Test cricket, from the 70s till the start of the 21st century, was defined by two factors. One was dominance by teams like the West Indies and Australia. The second was engaging rivalries between individuals.
These individual rivalries made Test cricket more engaging. There was the Imran Khan-Sunil Gavaskar tussle which gave added spice to the India-Pakistan rivalry. There was the Jeff Thomson-Viv Richards rivalry that made the battle between bat and ball a magnificent spectacle. Later on, there were rivalries between Brian Lara and Glenn McGrath and between Curtly Ambrose and Steve Waugh.
In the mid 70s and 80s, every team struggled to beat the West Indies in any part of the globe. In the mid 90’s till the start of the new millennium, Australia conquered every nation and set a new blue-print for dominance.
In the modern era, Test cricket has undergone a sea change. There have been talks in the last couple of years to make Test cricket more exciting. There is talk about Test cricket’s survival amidst flourishing Twenty20 leagues around the world. The introduction of the Pink Ball Test was added to get more viewers in stadiums.
On Saturday, India’s batting maestro, Sachin Tendulkar has shared his outlook on the current scenario. Speaking at the Hindustan Times Leadership summit, Tendulkar said: “Test cricket is not dying. People’s mindsets have changed. It’s about the big rivalries. There was a time when everyone wanted to beat West Indies. Later, it was Australia. They had nine world class players and two terrific players. If three-four of their players clicked and did the job, they would win.”
Tendulkar lamented that at present, there were no such big rivalries and this was hurting world cricket.
In an international match, the crowd gets engaged if there is a brilliant innings, a magnificent bowling spell or a defining individual moment. According to Tendulkar, he pointed out one instance in the 2015 World Cup that got crowds buzzing with excitement.
“To engage the crowd, there must be an even contest between bat and ball. The Wahab Riaz spell against Shane Watson in Adelaide left an impression in my heart,” he said.
In that quarter-final encounter, Riaz bowled a hostile spell and troubled Watson with bouncers. This contest was one of the most memorable encounters in the 2015 World Cup as Australia scraped through by six wickets.
He also mentioned a brilliant innings by Gavaskar during the fifth and final Test against Pakistan in 1987. “Gavaskar’s 96 was a great knock because he scored the runs on a difficult surface. It was about skills like footwork. This is what makes an innings special,” Tendulkar stated. However, Gavaskar’s knock went in vain as India lost the match by 16 runs and the series 0-1.
Tendulkar’s suggestions, in the backdrop of changes in Test cricket, could make the ICC and BCCI sit up and take notice.