The day before my final exam of third year (Chinese Politics, if you must know) the bell was ringing at Lords as Jimmy Anderson bowled the first over of the English summer of cricket. In the quaint scenery of Lords, the typical grey overcast sky, the outlandish yellow and red pinstripe blazers of the MCC members, Anderson bowled his teasing swing bowling from the Pavillion End at West Indies’ young opening batsmen Adrian Barath. The scenario at Lords is a picture painted a hundred times before, give or take the occasional dodgy hairstyles of the time. Just last year, India’s visit to Lords was the 2000th Test match to ever take place.
What was more telling of how cricket has developed in the modern world was not the efforts of the West Indian opening batsmen at Lords, but the brute force of another West Indian on the other side of the world. While the West Indies were struggling to build a first innings score in the oldest form of the game, Chris Gayle was blasting sixes for fun for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Indian Premier League, the world’s premier Twenty20 tournament.
The contrast between the two scenarios could not be more evident. The Test Match at Lords was the stereotype of cricket; the players were in vinyl, play was stopped for tea and bad light. Not one six was scored in the entire day. In Delhi under the floodlights, Gayle’s performance was as outlandish as his team’s kit. Gayle struck an incredible thirteen sixes on his way to scoring 128 from just 62 balls. For those who do not know much about cricket, that is frighteningly good. His team, playing for a vital semi-final berth against Delhi Daredevils, made 215 in their twenty overs.
The argument since the rise of limited-overs cricket such as the Indian Premier League has always been the impact it would have on Test matches. Akin to a brain drain from poor countries to rich, the large salaries and less strenuous work conditions of IPL – Chris Gayle earns $650,000 for roughly six weeks of work - have seen many players opt to ditch Test cricket in pursuit of financial gain. The fact that Gayle, and other players like Sri Lanka’s Lasith Malinga, have chosen to enhance their career prospects in India than traditional venues such as the Gabba in Melbourne or Lords does not bode well for the future of five-day cricket. Outside of England and Australia, attendances for Test matches are abysmal.
Akin to a brain drain from poor countries to rich, the large salaries and less strenuous work conditions of IPL have seen many players opt to ditch Test cricket in pursuit of financial gain.
Sure, the forms of the game contradict each other, and it is often seen as having a negative impact on Test cricket. But many seem to feel that it is strictly has to be one or the other. Why can’t someone enjoy a five-day Test match while also seeing the beauty in match between the Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals? Yes, they are completely different entities within the same loose criteria, much in the same way The Independent and i are both newspapers who deal with news in completely different ways. Why, as fan, should I have to choose between the two forms? Five-day cricket creates excitement too, you know. Just think back to 2005 when the Ashes ‘fever’ (hate that word, nobody came down ill because of some wicket-keeping, but apt nonetheless) hit Britain.
Ultimately, the influence of the Indian Premier League and all that it entails (the fireworks, cheerleaders, the player salaries) has been the greatest challenge to the grandeur and the prestige of the Test match. But as a spectator, to quote the former leader of China Deng Xaoping (that’s the Chinese revision sneaking in again), it does not matter if the cat is black or white, so long as it catches the mice. In cricket, it doesn’t matter if people are interested in the Indian Premier League or Test cricket, so long as the sport is still the imagination of people, I do not really mind.