The Rise of Short-Ball Spawns the Fall of Test Cricket...?
Updated: Apr 13, 2020
With the addition of The Hundred, English cricket has become increasingly easy to consume. However, as the duration of cricket games decreases, will the foundations the sport was built upon follow suit?
Anyone could be forgiven for getting caught up in the 'States' feel of The Hundred draft last Sunday. From a star-studded draft pool to surprise omissions, a sport built on values and tradition ventured into entertainment and consumerism - something which is becoming an increasingly common occurrence within the 'gentleman's game'.
It is no secret that the ever-popular Twenty20 cricket somewhat divides the fans and traditionalists alike, but the concept of modernisation just won't go away. Contemporary cricket is a fast-paced highlight reel, designed to appeal to the majority of consumers. Contemporary cricket could also be the deathnail in Test cricket's coffin. That, however, is not an original concept for this piece.
In 2015, three avid cricket journalists produced a documentary, Death of a Gentleman, that sought to explore the potential demise of test-match cricket. Ultimately uncovering far more than they bargained for, the trio became embroiled in a corruption scandal that seemed too 'Hollywood' to believe. The group's original premise though, is worth exploring further.
Focusing on Australian test opener Ed Cowan, after conversations with the batsman and numerous cricket fans it became clear to the filmmakers that the long-ball form of the game was slowly being replaced by its trendier, sexier, quicker cousin, one-day cricket - namely, T20.
Whilst Cowan was living his childhood dream in the whites of Australia's test team, throughout the world cricket fans were abandoning the traditional format, enticed by the bright lights and the big-hitting of 20-over cricket, But could they really be blamed? Introduced to the professional level in 2003, Twenty20 cricket was born as a result of cricketing authorities looking to boost the game's popularity with the younger generation in response to dwindling crowds and reduced sponsorship. It was intended to deliver fast-paced, exciting cricket that was accessible to thousands of fans who were put off by the longer versions of the game. Though it's global spread was gradual, T20 had a momentum that seemingly would not (and could not) be stopped, and the launch of the Indian Premier League (IPL) acted as a further catalyst. The IPL not only created a buzz never seen before, it also allowed for cricket's best short-ball players to sign big-money deals in a sport that is otherwise far from lucrative. Revolutionising players' worth, the happenings in the IPL bring us back full circle to the draft for The Hundred. With players earning from £30k to £125k for their part in the 38 day tournament, The Hundred's inaugural season hopes to build on the success of T20. That said, the tournament has been accused of innovation for innovation's sake; 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'.
On the other hand, whether a deliberate attempt at inclusion, or a marketing strategy, The Hundred should be praised and applauded for their support of women's cricket thus far. Running alongside the men's competition, each franchise will also have a women's side compiled of the world's best and brightest players. The success of this year's Women's Football World Cup does not appear lost on The Hundred's organisers, and if successful in engaging young women to play the sport, the tournament may well be seen as a positive inclusion on England's cricketing calendar, and the doubters may be silenced for a while. It's also important to look at The Hundred through English-tinted glasses. An English tournament with a wide array of domestic players, surely this only serves to benefit England's national side in the short-ball formats? Reigning World Cup champions and a stalwart of the T20 game, critics may argue that England would benefit more through an improvement of their test set-up. However, an old adage says 'showcase your strengths, hide your weaknesses'. In 2019 alone, England's test team were bowled out for 67 by Australia, and, embarrassingly bowled out for 85 by Ireland. Short of Ben Stokes' heroics in the third test of the Ashes - where he almost solely played one-day and T20 style shots - England's demoralisation would have been further added to. If England are displaying a demise in test fortunes, does a focus on short-ball cricket really seem like such a bad thing?
Furthermore, if looking for added positives outside of this country, the number one draft pick of Afghanistan's Rashid Khan serves to only further showcase the power short-ball cricket has. Throw in the £100k to be earned by Nepalese spinner Sandeep Lamichhane when he runs out for the Oval Invincibles, and it is evident that cricket's 'minnow' countries are benefiting from the development achieved through T20 cricket.
Many would argue that if cricket is to survive in the modern era, expansion is pivotal. Thus, Twenty20 offer the chance for new players, new countries, new audiences and, well, new experiences. That said, if one-day cricket usurps, and indeed eliminates test cricket, are we to lose some future perennial talents of the sport? In this year's New Year Honours, England's former test captain Alastair Cook became a Sir. Knighted for his contributions to cricket, Cook had been a stalwart of the England test side. An opening batsman with an unwavering nerve and patience, Cookie was a test 'maestro' in all senses of the word. With over 12,000 test runs, as well as a solo bowling wicket to his name, Cook was seen as the quintessential long-ball opening batsman by many. However, Cook struggle to really ever cement a place in England's one-day sides. How is it that a batsman of the ex-skipper's ability and standing only amassed 92 one-day international appearances over a 12-year career? Two words: playing style. To put this into perspective, Rashid Khan has played 109 one-day internationals at the age of just 21. In 6 years, Joe Root has played 143 ODIs. Even perennial 'nearlyman' Ravi Bopara has 120 appearances to his name. Not meaning to demean the great Sir Alastair Cook, this does beg the question: would Cook have been knighted without test cricket? Or, would Cook have been England captain without test cricket? Or, perhaps even more crucially, would Cook even be memorable without test cricket? Of course these hypothetical questions are not required at this moment in time. Test cricket still exists and the furore around the Ashes in particular seems bright as ever. But with the introduction of the Hundred, are we destined to see a gradual short-ball takeover of the game? If not, how exactly does test cricket fight back?