"If we lose Test cricket, we lose cricket as we know it", said England captain, Ben Stokes, during a discussion recently with Lord Ian Botham. How true and insightful his statement is.
Stokes further stated, "Test cricket has been spoken about in a way I don't like. It is losing the attention of the fans with all the new formats and franchise competitions".
The International Cricket Council and other cricket administrators have recognised the slow and steady decline of the traditional and true form of the game. The World Test Championship was one effective step taken to reverse the downward trend, but it hasn't had the desired impact.
Ben Stokes's England appears to be altering how teams will approach Test cricket. They have demonstrated that in order to create engaging and fruitful strokeplay and a desire to play towards a goal, they need to do so. England has been successful and has showed the way forward.
Cricket needs to be viewed as entertainment, particularly in the fast-paced, hectic, and stressful society we currently live in.
The quantity of runs scored at each level of the game has changed significantly. One wonders if the bowling standard has dropped significantly or if the batters are far better than they have ever been. Not only in international cricket but also in school cricket, one can observe batters score 100s, 200s, and even 300s.
The enhancement of the cricket gear, protection gear, and playing circumstances are the three main modifications that come to mind for this amazing run flow.
The cricket bat has had a significant impact because it now looks that even a defensive push is sufficient to score a boundary. This gives the hitter a huge advantage because they don't have to intentionally strive to hit the ball hard by driving through it. This naturally results in a less dangerous push stroke rather than a powerful strike. Even a 12-year-old little boy can now easily clear the in-fielders or the fence thanks to the new bats.
Consequently, leading a cricket team has grown to be a highly challenging task. In the modern game of cricket, the placement of fielders—which one thought the game had mastered through the years—appears to be inefficient. A new set of fielding positions is being developed while accounting for the bat, the pitch's condition, bounce, and potential for a turn or reverse swing.
The England team recently played Pakistan in a Test match, and they put up an extremely aggressive field with catchers inside the 30 yard line covering key angles in the hopes that the batter would make a mistake. The quick and plentiful runs that England had scored allowed them to do so. When one team does not score enough runs, a problem occurs. Teams struggle in this area because they must attack and halt the flow of runs.
An excellent illustration of it occurred recently during India's thrilling and successful chase against Bangladesh in the fourth innings. The Bangladesh captain, Shakib Al Hasan, was unsure of whether he should maintain the optimistic attitude or switch to a more defensive one once Ravichandran Ashwin and Shreyas Iyer had settled in.
Batting has become much more enjoyable thanks to the protective gear, especially for less experienced batters. In the past, a batter had to stand directly in front of the ball, with the bat serving as the only line of defence in front of the body, to withstand a head or body strike.
Naturally, this limited the player's ability to swing freely because he knows the likelihood of ending up in a hospital bed is extremely remote. Due to the potential of getting hit in the head, one would ponder five times before trying the scoop, pull, and hook shots.
Sometimes, one does feel bad for the bowlers. They appear to be lambs for the slaughter when the going is smooth and the conditions are optimum. A swing specialist who bowls the reverse swing with the older ball is now progressively becoming more proficient at traditional swing bowling.
The newer, tougher ball seems to be better for the spinners to bowl with. The classic Indian spin four of Bishan Bedi, B.S. Chandrashekar, Erapalli Prasanna, and Venkataraghavan comes to mind. Even on a placid track, one witnessed them bowling with five close-in fielders. One wonders if their artistry and control were superior to that of modern spinners. We return to the well-compressed modern bats that have given batters the assurance to hit over the top since they know that even a mishit will send the ball over the fielder. In addition, a punch on either the off-side or the on-side appeared to be equivalent to a blow to the boundary. This one would be comparable to a full-blown stroke.
If, one goes by the wickets taken by the spinners in the last two decades, the spinners of the past look inferior in comparison. Similarly, the averages and runs scored by batters are much more than ever before. However, this to me of one who has played the game is definitely not true. The greats of the past had guts, immense dedication and a strong heart to take on any difficulties that came their way.
One is, therefore, amused when comparisons are made through statistics. The brutal cricket that was played in the past, when the red cherry would hit you, leaving an indelible mark that remained for weeks as a reminder by the bowler, is a thing of the past.
A famous line from a cricket poem comes to mind, "Cricket is a game for a real live man, keep fit little man, keep fit". How one perceives this line is the way cricket is facing a change.