In England, attendance figures for the game’s longest format, and interest from the public, has never been a problem. In fact, you could be forgiven for thinking Test cricket wasn’t facing problems globally when getting caught up in the Test buzz on UK shores.
Yes, the country which invented the game prides itself on the team’s success over five days, but still, it takes dedication from the cricketing public to turn out in their droves every year, and that, they do. A day at the Test, it has to be said, is not a cheap day out, either.
But a match at Lord’s is one of those such social occasions where you do splash out, make a day of it and make sure you get your ticket well in advance. It is certainly comparable to Wimbledon and the Royal Ascot meeting, with picnics and the hum of the crowd.
Aside from England’s Ashes contest every four years with Australia at the Home of Cricket – with the 200-year plus age-old venue in north London’s St John’s Wood boasting history in the bucketload – a five-day clash with India is the next biggest date on the billing.
On Thursday morning, there will be queues of two to three people deep around the ground, with punters a) waiting to get into the ground b) hoping to gain last-minute admission and then c) another queue, made up of Marylebone Cricket Club members, preparing themselves to storm through the iconic W. G. Grace Memorial Gates and secure a seat in the Pavilion.
Heightened security these days means the rush of those people lucky enough to have Lord’s membership and Pavilion access has slowed, even so, a flash of the much-fabled MCC red and gold tie (or egg and bacon colours, whatever your preference) is proof of entry so long as it is in-keeping with the dress code overall.
Those inside the 1889-built structure not only have the perfect view of the action but get to see the fielding side and the two opening batsmen walk through the famous Long Room and then on to the outfield.
The build-up to this is some sight, given an ex-player of legendary status rings the five-minute bell to inform the respective teams to get ready.
Should Alastair Cook and Keaton Jennings make that journey, members will crowd the small corridors and stair areas around the dressing rooms, stand and clap the duo while they can be slightly colder to the touring team – but do always acknowledge the game’s greats.
The atmosphere in part is a bit stuffy and is perhaps not for everyone but also stands alone in cricketing circles and from a player’s perspective, particularly for those on the visiting side, it is an occasion you need to lap up, remember and embrace.
Over the course of one’s international career, a Test tour of England occurs once every four years, so in a sense, you never know how many more chances you will get to perform on the grandest stage.
It is the Test match you want to play overseas.
The personal reward is great, too. By scoring a hundred or claiming a five-wicket haul, players etch their name on the famous Lord’s Honours Boards and will also become decorated in the ground’s on-site Museum, which is one of sport’s oldest and houses the iconic 11 cm high Ashes Urn. It’s worth a visit, if you get the chance.
This weight of history and occasion should form part of Virat Kohli‘s team-talk to inspire his men to fight back and level the series.
Four years ago, the Men in Blue triumphed at Lord’s in front of many Indian fans so there should be no shortage of motivation from the tourists to repeat that feat.
World cricket is being urged to consider a new ‘shot-clock’ runs penalty which could have the potential to change the result of close matches.
The committee discussed the suggestion that, instead of the current International Cricket Council policy – of monetary fines for captains, with the possibility of suspensions for repeat offenders – in-match penalties could be levied in probable five-run increments for each transgression.
Ponting said: “We are of the belief that a there-and-then run penalty in the game would be definitely worth looking at.
“You would imagine then the captains would take a huge responsibility in making sure their players are ready to go.
“If they are not in a position for three or four overs that could be 20 runs, and in the context of the game we saw last week that could be the difference in a Test match.”
Ponting believes a new strategy is needed to stop a perennial problem.
“It probably seems a little extreme, the idea of the ‘shot-clock’- but once again this year in all three formats of the game the over rates have been in decline,” he said.
“So we’ve talked about the idea of the shot-clock, and that’s basically the dead time in the game, the end of the over, the fielders and bowlers have to be back in position – and that’s non negotiable.
“The same with the new batsman coming to the crease, the bowling team have to be ready when he gets to the crease.
“We feel that what has been in place for a long period of time hasn’t worked.”
MCC officials have been reassured that the controversial new ‘Hundred’ format will still “look like a normal game of cricket” despite plans to ditch traditional overs and introduce substitute fielders.
England and Wales Cricket Board chief commercial officer Sanjay Patel has confirmed, in a meeting with the MCC’s world cricket committee, that prospective playing conditions for the franchise tournament set to begin in 2020 include the removal of six-ball overs as a starting-point staple.
Instead, a 14-strong committee containing chairman Mike Gatting, MCC Head of Cricket John Stephenson and former Australia captain Ricky Ponting heard that the focus will be squarely on 100 balls – probably in 20 sequences of five, although further details are a work in progress.
Stephenson said: “Basically, they’re still developing the concept.
“They came to our committee to talk about the new format.
“As custodians of the Laws of the game, what we’re concerned about is if you modify the game of cricket too much it ceases to look like cricket.
“(But) what we heard this morning from Sanjay was quite reassuring… they’re still developing how the final format will be.”
The ECB does not expect to unveil more specifics until November – although trial matches may first take place next month to check which ideas work best.
Stephenson added: “The current thinking is 20 five-ball ‘overs’, but I think today was part of their consultation.
“So they wanted to know what we felt about that.
“We threw a few questions back about whatever modifications there might be.
“I think at the maximum, they’re looking at having a substitute fielder. But I think what that’s about is performance – having the best fielders out there at the right time to field.
“But at the moment, as far as I can make out, they’ll have 11 batsmen, they won’t have ‘overs’ per se but 100 balls, 20 balls per bowler.
“Apart from that, it’ll look like a normal game of cricket.”
Ponting also spoke at Tuesday’s Lord’s press conference about committee suggestions that the International Cricket Council consider a “shot-clock” in-match runs penalty to address the scourge of slow over rates, rather than the current policy of monetary fines for captains.
As for the ‘Hundred’, he added: “The reasons they are looking for something different is that the T20 game probably hasn’t reached a level (of popularity) in England that it has in some other countries.
“A lot of the feedback they heard from people that are not necessarily cricket lovers is that they find the game of cricket boring, and not interesting.
“So they’re trying to find a way to attract the audiences and make the game slightly different.”
Further details remain at the planning stage, though.
“I’m not sure they’ve totally got their head around how they want the game to look… they’re even talking about it not being called overs, just 100 balls,” Ponting added.
“It’s 20 lots of five, the way they’re looking at it.
“There’s all sorts of things they need to get their heads around – it’s still at the very embryonic stage.
“Time is going to come up on them pretty quickly, and I guess the more focus groups and discussions they can have with committees and panels like us, the better off they’re going to be in the long run.”