England collapse amid doubts over Test cricket

Humiliation: Joe Root stands disconsolately as England’s two-hour collapse begins. © Getty

Is Twenty20 leading to the death of Test cricket? Yesterday England were skittled for 58 in the first test in New Zealand. Now this shambles is being blamed on shorter forms of the game.

At 2pm, Alastair Cook and Mark Stoneman marched to the wicket at Eden Park, Auckland, with optimism in their hearts. England had edged the preceding one-day series against New Zealand, a team with a reputation as competent, honest triers rather than superstars.

Two hours later, England had been bowled out for 58 — the sixth lowest score in their long Test cricket history. At one point they had lost nine wickets for just 29 runs, and their all-time record looked under threat.

Trent Boult and Tim Southee were New Zealand’s partners in carnage. England could not deal with the pair’s swing bowling. Five batsmen, including captain Joe Root, were out for naught. To compound England’s humiliation, New Zealand seemed to find batting easy, ending the day on 175-3 with victory almost certain.

Former spinner Graeme Swann described the whole day as “horrific”. England coach Trevor Bayliss confessed himself “embarrassed”.

Once, every international cricket match was a Test match. These take five days. To cricket-haters, they symbolise the game’s impenetrability. To most cricket-lovers, they remain the purest, most absorbing form of the game.

But in 1971, one-day matches came to international cricket in an attempt to draw in greater crowds. Then, in the 21st century, came the most serious challenge to Test cricket: Twenty20, where games take just three to four hours and often draw massive crowds.

Writing in the BBC, Jonathan Agnew believes that England’s limp display was party due to Test cricket being squeezed out of the cricketing calendar in favour of T20. “The time has come to be seriously concerned about the future of Test cricket unless attitudes change”, he writes.

There is also a sense that T20, where the aim is to score as quickly as possible, has made the traditional Test virtues of patience and a strong defence less important. Many of England’s batsmen were dismissed playing wild shots more suited to the shorter forms of the game.

T20 has hugely increased cricket’s popularity. But should we prize tradition over innovation?

Just not cricket

A sport should look after its most fervent fans, say some. The longest form of the game has stood the test of time. It provides the perfect balance between bat and ball. Test cricket is a magnificent, perfectly balanced symphony, while one-day cricket is just a loud, three-minute pop song. Tradition all the way.

Sports become stale without innovation, reply others. The numbers do not lie: one-day cricket is simply more popular than Test cricket. Many also argue that the introduction of T20 has improved the longer form of the game, as batsmen have transferred shots they experimented with in T20 to the Test arena.

You Decide

  1. Should sports prize tradition over innovation?
  2. Do you like cricket?

Activities

  1. Name your favourite sport, and imagine you have to make one change to improve your chosen sport. What would you change and why?
  2. Design an advert encouraging those who do not like cricket to attend a Test match.

Some People Say...

“Everyone is conservative about what he knows best.”

Robert Conquest

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
England were bowled out for just 58 on the first day of the first Test against New Zealand in Auckland. It is England’s sixth lowest total of all time. England were undone by a devastating spell of swing bowling, but many pundits also blamed some terrible shot selection. Many have blamed falling standards in Test cricket on the introduction of shorter forms of the game.
What do we not know?
Whether this is true. It is very hard to compare sports from different eras, and there is no doubt that cricket has improved in several measurable ways, such as fitness and physical preparation. We also do not know whether Twenty20 cricket will last as long as Test cricket — or indeed outlive it.

Word Watch

Sixth lowest score
England’s lowest ever score is 45, which happened in Sydney, Australia, in 1887. More recently they were bowled out for 51 by the West Indies in 2009.
Test cricket
Ten teams play Test cricket: India, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, England, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, West Indies, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.
Swing bowling
The essence of swing bowling is to get the ball to deviate sideways as it moves through the air towards or away from the batsman. To do this, the bowler makes use of several factors, including polishing one side of the ball and changing their grip. Swing bowling is much easier in overcast conditions.
Joe Root
The Yorkshire batsman has been England’s captain since taking over from Alastair Cook in February 2017.
Five days
Even after five days, the game frequently ends in a draw.
Twenty20
This means that each team has 20 overs (an over is six deliveries) to score as many runs as possible. Whoever scores the most runs wins.