The world’s attention will soon revert to the razzmatazz of T20 cricket with the World T20 and IPL imminent, but Test cricket continues to show why it is the most revered format of the game and why it is the format that players most want to succeed in.
Brendan McCullum will be remembered for his explosive batting in limited overs cricket. His spontaneity at the crease has been at the forefront of the wave of innovation that has swept through cricket with the advent of T20. From his starfish ramp shots to his clean hitting and 150 that marked the opening of the IPL, he has been one of the foremost practitioners in this inventive age alongside the likes of Kevin Pietersen, Chris Gayle and MS Dhoni.
Yet for all his exploits there, McCullum will be best remembered for becoming the first Kiwi to score a triple century in Test cricket. He joins the illustrious duo of Wally Hammond and Don Bradman as being the only batsmen to score double and triple centuries in consecutive Tests. That means more than anything.
For evidence, look at Gayle. He will be strutting round the IPL for Royal Challengers Bangalore with the number 333 proudly emblazoned on his back, a number that pays homage to his highest Test score for West Indies against Sri Lanka in Galle in 2010 in front of a crowd of about five. It may lack the glamour and the crowds of T20, but Test cricket is still the benchmark by which the best players judge themselves. It is also the arena in which the best players are judged.
The reputations of the likes of Dhoni, McCullum, Pietersen and Gayle would be diminished had they not performed in Test cricket.
T20 is good fun for both players and spectators and its influence throughout the game cannot be underestimated. The best batsmen hone their attacking skills in the shorter formats and execute them in Tests. Without T20 we would not see so much fearless batting in Tests. The proliferation of shots such as the reverse sweep would not have occurred. It has also sharpened the responses of bowlers and captains.
For the biggest impact, however, just compare the fielding of this current India Test team with the fielding of its predecessors. The likes of Virat Kohli and Cheteshar Pujara are better than the likes of VVS Laxman and Virender Sehwag and that is because of T20. There is no room for passengers in a T20 side.
There would also not have been results such as Pakistan’s dramatic win over Sri Lanka in Sharjah in January. Pakistan chased down 302 to win on the final day at a rollicking rate of 5.25 runs per over. Captains used to be able to close such games down with negative field placings. These days, teams believe that they can score quickly and batsmen can manipulate fields. It was a result that would have been even almost inconceivable 15 years ago.
So Test cricket certainly owes T20 a debt of gratitude. Certain facets of the game have undoubtedly been improved. But Test cricket will always remain the big brother. It will always remain the most coveted version of the game and players like Eoin Morgan will continue to forego T20 and its riches for a shot at Test cricket.
There is also the fact that T20 can never replicate the protracted drama of Test cricket. For further evidence, cast a glance towards Cape Town this weekend when South Africa and Australia lock horns for the final Test in their three Test series.
It may last for five days, but Test cricket always finds a way of leaving you wanting more. Yuvraj Singh may be earning astronomical sums of money at this year’s IPL, but as Pietersen revealed whilst the pair were teammates at that tournament, he was desperate to figure out a route back into Test cricket. Riches are earned in T20, but memories and reputations are earned in Tests.
By Miles Reucroft