Is red-ball cricket better than white-ball cricket or is white-ball cricket superior form of the game? Indian national cricket team’s Test specialist Cheteshwar Pujara sparked off a debate among cricket fans on social media about a month ago by saying he considers winning the ICC Test Championship a bigger achievement than winning the ODI or T20 World Cup. Pujara’s statement left the cricket fans in splits- debating over which form of cricket is the best.
The cricket pundits have been calling Test cricket as the ultimate form of the game ever since the advent of limited overs version of the game. But with the rise of white ball bonanza, Test cricket is fighting to complete while crash-bang-wallop version of the game has been the crowd puller. Does it make Test cricket irrelevant? Absolutely NO! True cricket romantics still love the format as it really tests your skills, mental strength and character as a player- you have nowhere to hide. Five day cricket gives you so much time for everything- leave, defence and attack. It throws you in a coliseum where your limitations cannot be concealed. You need to have a very good technique as a batsmen to bat for long periods of time facing a hostile spell of bowling in tough conditions. Leaving the balls that should be left. Avoiding poking at deliveries outside the off-stump. Getting your feet moving to the pitch off the ball so that you can be on top of the ball. Playing the ball with the full face of the bat. Having your front shoulder in the right position. All of this counts to be a successful Test batsmen.
As a bowler you plan to outfox the batsmen by setting them up. Laying the trap and patiently waiting for them to fall for it. Bowling long spells. There are often mini battles inside the game with ferocious spells of individual brilliance, outcomes of which have an impact on overall result of the game. Away from all the noise of the scorecard, the game drifts along at a pace of its own and you have to play it session by session. Same game presents several different challenges- countering the early morning swing, tackling the fading light when the day is ending, surviving on a minefield of a pitch on fourth or a fifth day and starting the next day from zero even if you are batting on a hundred. As a captain you have to find answers to important questions such as, when to declare? Do you want to bat again? How much time do you need to get the opposition out in the fourth innings? It gives you an opportunity to escape with a draw if you can bat entire day to save the game. Only after toiling hard for days with numerous swings in fortunes you get to the outcome of the game. Test cricket needs to be preserved for so many flavors it offers in a single game and World Test Championship is a step in the right direction.
In modern era, T20 has fundamentally changed the way cricket is played. Young batsmen believe in building their game on attack instead of solid defence as that’s the skillset required to be successful in this format of the game. It is an explosive format which encourages power hitters. Players like Andre Russell can change the complexion of a game in a matter of two overs. Create an impact like Yuvraj Singh did by hitting six sixes in an over of Stuart Broad in the inaugural T20 World Cup in 2007. The game is so fast that you need to be on your toes. There is no time to get your eye in as a batsmen- you have to get going from the first ball. It demands the players to be innovative and fearless in their thinking. As a result batsmen have been more inventive and have mastered the art of playing unorthodox shots such as switch hit and the scoop. There is a need for the batters to maximize the hitting zone to score more. Clearing the front leg and hitting through the line. Using your feet especially to the spinners to unsettle the bowler early on in their spell. All of this requires hours and hours of practice in the nets facing throw downs or the bowling machine.
T20 bowling is a different from other formats. In Test Match cricket you would want to bowl consistent line and length as a bowler but if you do the same in T20 cricket you will be pounded for runs. As a bowler you will be getting flat decks to bowl at, so you will need more variations- slower balls, yorkers, knuckle balls, wide-yorkers, slower bouncers and cutters. Bowlers should be able to read the batters body language and mind-set, to bowl a delivery which they are least expecting, which would be their best opportunity to contain them or get them out. A bowler’s dilemma in T20 cricket is whether to bowl a wicket-taking delivery or a dot ball. They are more inclined on containment and waiting for the batters to make a mistake. Are quite content with giving away a single if that can prevent a boundary. If a big hitting batsmen is looking for boundaries and as a bowler if you can restrict them for just a single and send him down to non-striker’s end, it would be considered a good outcome. Test bowler bowling a low full-toss on the batsmen’s pads will be clipped in the on-side for a boundary. But the same delivery in T20 with fielders in the deep to prevent a boundary becomes a safe option. Change in a spinner’s mind-set has been even more profound. Instead of giving the ball more flight, spinners have been found bowling darters- flatter and quicker. The more preferred skill among the spinners is the ability to turn the ball both ways to deceive the batters.
Fielding is of utmost importance in T20 cricket so the teams around the world generally prefer young legs in the field. Most matches are closely contested and go down to the wire. Margin of victory is generally narrow. Runs saved in the field are likely to have an impact on the outcome of the game. So it is extremely important for the fielders to be brilliant in the field when it comes to diving, hitting the stumps, sprinting, taking relay catches, doing underarm diving throws and taking running catches in the deep.
ODI cricket is similar to T20 in some ways but requires a different approach. If you are a batsmen batting in the top 3 it would be expected of you to provide your team a steady start and set the platform for the lower order to explode pretty much like a T20 game. Your approach should be that of controlled aggression so that you can hope to continue for a longer period of time. A new batsmen will have sufficient time to get their eye in while playing the balls on merit. No. 4 is crucial position to bat in ODI cricket where the batsmen will be expected to keep the scoreboard ticking in the middle overs, running hard between the wickets- converting the ones into twos and taking the game deep. A No. 4 batsmen will also need to be dynamic in his approach as there will be times when he will be coming into bat at 30-2 and there will be times when he will be coming into bat at 200-2, so they should have the ability to adapt to different situations and be able to shift gears as the inning progresses. ODI pace bowler would be required to bowl in the first power play and will need to bowl consistent line and length. Unlike T20s, batsmen generally take time to settle in so they would not need to bowl six different balls in an over. Spinners look to give the ball a bit more air- inviting the batsmen into a drive with the attempt to deceiving them with the flight. Death bowling would you quite similar to that in T20 cricket.
So to conclude- no format is superior then the other, each requires a set of skills to be successful. Each format has its own audience, while Test cricket excites ardent cricket fans, limited overs cricket attracts new cricket audiences. All three forms of the game can exist together. ICC and cricket boards around the world need to come together to balance the three and keep innovating.