If Test cricket wants to survive it must claw back its name as a diverse format in which hitting sixes is a vital part of its fabric.
Test cricket has an image problem. It’s image is one of competition with T20, the infant of cricket that’s taking the world by storm.
T20 has successfully branded itself as the home of sixes.
Fans want to see big hits and crashing fours, and will pay big money for it.
This makes the format lucrative, especially as the games are so short. You can come after work to indulge in a short sharp burst of power hitting.
The association has become so strong, that when someone like Ben Stokes smashes a hundred, such as his 258 off 198 balls in South Africa, the murmurings on social media was about the influence of T20 on Tests. And I’ve heard it before when David Warner has batted like that, or when Chris Gayle or Ab de Villiers have.
Instead of it being seen as a rapid Test innings, some were saying it was fundamentally a T20 knock.
They’re wrong. Hitting sixes is as much a part of Test cricket as blocking and leaving is.
Some of the greatest opening partnerships ever have been a mixture of aggression and caution; such as Strauss and Trescothick, Gibbs and Smith, Langer and Hayden, Greenidge and Haynes.
Time is rarely a constraint in Test cricket, so the need to bat aggressively is for a purpose.
Either to accelerate an innings, capitalise on poor bowling, or simply put pressure on.
For that reason, Test cricket has always had a place for aggression, as part of a strategy, not as a prime way of scoring.
It’s part of the fabric of the game, and it give Tests the subtlety that T20 can lack.
The problem, is if aggression and caution separates exclusively in to the T20 and Test forms.
Test cricket must fight ensure it has a space for big hitting. Or at least, that it’s perceived to still have that space.
Especially with the rise of year-round franchise cricket, T20 is shepherded onto younger fans as having to ‘compete’ with Tests. The likes of Ab de Villiers and Aaron Finch are unwilling to dip their toe in the pond of Test cricket, and others like Alex Hales are ignored.
This separation is being formalised by cricket boards and players, and it ultimately it leads to the horrible question nobody wants to ask:
What would happen if a Kevin Pietersen or Chris Gayle.. or Viv Richards, turned up right now?
Would they really, honestly, want to play Test cricket over IPL and Big Bash? It would certainly be a dangling carrot.
If Test cricket starts to lose its aggressive stars, it will lose its subtlety.
It will become one dimensional and boring. If aggression and caution is allowed to separate out into T20 and Test, then cricket’s oldest format will quickly die out.
Post edited and re-published from Jan 4, 2016