity that you can hardly move, this time there was space for children to play ball games.

The Pakistan fans I spoke to enjoyed the experience. They have three fine seam bowlers in Mohammad Aamer, Mohammad Asif and Umar Gul and they had the conditions to suit them on Tuesday.

Pakistan batsman Salman Butt was more muted in his appreciation.

At stumps on day one, he said: "I think it's very nice of the MCC to hold the series over here to help Pakistan cricket.

"But every player feels it's tough being away from home and even though it's a home series we don't have home advantage.

"It was really good to see some support for us but usually at Lord's it is not very lively like other grounds might be around the world. It is typical Lord's, the crowd will be like that always."

Butt appears not to be a fan of the MCC's strict ground regulations which ban "flags, banners, musical instruments, klaxons, rattles, fireworks and other articles which may constitute an annoyance to spectators".

Perhaps at Headingley, where the series moves on to next Wednesday, there will be more noise, perhaps even vuvuzelas.

But at Lord's on day one and early on day two, it was a quietly appreciative crowd. One friend described the experience as "like watching an exhibition match" - but he and many others certainly enjoyed it.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Totally agree Oliver. What is also great is that after nearly five months (since India-South Africa), we finally have a competitive test match where the outcome isn't obvious at the start to get excited about. Certainly, we are saying "Welcome back Test Cricket, you've been sorely missed" https://bit.ly/dfuFo8.

    On another point, do you agree with our ratings for the England team from the Bangaladesh series and our assessment as to who is already on the plane for the World Cup? England's marks out of 10 for Bangladesh ODI series https://bit.ly/cSMs2i And what about Craig Kieswetter? Stick or twist?

  • Comment number 2.

    The MCC have taken a bold and justifiable step in staging this Test in support of Pakistan.

    The Test match calendar needs revamping though so that the balance between the formats is clear for all to see maybe even with a league table. A 'Test' series should be a minimum of 3 matches so there is more chance of a clear winner.

    One-off tests could be part of a test match championship between the top sides if the calendar allows.

  • Comment number 3.

    I was one of the 15,000 there yesterday ,and thoroughly enjoyed a competitive day's cricket . It was odd that there seemed to be so few Pakistani supporters present , and the noise level was low ( especially when compared to when the Indians play ) .
    Test cricket remains popular here and long may that continue . The ebb and flow of a 5 day game gives enormous pleasure , and certainly more than a one sided T20 or 50 over game .
    Lords of course is always a wonderful place to watch any game , and this one is no exception.

  • Comment number 4.

    oliver sadly you missed out 1 detail, MSD is in Sri lanka preparing for a "test series" to keep India's ranking at No. 1 in ICC test ranking system.

    Will you be complaining is Swann was signing this deal?

  • Comment number 5.

    Tests are a three course meal with an aperitif, good wine and an espresso at the end. They demand attention and time and are absorbing.
    One day games are a portion of fish and chips and a can of beer. They´re quick and easy.
    So each to his own, me, I´ll take a test match every time and the fact that they´re well visited in England is a matter of some pride to me.

  • Comment number 6.

    Few things in sport are as exciting as a closely contested test match. I find it very sad that the old format for the true test of cricketing ability has lost its shine in other parts of the world. If I had been in London yesterday there was only one place I'd have headed for and that would have been Lords.

  • Comment number 7.

    When at football, a Championship or a League1 side lose to Manchester United or Chelsea, nobody is surprised by the result. Similarly, when the Bangladesh cricket team lose to Australia, South Africa or England nobody should be surprised either. Bangladesh have now replaced Zimbabwe as the whipping boys of test cricket.



    There are two schools of thought here. One, is that should Bangladesh continue to play the big sides to gain test experience or should there be two divisions in test cricket. I solidly advocate the latter idea because in my view it would make test cricket a lot stronger and a spectacle to watch for the fans. We have all seen the excitement that the play offs give each year in football and if cricket is to excite fans around the world, then surely promotion and demotion will do so equally.



    Only Australia, South Africa and England currently genuinely merit a top division place. Possibly India and Sri Lanka would take two other places in a five team top division. But India’s performances at test cricket can be very patchy. Mercurial at times and culpable at others. Currently on performance alone, none of Pakistan, New Zealand, West Indies nor Bangladesh deserve a top table billing. There are others vying to play test cricket too such as Zimbabwe, Ireland, Netherlands and Kenya who need to be encouraged to enter the fold and the possibility of a third division beckons. It’s a damned if you do and damned if you don’t situation. Newer countries should be encouraged to raise their profiles in test cricket and maybe firstly by playing three days matches and then four day matches later to a full five days when progress should have been made. I do not believe some test playing nations are ready yet for the full five days of test cricket. England and Australia have had a head start here with solid county and state leagues. A lower division “academy” league will also enable time development of newer nations to raise their profiles for test playing grounds etc.



  • Comment number 8.

    barkonk do I detect some paranoia in your post? There is no complaint about Dhoni's endorsement deal, just a pointing out of the 'tug of war between commercialism and tradition'. You seem to be looking for enemies where none appear.

  • Comment number 9.

    Only Australia, South Africa and England currently genuinely merit a top division place. Possibly India and Sri Lanka would take two other places in a five team top division.

    ----

    India are the current no.1 ranked test team according to the ICC, and England are fifth (having played more tests than those above them). So how can you credit this ridiculous proposition?

  • Comment number 10.

    Your blog sounds very encouraging re the Lords test but it would seem that advance tickets for Headingley are dismal. Not many Aussie expats here in Leeds and not sure how many of the local Pakistani community are bothered by test cricket. Will the drunken stag parties in fancy dress fill the ground on Wed/Thurs/Fri?

    Big losses ahead for MCC and Yorkshire CCC?

  • Comment number 11.

    The Paks are folding like a cheap deck of dominoes.

  • Comment number 12.

    #7, I think the idea of a 2 division system is a good idea but I would make one slight change.

    I'd follow the Future Tours Plan cycle of every 4-5 years but in this period teams in the same division play each other twice - home & away with a minimum of 3 tests per series and play the teams in the other division once - either home or away with a minimum of 2 tests per series. Obviously there would be a relegation/promotion system in place.

    This means that the newer teams and those going through what is normally politely referred to as a transitional period still get to play the best teams, which means if they were to get promoted they stand a chance of being competitive in the higher division.

    In addition, there are far more competitive test series and, as England's crowds demonstrate, more people are likely to turn up if there is competitive cricket.

  • Comment number 13.

    It's a shame that Pakistan's batsmen appear to be treating this like a one day game, and have failed to build an innings. Last time I looked Butt was still there, hopefully he can guide the tail for a few more and get them passed 200.

    I too am proud that this country can still command decent test match crowds. Had the game been held at Bristol I would definitely have attended (perhaps even Cardiff).

    The worry with a two tier test championship is what do you do if England (or Australia) fall down the rankings so much that they don't warrant a seat at the top table. How do you then explain to the cricket lovers in both countries that they will not be seeing the Ashes contested?

    To say India do not deserve a place when they currently top the ICC's rankings is absolutely ludicrous, and any country that finds themselves in a second tier may have difficulty with making the sport attractive to their public.

    I think there should me more scheduling to the calendar, with designated time periods where tests should be played with each team playing 3 times in each series and playing every other team once home and once away in a four/five year period and not in consecutive periods.

    If in addition to this teams wish to extend the series this would be fine however only the first three tests would count towards league placings.

  • Comment number 14.

    Looks like I spoke too soon with Butt, maybe I cursed him. Shame.

  • Comment number 15.

    i hope pakistan lose they are a dreadful side

  • Comment number 16.

    Thanks for writing in everyone. Bruce, I too am worried about the Headingley turnout, let's just hope it's not embarrassingly poor.

    Castanha, I hope for your sake you don't get a volley of abuse from Indian fans - though they appear to have better things to do today. In my opinion, India have been a tough opponent both at home and away of late in Tests - with some strong performances in Australia and England (not least winning their last series here).

    Like Mike Allison, I too am confused by Barkonk's post. Apart from anything else, the Dhoni story was liberally fed to the media by his management company itself.

  • Comment number 17.

    MSD's signing a multimillion pound contract is not anti-Test cricket. I think Brett is only citing extremes to highlight the contrast in the two aspects of the game viz commercial and the devoted fanbase. The two need not be mutually exclusive either.

    Commerce deal is simply the market's way of endorsing Dhoni's stature in the game. Footballers, Golfers, Tennis players have been raking in mega bucks for years without these in any way diminishing their devotion to their respective pursuits. We do not need to create an impression that commercialism in cricket is something to be disdainful of. It could possibly be imputed that it is a stigmatic direction the game is taking, whereas it ought to be seen as a welcome development for the beautiful game and a just reward for its aficionados.

  • Comment number 18.

    I hope that there is a good turn-out at Headingley (I expect to go) but if there isn't it'll not be difficult to beat the crowds they would have had in Pakistan - or the Middle East - had they hosted there.

    Sad, as for me Test and First Class cricket IS cricket.

    Whether Yorkshire County Cricket Club's finances can take many more disasters remains to be seen; there's the real worry. How long can counties like Yorkshire, Kent and others keep their heads above water?

  • Comment number 19.

    I was at yesterdays game, thanks to the umpires and groundstaff for getting things moving.
    This series is the way things should be in the sprirt of the game and as a neutral I found it enthralling. The cricket was an ebb and flow, both sides looked enthusiastic and fired up, Pakistan's bowlers used the helpful conditions well and Ponting and Clarke looked a class above. The weather played its part of course and Australia did well to get 200+.

    Also, 15000 there, good for the game. I want to watch the play when I go, in relative peace too so the no flags, fancy dress, noise, phones etc rules are great. Having been to Edgebaston etc where there is a constant background buzz that gets louder and is a pain after a few hours, I now won't pay to listen to shouting, phone calls, singing yobs, screaming children etc. I can go to my local shopping mall for that.
    Oh, and to the two public school lads in row 5 of the Compton Stand, no one wanted to hear your debates on the sound GN bats make, especially when Ricky Clarke and Katich were rolling along, English arrogance starts early then.

  • Comment number 20.

    they would of sold the match out if they hadn't charged stupid prices, £30 for the cheap seats!

    when will England get a one 'super stadium with about 40,000 capacity and then charge cheaper tickets for the Tests?

  • Comment number 21.

    Castanha, actually almost everything that you request is already in place. There is a formal 2nd and even 3rd division to Test cricket over 4 days. This is the Intercontinental Cup for the strongest Associates and the International Shield for the next tier of Associates. This season Zimbabwe A - actually not far from a full Test side - has been added. ostensibly to give them some international experience; there is no reason why additional A sides could not be considered in the future.

    There is also a de facto differentiation in Test cricket, as India does not host series with Bangladesh and other sides such as Australia have only hosted Bangladesh once in 10 years. Similarly, Zimbabwe may well find some difficulties getting regular, meaningful tours and the unofficial boycott of playing New Zealand is well documented (hint: look how many Tests and series New Zealand have played in the last 3 years) - there is a Futire Tours Programme, but it is optional for some of the more powerful sides.

    I have always advocated the New Zealand solution for Bangladesh and, when the start playing Tests again next year, Zimbabwe: 4 day Tests and mostly home series. For their first 20 years of Test cricket New Zealand only played 3-day matches, hence their relatively respectable loss percentage in their early years of Test cricket. If a side learns to play to avoid defeat, they will slowly develop the tools to become more ambitious and win the odd match.

  • Comment number 22.

    18. Donald, thanks for your post. I don't think Yorkshire will stand a loss for the second Test. I believe that the MCC, as the sponsor of the series, would have to make up the shortfall - after all this is not an England-hosted Test in which Yorkshire has bid for the event.

    As for counties and their losses, I can't see them following each other into receivership like Portsmouth in the Premier League. Their exposure to debt is minuscule compare to football.

    However, there is a long-term issue about whether it is in the ECB's interest to bank-roll a system that allows 18 counties to recruit fully professional squads...

    19. Crikey, if you get offended by people debating the sound cricket bats make I dread to think what really gets your goat.

    20. You see, I think £30 isn't too outrageous. It's barely double the cheapeast form of entertainemnt, a cinema ticket, and a fraction of the cost of certain other sport events in London, not to mention going to a concert at the 02 or an opera at Covent Garden...

  • Comment number 23.

    Mr Brett,

    What is your fascination and obsession about IPL and Indian cricket, do some research before you post anything on your blog.You are grossly giving your readers misinformation.

    Do you think Dhoni has become popular due to T-20 world and IPL, he is best wicket keeper batsman in world in all formats and also the Captain of Indian team which bye the way is the only team in world which has won test matches in every country since 2006.His popularity is more due to his performances in all formats not just T-20 or IPL.

    What is Dhoni signing endorsement deal got to do with popularity of Test cricket at lords, have you seen last match which India played at eden garden which has not ticket sales due to renovation and still 35000 people showed up for all five days.Your are creating a impression as if Test cricket has been given a new lease by MCC at lords.


    @7Castanha check your facts before you write,Srilanka is not some run thru side they are far better test side than England.And India test form is not ptach they leading side in world.


  • Comment number 24.

    Comment of the day has to be from Spesh1. Highly intelligent that one. Castanha do you actually follow current cricket rankings or just make them up?

  • Comment number 25.

    "It was hard to judge scientifically, but on the first day the crowd was probably split along the lines of 50% "neutral" fans (many privately supporting Australia), 30% Australians (a figure aided by the 400,000 ex-pats based in London) and 20% London-based Pakistan fans."

    Oliver,

    I wish to challenge your assertion that "many privately supporting Australia".

    You clearly have no evidence to suggest anything of the sort as your BBC job role will not have included asking even a minority, never mind many of the attendees the team they were backing.

    Therefore, how do you reach your conclusion, that many of the 50% "neutral fans" were "privately supporting Australia" ?





  • Comment number 26.

    message posted by spesh1: "i hope pakistan lose they are a dreadful side"

    spesh1,

    Pakistan are one of the toughest teams to beat in World Twenty20 cricket. If there was a World league table in this form of cricket, Pakistan would be leading it by a huge margin.

    Pakistan have one of the most talented teams in One-Day cricket. Pakistan have won both the 50-over World Cup and the 20-over World Cup.

    Due to very little test cricket in the past few years, they have struggled admittedly in this form of the game. With the talented youngsters they possess, don't bet against them to climb up the test rankings very quickly in months/years to come.

  • Comment number 27.

    I can't see Pakistan digging themselves out of this one but you never know (this neutral is definitely supporting them). Hats off to the MCC for sponsoring this series in the first place, I suspect that unfortunately the situation in Pakistan isn't going to change for quite a while so England may be Pakistan's "home" for quite some time. Whilst it's not ideal this does have quite a few benefits: extra tests in England will hopefully provide additional cash for clubs like mine (Yorks) who have gambled on spending vast sums upgrading their grounds, Pakistani players may base themselves here for much of the summer getting themselves county contracts and helping them improve as cricketers (particularly the more inexperienced ones) and improving the Pakistani team as a whole - this may also encourage Pakistani fans to go to a few more county games as well, it'll allow more people to watch / listen to test match cricket without increasing the number of England tests and it may give a bit of stability to Pakistani cricket after what's been a pretty horrendous few years for them (excluding of course the T20 win). As a lover of cricket and particularly test cricket it saddens me to see any team to go through the doldrums (barring possibly the old enemy the Aussies!) the more strong test teams there are the better as it makes for more exciting matches and games being played to a higher standard.

  • Comment number 28.

    As much as people on here seem to love test cricket, If cricket is to survive and grow as a sport we need more T20. I am from Canada and saddened to see that there is little to no interest here in Cricket even with growing amounts of immigration from Asian countries. ICC and other countries need to get cricket into Canada. Canadians love their ice hockey but are not huge on base ball like the Americans. Therefore, with continuing immigration from cricketing nations, the ICC needs to make a real effort to promote cricket here. They need to hold some international series here and lobby governments to create grounds and leagues for cricket.

  • Comment number 29.

    Castanha

    I think you have a really bad perception of test cricket. Your idea of having divisions at an interantional level sounds very senseless. As far as England and South africa being in the first division go, all I would say is that thatll be quite unfair. England invented cricket yet they are still to win the 50 over wolrdcup. They have been one of the biggest failures in international cricket by far. If you dont trust me just go look at their stats, the biggest example has been the ashes. South africa are pretty much the same, they have lost their might which they possesed about a decade ago.


    Spesh

    I think you are an indian and that says it all. Pakistan has dominated India in all forms of the game. Test cricket:pakistan lead by 16 to 9, 50 over: pakistan lead by 70 to 46, T20:I dont think i need numbers cz Pakistan has been the most successful T20 team in the world up till now.

    thereversesweep


    I agree with you but its quite clear that England are employing unfair tactics to go up the rankings. I mean 2 series with Bangladesh..... Not being nasty but that is the only way England can go up the rankings...


  • Comment number 30.

    I agree with JA cz Pakistan have clearly been one of the most sucessful teams in world cricket throughout history. There have been times when they were invincible and were tired of beating England in England. They have clearly defined the modern game. Sarfraz,Imran,Wasim and Waqar invented swing. The English then called it Tampering and now call it Reverse swing... Abdul Qadir invented most leg spin variations while saqlain mushtaq invented most off spin variations. No one can deny that if there would have been overall rankings of all games played(I mean historical) then Pakistan would have been at the top.....

  • Comment number 31.

    Yorkshireplant(#27), I pretty much agree with that.

    (....and the thought of Australia occupying the home dressing-room at Lord's would be too much to stomach :)

  • Comment number 32.

    How nice, after months and months of monotonous one-day nonsense to return to some Test cricket - Pakistan vs Australia on home soil ! And it feels me with sadness observing the current state of the Pakistan national Test team. Not a household name to be had in their current mediocre batting line-up. Salman Butt aside, undone in both innings by the part-time bowling exploits of Shane Watson and Marcus North. After the one-sided back-to-back Bangladesh series, hoping for competitive Test cricket when Pakistan take on England this summer. I am not filled with confidence.

  • Comment number 33.


    Top scorer Salman Butt has shown skill and patience in the two knocks of the first cricket Test. His contibution as player and leader will be vital for his team in the remaining encounters. Best wishes to the new skipper and his boys.


    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 34.

    I was in the crowd on day one and found the whole experience very sureal.
    The vast majority of the crowd that I could see were neutral and I hardly saw any Pakistan supporters at all.
    Lords willl always attract a half decent crowd purely because of the venue however i expect that a very low attendance at Headingley will give a clearer indication of the general lack of interest this "series" has generated.

  • Comment number 35.

    Test match cricket is still what it is all about. One day formats will come & go but test matches will be here in another century. And a big well done to the MCC for promoting Pakistan v Australia in England. It shows the cricket community can pull together when it needs to.

  • Comment number 36.

    Maybe low numbers at lords are to do with the ridiculous ticket prices for testnot involving home country.MCG prices alot cheaper in australia for hoome test match

  • Comment number 37.

    22. Oliver, I fear that you've fallen into the trap of repeating a common misunderstanding. Tickets at Covent Garden start at £10 with lots of other seats at £15. Check their website if you don't believe me. The Ballet is even cheaper! Neither are rain affected, of course. I'm always suprised at how much cheaper this is than football and cricket. That said, my happiest cricket watching memory is an afternoon spent at Lords watching a school criket match....Don't think that cost much, but I din't pay!

  • Comment number 38.

    I mean No.22 as well!

  • Comment number 39.

    Sadly this is the inexorable march towards Cricket ceasing to be a sport and becoming show business.
    Why should players like Dhoni and Alfridi ,who are at best limited players ,hone their skill set for the rigours of test cricket ,when they can earn a fortune playing meaningless hit and giggle ?

    The reality is that the standard of the majority of test match teams now reflects the priority of both players and governing bodies.Consequently ,Test Cricket is no longer seen as the pinnacle of a players career.

  • Comment number 40.

    Entertaining opening day of the England vs Pakistan Test series. The tourist's exciting swing bowlers on top, can count themselves a little unlucky before Morgan and Collingwood's partnership rescued the situation for England.

    Continuing the Test-Match cricket theme (and giving it a bad name)... Sri Lanka v India

    Sri Lanka 1st Innings
    642 for 4 (159.4 overs)
    India 1st Innings
    707 all out (225.2 overs)

    Somebody dig up that pitch ....
    Only 14 wickets falling in FIVE days, pity the poor spectators watching this match.
    These kind of ridiculous scores are becoming all too common in Sri Lanka.
    Sanction the pitch curator and temporarily ban this venue from holding any future matches until they can produce more bowler-friendly wickets.

  • Comment number 41.

    Cricket is only kept alive by ex-public schoolboys who have been given jobs by their friends on newspapers, in the media, and in banks and so on who sponsor cricket. Without them, cricket would die. Take for example the Daily Telegraph that often devotes pages to cricket and only a column to Formula 1 and compare the F1 and cricket coverage on BBC Sport to see the bias.

 

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