THERE is the fable of the cat and the lion, where the lion asks the cat to show him all the tricks and techniques of planning and hunting. And then, when he has been taught supposedly everything, one day pounces on the cat itself only to see it dodge and climb a tree which the lion cannot. From the top of the tree the cat smiles down and says “I may have taught you all the techniques but there is one I saved for my own survival. And from there the term ‘cat is the lion’s aunt’ (billi shair kee khaala) started.

Test cricket similarly may have passed on some tricks to the limited over format, first to 50 overs then to 40 and onwards to 20 to 10. But even as the lion roars the cat holds some cards close to its chest. And that is the tension of a third result, the fighting last session and often the chance of four results as the game nears its end.

You see, Test cricket is a game of strategy and the grueling fight. Comparing it with the shorter formats is like comparing coffee poured dry from sachets with brewed and stirred cappuccino. Yes life is quick and the attention spans are shorter. Editors now even go for shorter paragraphs and shorter lengths of articles. Yet the novel still sells twice more than the book of short stories according to publishers data.

Fears of the world’s end has reverberated at every entrepreneurial turn. When video came experts called it the death of cinema. Actually, even before video and subsequently DVD’s faded out due to online viewing, cinema sales boosted. This was because with special effects, cinematography and wardrobe classics audiences still wanted to see it on the big screen. And cinema owners went for an environment that the shorter format couldn’t match, such as surround sound and 3D.

Even the late 70s song by Video Killed The Radio Star by Bugglesbecame untrue as more cars on the road meant higher audiences for FM radio and then the disrupter effect of mobiles and iPods (especially in Pakistan) lead to equal chance for songs to be heard while riding, driving or walking.

Coming back to Test cricket, I doubt if any shorter format game could match the tension of the dying moments of the third and final Test in the West Indies last year where Pakistan won with a handful of balls to spare. No shorter format could match the tension of dying moments when only one side could win.

Moreover, statistics prove that large majority of shorter format games lack interest after the opening few overs of the second innings. Take the currently on PSL. It has been low scoring games and ever so often the result is probable by the powerplay in the second innings. Often in fact the first innings scores of 100 odd make it quicker than that. That makes it equal to a session of Test cricket where you not only see some quality batting and bowling but also the unraveling of a plot.

Test cricket also has the option of being viewed at one’s leisure. You have five days with three sessions each to catch the action. With Test cricket normally going for over three runs an over these days there is enough happening. The five day game also has the charm of fielders around the bat especially to spinners. That is a trap waiting to happen and the spinner knits his web like he cannot in a one day game. There the captain will not allow him to buy his wicket.

The five day game sees several oscillations that keep the interest alive. There is a second innings where the game can swing on its head. Can any shorter format match the way India, after following on 274 behind posted 657 and won in 2001. Or when Asad Shafiq batted like a warrior to almost see Pakistan chase close to 500 in the day night Test in Australia in December 2016. Likewise Younus’ double hundred at The Oval earlier that summer turned around a match and series result. Countless other reversals show the true attraction of Test cricket.

Some teams have actually managed to do a fine balancing act of all formats and India admittedly is perhaps the best at it. The IPL may have sounded the horn on T20 cricket following the experiment on English grounds but Indians have played their role in endorsing Test cricket as a full value format. That may be due to their academies and the exposure their cricketers have got but it is also because of the intrinsic value they place on the war plan as against the battle tactic.

They are taking their Test cricket seriously leading to a greater following. Their recent fightback in the Test series in South Africa on alien tracks shows that their batsmen and bowlers are not just T20 hitters or containers. They took on their own Bishen Bedi’s comments that they will be in for a beating and showed him up in all formats.

Yes there are players shying away from the five day game to maintain their fitness for the more lucrative domestic T20 leagues, but if you notice these are almost always players who have played several years of Test cricket and are not sure of their places in the Test eleven. A recent example of retirement from Tests is Shoaib Malik who did so after almost two decades of cricket and making a comeback to the Test team after six years.

And if Morne Morkel has hinted he will back out of Test cricket he would have been out of Tests anyway because of fitness. Likewise Alex Hales and Adil Rashid, who recently signed up only for white ball cricket were not regulars in the England Test team.

Lastly, it has to be said that eventual loyalty comes from nationalism. And T20 cricket offers that in bits and pieces. Rest of the time the players are playing for teams that their fellow citizens don’t identify with. That doesn’t lead to a following. In club football you don’t see players changing colleagues as you do cricketers when they play in three to four leagues per year. So there is a clear loyalty built over a 100 years per club and loyalty to players and team following. In cricket you see colleagues in one league becoming opponents a few days later in another. That doesn’t lead to loyalty and following.

For the moment this is a circus where cricketers are skillful exponents like trapeze artists and jugglers. People will eventually get bored with that. Passionate loyalties are built around national sides. And Test cricket is built on that alone. When the plot thickens it’s the cat among the pigeons and no lions roar can drown the interest, the technique and the following. Thew difference is as clear as red and white.

Published in Dawn, March 5th, 2018

Opinion

Editorial

Price bombs
Updated 18 Jun, 2024

Price bombs

It just wants to take the easy route and enjoy the ride for however long it is in power.
Palestine’s plight
Updated 17 Jun, 2024

Palestine’s plight

While the faithful across the world are celebrating with their families, thousands of Palestinian children have either been orphaned, or themselves been killed by the Israeli aggressors.
Profiting off denied visas
Updated 19 Jun, 2024

Profiting off denied visas

The staggering rejection rates underscore systemic biases in the largely non-transparent visa approval process.
After the deluge
Updated 16 Jun, 2024

After the deluge

There was a lack of mental fortitude in the loss against India while against US, the team lost all control and displayed a lack of cohesion and synergy.
Fugue state
16 Jun, 2024

Fugue state

WITH its founder in jail these days, it seems nearly impossible to figure out what the PTI actually wants. On one...
Sindh budget
16 Jun, 2024

Sindh budget

SINDH’S Rs3.06tr budget for the upcoming financial year is a combination of populist interventions, attempts to...