Test cricket has been in the news for two varying reasons – a surge in enthralling results and also a few proposals to spice things up.
Even as the West Indies crushed England at home to secure a dramatic Test series win with the help of a potent pace attack and Sri Lanka stunned South Africa in their backyard in one of the most dramatic results in Test history, International Cricket Council chief Shashank Manohar stated that the format is dying in many markets.
Recently, the MCC – custodians of the laws of the game – came up with proposals to ‘improve’ Test cricket. Those included standard balls, free hits for no-balls and a shot clock like tennis to improve over-rates.
The game is already set for a major change with the Test Championship set to begin in the middle of the year, giving context to every bilateral encounter from here on. With numerous changes happening and being proposed, it seems like Test cricket is in a desperate situation and needs to be rescued.
But former West Indies skipper and iconic batsman Brian Lara believes the custodians of the game only need to concentrate on ensuring that there are no dead games. According to him, once fans know that Tests will be competitive and that a result will be had, they will come back to the longest format sooner rather than later.
Speaking to Sport360 at the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai, Lara said ensuring results should be the main mission of those who want to improve the longest format.
“The most important thing about Test cricket is that you have got to try to get a result every single time,” Lara said.
“After two or three days one team – in a lot of Test matches, not all – is already looking to salvage a draw and the other team is looking for a win. That can bring some undesirable play in Test cricket. That has been the case and that is something that has made some people fall away from the game. You go to places where you are the dominant team and you are playing a team that doesn’t fancy themselves … from very early you get negative cricket.”
Lara believes if fans know that a Test is going to produce a result, they will show up in good numbers.
“The first day of a Test is always an interesting day. You see crowds come out and if the Test is heading for a result, you see them come out again. I saw it against Australia in Barbados in 1999; a packed house, 15,000, last day and last session of a Test. So creating excitement, creating results, making sure the spectator knows something is going to happen in the Test is going to bring the crowd back in.
“There are talks of bringing it down to four days, free hits… just make sure each Test has a result. Everybody has to play the way they should. It’s like you got to watch an ODI or T20, at the end of the day the spectator is going to walk away either disappointed that his team has lost or happy that his team has won,” the southpaw added.
The recent successes of teams like West Indies and Sri Lanka against heavyweights in Tests has reignited interest in the format in those countries. While only a handful of Test nations were previously expected to be competitive, now the playing field is a lot more level with results no longer a foregone conclusion.
Lara is proud of the fact that the Windies – who had been in a downward spiral in Test cricket for the best part of two decades and had lost the the cream of top players to T20 cricket – have shown the ability to compete with the best in the toughest format.
“Games had become one sided. The West Indies were the powerhouses in the 1970s and 80s, and we spiralled downwards and we weren’t very competitive. But when teams like Sri Lanka and West Indies start beating opposition, you get interest back.
“The interest in West Indies cricket after that series against England is tremendous. Everybody is upbeat. My West Indies friends living in England are walking with their heads held high. These one-sided games had destroyed cricket a little bit. Now you have teams that are more competitive. All people from those countries are now back interested, knowing they have a chance,” the Trinidadian explained.
LONG WAY TO GO
However, the great batsman – who still holds the record for the highest Test score of 400 – says the Windies need to get strong at home and then look to start winning away. Only that can it be termed a true revival of Caribbean cricket.
“This is a process. It’s not like we are back again. The West Indies are going to be strong at home. We showed that against England. India are coming in July, that is going to be a good opportunity. If we can put one on India at home, it will give us some resolve. I still believe travelling is going to be a problem.
“But first get strong at home. Just like India did 15-20 years. Very strong at home and now they are travelling well. It’s a process which will take some time.”
Pakistan are in danger of losing the series already – but at the very least they need a positive performance.
With the World Cup in England a mere two months away, consecutive defeats to an Aaron Finch-inspired Australia – both by eight wickets – have proven dispiriting at the very least, even without the services of captain Sarfraz Ahmed.
Australia have made two changes for the third game of the five-match series, with Nathan Coulter-Nile and the injured Jhye Richardson replaced by Jason Behrendorff and Pat Cummins.
Paksitan have also made two changes to their pace battery – Junaid Khan and Usman Shinwari in for Mohammad Abbas and Faheem Ashraf.
Check out the live ball-by-ball updates below from Abu Dhabi.
The MCC has insisted the law regarding “Mankading” is essential following Monday’s controversial dismissal of Jos Buttler.
There were calls for a change in the law after England batsman Buttler, playing for Rajasthan Royals in the IPL, was run out at the non-striker’s end by Kings XI Punjab bowler Ravichandran Ashwin.
The method of dismissal is legal but one seen by many as going against the spirit of the game, at least unless the batsman had been persistently backing up and thus warned by Ashwin first.
The incident was all the more contentious as Buttler was still in his crease when Ashwin arrived, only for the bowler to pull out of his action and wait for him to step forward before whipping off the bails.
In a statement cricket’s lawmakers, the MCC, have sought to clarify law 41.16: Non-striker leaving his/her ground early in relation to the Buttler controversy.
It said: “This law is essential. Without it, non-strikers could back up at liberty, several yards down the pitch and a law is needed to prevent such action.
“The crux of the issue is when the non-striker can safely leave his/her ground, and what the bowler can do to effect this form of dismissal without courting controversy.
“To clarify, it has never been in the laws that a warning should be given to the non-striker and nor is it against the spirit of cricket to run out a non-striker who is seeking to gain an advantage by leaving his/her ground early.
“Some feel that Ashwin delayed his action to allow Buttler the chance to leave his ground and that Buttler was in his ground when he expected the ball to be released. “If it was a deliberate delay, that would be unfair and against the spirit of cricket. Ashwin claims this not to be the case.
“The TV umpire had to make a decision and, under the law, it was understandable how he opted to give Buttler out. It is up to both teams to ensure that the game is played within both the laws and the spirit of cricket.
“Non-strikers must be careful not to gain an unfair advantage by leaving their ground early, while bowlers must act within the timeframe outlined in the law to effect a run-out under law 41.16.”
Michael Vaughan, Eoin Morgan and Paul Collingwood were among those who criticised Ashwin’s use of the ‘Mankad’, named after Vinoo Mankad who ran out non-striker Bill Brown during India’s 1947-48 tour of Australia.
Provided by Press Association Sport