When Kusal Perera last week invoked the spirit of Brian Lara in 1999, and nudged Sri Lanka past a South African finishing line, he scored a victory at many levels. It was a victory for the underdog. It was a victory for the down and out. It was a victory for Sri Lankan cricket, which has been adrift after losing a generation of cricketers to time. And, it was a victory for Test cricket—the oldest and longest format of cricket that has withstood the instant gratification offered by newer, shorter formats.

Part of the reason Test cricket has held its ground is its increasing tendency to generate a result—as opposed to ending in a draw—within the five days allotted to a match. Of the nine Test matches played in 2019 so far, eight have yielded a result, or a results rate of 89%.

Even over a longer time frame, the results picture has never looked better. Of the 80 Tests played during the current decade so far, 80% have yielded a result. On a decadal basis, that’s the best ratio of results in Test matches in the last seven decades.

It wasn’t always like this. The low point was the 1980s, when the results rate was an anaemic 54%. Teams prided themselves on drawing a match—at least, we didn’t lose, they argued. Most draws then were not rearguard actions that stemmed from a truce being the only option left, they were the construct of a defensive mindset. This mindset of playing safe manifested itself in many choices, notably in the sub-continent, and it did so from ball one. Pitches were docile, the scoring rate was conservative and it was a toil for bowlers.

During the 1980s, among prominent Test-playing teams, Test matches featuring the rampaging West Indies had the highest results rate, of 62%. By comparison, India and Pakistan—back then, relatively weaker sides, especially overseas—were notorious for not generating results. Only 40% of Tests played by India in that decade yielded a result. For Pakistan, that figure was 45%.

In 1987, for example, when Pakistan visited India for a five-Test series, the two sides were on a drawn streak of seven Tests. That increased to 11 as the two sides played four forgettable Tests on lame pitches. The fifth Test, played on a devilish wicket in Bengaluru, was an unforgettable one.

A low-scoring Test that Pakistan won by 16 runs had everything the first four didn’t have: stern examination for batsmen, wickets falling in heaps, a run chase and, notably, a result. That Test has remained the reason by which that series is framed.

In the 1990s, India fashioned a three-card trick to win Tests at home against all manners of opposition: a turning wicket, three quality spinners in the side and batsmen with reasonable heft at home.

The results rate in Tests played in India shot up from 40% in the 1980s to 73% in the 1990s. It fell to 62% in the following decade. This decade, it is currently at 80%, which is largely in line with what is seen elsewhere in world cricket.

Ironically, the soaring popularity of shorter formats have played a role in this reversal in Test results. It started with one-day internationals, which gained credence as a useful counterpoint to the oft-insipid backdrop that was the Test arena in 1980s. Run rates in Test cricket started increasing, and the mindset of playing for a win became the dominant one, exemplified by the Australian team of the 2000s, which twice racked up a winning streak of 16.

Further, wickets have become more result-oriented. In the 1980s, of the 31 grounds that hosted at least three Tests, only four yielded a result at least 75% of the time. The dominant set hovered in the 26-50% results rate. In contrast, in the last two decades, the dominant set has shifted to the 76-100% band.

Even Indian grounds distinguish themselves on the results scale. Of the top 10 grounds with the highest results rate in the last three decades (83% to 88%), there are two Indian grounds: Wankhede in Mumbai and Feroz Shah Kotla in Delhi.

The top 10 grounds feature at least one ground from all top Test-playing nations, except New Zealand, which shows the universal nature of this shift (chart 4).

Such result numbers are needed to keep Test cricket interesting, especially at a time when it is expanding due to the increase in Test-playing nations. In today’s time, a sporting event played over five days is a rarity, even an anachronism. But Test cricket holds on.

howindialives.com is a database and search engine for public data