Test Cricket 2.0 begins now
Look at the world’s great historic cricket grounds. Look at Lord’s with its UFO of a media centre staring down the graceful pavilion on the opposite side of the field. Look at the SCG, where the Victorian era Members and Ladies Stands cower beneath huge imposing concrete edifices.
Arenas like these are metaphors for the modern cricketing era, in which the ancient game of Test cricket desperately vies for attention with the bold, brash child of Twenty20.
When T20 first hit the cricket landscape, the big issue was scheduling. Just how to squeeze in all those extra matches? The issue is no longer about programming but people. What kind of batsmen will form the spine of future Test batting line-ups? Which bowlers have a strong enough spine to withstand three forms of the game?
Two main stories have dominated the lead-up to the first Test against New Zealand this Thursday. One is the daring selection of T20 specialist Dave Warner. The other is the once-unthinkable policy of rotating bowlers in and out of the team. Whatever you make of all this, it’s clear that Test cricket is officially different now. It’s Test Cricket 2.0. Test cricket as we know it, with a few tweaks.
Let’s talk about Warner first. He made his domestic T20 debut in 2007, and by the time he debuted for Australia in 2009 with 89 runs off 43 balls, it was game on baby. The kids had a new hero.
Most batsmen in this fitness-obsessed era are lean from top to toe. Warner is barrel-chested like a baseballer, and just as powerful. He looks different and he plays differently. He is also inventive. He has flirted with a double sided bat and plays the switch hit as well as anyone.
Despite his T20 prowess, it always sounded hollow when Warner would repeat the “my main goal is to play Test cricket for Australia” mantra to journalists, especially when he was yet to make his first class debut. But now, here he is, with three Sheffield Shield tons under his belt. Technique, power and an uncannily good eye have combined to make him a Test player.
Warner’s many knockers are willing him to fail. His success, they say, would make a mockery of the traditional pathway of the Sheffield Shield. The thing is, who’s to say mental fortitude can’t be learned by guys who’ve developed a good eye in the shorter forms of the game? Why does patience necessarily have to be learned before skill?
Maybe Dave Warner will make runs and have a long Test career, maybe he won’t. But if not him, other young dashers will follow. Several Indian batsmen have graduated to the Test team through the IPL – and India are a lot higher-ranked in the Test standings than we are nowadays.
Now let’s talk bowlers. Loads of old pacemen, among them Jeff Thomson and Geoff Lawson, have slammed the new selectorial policy of rotating bowlers to preserve them for the weeks, months and years ahead.
In a perfect world, Thommo and Henry would have a point. Absolutely, you betcha, it’d be great to have our best available line-up for every game, just like they did in the old days. Problem is, the schedule isn’t like the old days anymore.
By New Year’s Eve, Australia will have played more than 40 separate international matches this year across all three forms of the game. In Bradman’s day that number was four or five. Even in Border’s day it was more like 25 or 30.
All those matches, and we still (quite rightly) expect players both young and old to play state cricket to get themselves match-ready before international fixtures. No wonder half the team is injured.
The simple fact is, a crowded calendar necessitates a revolving door selection policy. Old cricketers argue with a small degree of validity that it cheapens the Baggy Green, but the fact is, it’s been happening for years in sports like rugby union, where teams habitually rotate players, especially against lesser opposition.
Sometimes it all comes unstuck, as the Wallabies rather embarrassingly discovered against Samoa this July. But ultimately, the policy is there to allow for the strongest possible team in the biggest matches.
If Australia crashes to New Zealand this week, many will write off Test cricket 2.0 as a failure. No matter. We’ll just reboot the computer and get it right next time. This new operating system is here to stay.
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