With the evolution of Test cricket over the course of time, it has become more fast-paced and result-oriented than ever to cope up with the audience’s expectations. The fearless batting approach from limited-overs seems to be rubbing off on the players while batting in the Tests as well.
After being played for the first time in 1877, Test cricket has survived the test of time. Being backed by purists, Test cricket is usually loved by fans who love old-school cricket but its evolution with time has maintained its popularity. The first Test was played between Australia and England in 1877 and has gone through ups and downs in its journey. It was considered to be declining with the emergence of the shorter format but providing a context to it like World Test Championship and the teams with more attacking intent has made the format equally popular.
Traditionally, Test cricket was a display of patience, grit, and determination. A player with a textbook-style solid defence was considered to be a great red-ball player and staying at the crease for a long time was the primary aim. However, with the evolution in the format, the teams now play to win. They play with a mindset to produce results and the Test matches have witnessed that in recent years. According to an article published by Mint on 21 February 2019, only 54% of Tests produced results in the 1980s. At the time, when the article was written 80% of Tests had produced results in the ongoing decade which was the best ratio in the last seven decades. Also, in the last five years, more than 80% of Test matches have produced results every year. This result-oriented Test cricket has made the longest format more entertaining than ever and it is a sheer joy for spectators to watch a team chasing down a target of more than 300 in a single day on a few occasions.
The primary reason behind this massive shift in Test cricket is the tendency of batters to play fearless cricket in the five-day game. Even before the Test cricket was played with more pace there were some players like Sanath Jayasuriya, Adam Gilchrist, and Virender Sehwag who believed in taking the attack to the opposition in the red-ball cricket too. Jayasuriya made his debut in 1991 and he displayed a completely new batting style scoring 6973 Test runs at a strike rate of 65.27 and opened the innings for a major part of his career. The strike rate might not display an aggressive intent but the number is good for a player who played many of his matches in the era before 2000. Adam Gilchrist was another face who batted in the Tests to just smack the ball for fun. He scored 5570 runs at a massive strike rate of 81.96 in 96 Tests. Virender Sehwag was another batter who played in the same mould maintaining a strike rate of 82.23 in 104 Tests. All these players made an impact individually and also they made the team capable of scoring runs at a faster rate than others. On several occasions, a cameo from Gilchrist in the Tests helped Australia reach a winning total saving their time and allowing enough time for bowlers to wrap up the opposition.
The first ODI was played in 1971 and the T20 format was also played from 2005. Both these limited-overs formats encouraged batters to play a more aggressive brand of cricket. To score runs at any cost led to batters innovating their shots, preferring to play the ball through the air, and also becoming flashy sometimes. They started throwing their bats as soon as the width was on offer and especially in T20Is they didn’t leave any opportunity to take a swing at anything outside off. This same approach has been influencing red-ball cricket in the modern era. The zeal to score runs at a rate that will hand their team a win is more powerful than the fear of losing their wicket in the attempt of an attacking stroke. The teams are not satisfied with just a draw but they want to win the game. Batters have the same mindset and they switch according to the need of the team.
It can be also seen that at present many of the teams have at least one attacking batter in their team. India have Rishabh Pant who has amassed 1920 Test runs at a strike rate of 70.46 in 30 Tests. England have Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow who can switch gears at any point of time in the innings. West Indies have Jason Holder who has the ability to play attacking cricket while batting in the lower order. Australia have David Warner and he has an impressive strike rate of 71.27 in 94 Tests. All these players indicate that the fearless approach by batters is not restricted to the white-ball cricket anymore but it has found its way in red-ball cricket too. The fact is more evident from the knocks played by Jonny Bairstow in the recently held Test series between England and New Zealand. Bairstow scored 136 runs from just 92 balls and helped England chase a target of 298 in 50 overs. In the third Test also he scored 162 runs from 157 balls in the second innings.
He has shown where Test cricket heading to in the future and if there will be more batters attacking right from the start the longest format will have some entertainment value added to it. There have been such knocks in recent years. Kusal Mendis played a knock unbeaten 153 in 2019 against South Africa to help them achieve the target of 304 to win the Test. Ben Stokes played a knock of unbeaten 135 runs in the Ashes guiding his team to a one-wicket win. Last year, Rishabh Pant played a knock of unbeaten 89 runs to help the team chase down a tough target of 328 runs in the second innings while touring Australia. The evolution of Test cricket is evident now with the teams playing a fearless brand of cricket, Tests producing more results than ever and it has benefitted the format massively.
There was uncertainty around its future but with a combination of result-oriented cricket and a spot in the World Test Championship final at stake, red-ball cricket seems to have a bright future ahead.