Leading Edge: Test cricket’s place is rightly shrinking

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

PEOPLE who try to tell us T20 is not cricket probably also believe that this new-fangled gizmo – what do those crazy kids call it, the Interwebs? – will never amount to much. Or that car guards actually guard their cars. Or even that, under all that ridiculous hair, Donald Trump is a nice man.

None of the above. Maybe you don’t much care for the reverse sweep. Perhaps, for you, all that glitters in metallic colours cannot be taken seriously. Maybe you’re a bowler … in which case maybe you have a point and T20 is not cricket.

In political terms, batsmen are the right wing establishment marching to the thudding beat of, “If you see change, kill it”, and bowlers are the left wing agents of that change.

Yes, every 50 or so years a butterfly like AB de Villiers flutters onto the scene and makes batting look like a creative art. But, for the most part, hand someone a bat and they will try to sting like a bee.

For decades now cricket has come down on bowlers in with something close to fascistic enthusiasm – nothing down the leg side in the shorter formats, bouncer restrictions, fielding restrictions, testing bowling actions with a grimness that stirs the ghosts of the Spanish inquisition.

And yet, there they are, bowling ball after ball, over after over, and getting people out. They’re also being drilled for runs like never before, but the way bowlers have been treated by the damn fool suits they would be forgiven for rolling up their run-ups and finding other ways to be second-class citizens.

Except that mounting numbers of bowlers are proving every time they stand at the top of their mark – even as spider cam swirls above and the cheerleaders do their thang to thumping music and the cameras are focused on some preening movie star – that, if T20 is to cricket what nuclear war is to civilisation, they are the cockroaches.

They survive. And as long as they do nobody – not batsmen, not tracksuits, not suits, not even gormless marketing oafs – can kill cricket, much as they might try.

T20, more than any other format, proves it. So it is to T20 that our thanks must go for keeping cricket as rudely alive as it is: as a contest between sets of skilled players, as a spectacle, as something that keeps us up till the sky turns pink talking about a handful of devastating or devastated deliveries.

There is a place for test cricket in all this. But that place is shrinking, and rightly so. Who has the time to watch it diligently? Who has the patience to put up with all those codgers gaaning aan about test cricket’s purity and perfection when they can see that’s not true; that too often it’s just plain boring.

If you think T20 is not cricket, then for you cricket is a game that never was.

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