To rescue Test cricket, make it more bowler-friendly
Test cricket is more interesting to watch when bowlers are on top—whether that’s on green-tops in New Zealand or turners in Chennai
Let’s start with a quick thank you to Sujan Mukherjee, the curator of the Eden Gardens pitch in Kolkata for the first India-Sri Lanka Test match that ended on Monday. A lot of time was lost to bad weather and poor light, and the fact that we still witnessed a gripping Test match was mostly thanks to the quality of the surface the game was played on.
The first morning provided India’s batsmen with a taste of what lies in store when they embark on a two-month tour of South Africa in December. The Lankan seamers took full advantage of a green pitch and overcast conditions, making the ball sing rather than just talk. At one point, India’s scorecard read three wickets for 17 runs in the 11th over. How long has it been since we have seen something like that?
We then witnessed a Cheteshwar Pujara special: supremely solid when pushed against a wall. We saw India’s seamers thrive, rather than toil. On the final day, we saw Virat Kohli do what Virat Kohli does so often these days—repel bowlers who are on song before launching a bruising counter. All of it ended with India pushing for the unlikeliest of wins before sunset on Monday evening.
Much has been written and said about the decline of Test cricket over the last few years, with viewership numbers falling faster than stadium attendance figures. The issue came into focus again when the International Cricket Council introduced reforms to make Test cricket more interesting—including a Test championship to be played out over two years and a trial for four-day Test matches.
There is a simpler solution though, one that probably has been staring us in the face for the last two decades.
The fact is that Test cricket is more interesting to watch when bowlers are on top—whether that’s on green-tops in New Zealand or turners in Chennai.
We all have stories of waking up early to watch India play in Australia—quiet winter mornings amplifying the crisp sound of ball hitting bat.
There was a time when we spent time watching meaningless tour games in the build-up to a Test series in England, just to see how our batsmen—bred on flat tracks back home—fared in seaming conditions against the swing-friendly Duke balls.
The thrill of watching Shane Warne, Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble getting the ball to jump and bite off a good length, of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis steaming in with the old ball... these are all sights that are as exciting as anything we’ll witness on a cricket field.
Over the last 20 years or so, there has been a proactive attempt to help batsmen dominate bowlers, especially in the shorter formats, ostensibly because fans like watching boundaries and sixes. Field restrictions, shorter boundaries, flat tracks...short of asking bowlers to deliver with their shoelaces tied to each other, all options have been explored.
So why not flip this for Test cricket? Why not play the longest format exclusively on bowler-friendly tracks? Actively prepare turners or green-tops. Let bowlers—reduced to bowling machines in One Day Internationals (ODIs) and T20s—have their fun in Tests.
After all, if you’re okay with actively making the game more batsman-friendly for the shorter formats, there should be no moral quandary, at least, in going the other way for the longer game.
Deepak Narayanan, a journalist for nearly 20 years, now runs an events space, The 248 Collective, in Goa.
He tweets at @deepakyen