Peter Hayter launches an impassioned defence of the five-day game after the latest attack from the former England captain
Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone.
No idea if Kevin Pietersen is a Joni Mitchell fan nor whether the great Canadian singer-songwriter’s love of Test cricket extends to being one of his 3.12 million Twitter followers, but, if she does happen to be among that number, a couple of messages that he sent during England’s match against Sri Lanka at Headingley last week would surely have provoked a wry smile.
“9,500 people at England’s Test – Leeds.” KP offered us. “Makes sense why a few players were trying to give away tickets on social media.”
Then this: “PREDICTION”, he wrote, as though doing so in capital letters meant it was bound to come true, “in +- 10 years #cricket will be like @F1.
All the best players playing against each other in T20 franchises around the globe!”
There are many who will believe in Mystic Kev’s clairvoyance, that his image of a world without Tests will come to pass and that the commercial forces driving T20 to become not just the dominant form of ‘international’ cricket but the only one are simply unstoppable.
To those who favour such a prospect, the job is already as good as done.
Test cricket, they insist, is outdated and anachronistic; in evolutionary terms, a dead dodo walking.
Andrew Strauss takes the threat so seriously that he has already come up with his version of how to save it, his much-derided Super Series in place for this summer’s fixtures against Sri Lanka and Pakistan, which some within the ICC hope will eventually be adopted by all their members to give Test, T20 and one-day international cricket
the context and relevance to make it attractive enough to encourage paying customers back to the empty seats and, just as importantly, for TV companies to carry on paying for its existence.
Colin Graves, the ever-vocal chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, is among those pushing for day-night Test cricket to bring in after-work audiences.
More radical still, Michael Vaughan this week called for a three-tier League system for Test cricket, with promotion and relegation, so that ‘mismatches’ such as the current England v Sri Lanka series (we shall see, by the way) and that between West Indies and Australia last December, which he called “garbage”, can be avoided.
Talking of West Indies, their star cricketers, who light up the Indian Premier League and lifted the World T20 but can’t be enticed to play Tests, seem already to have made their choice.
And, on the face of it, in attendance numbers, TV and sponsorship deals and pay cheque zeros, the figures support their case. We have all marvelled at the best of what T20 cricket has to offer but a world without Test cricket?
I offer just a few personal memories as a reminder of why the game needs to fight to avoid that outcome at all costs.
Without Test cricket, for instance, there could never be another Headingley ’81, when England, following on, were so convinced that they must lose the third Ashes Test at Headingley that they checked out of their hotel on the fourth morning, only for Ian Botham to smash 149 not out and Bob Willis to take eight for 43 to complete “the greatest comeback since Lazarus” for the one-time 500-1 outsiders.
Without Test cricket there could never be another performance like Devon Malcolm’s “you guys are history” nine for 57 in the final Test against South Africa at The Oval in 1994, a devastating spell inspired by Fanie de Villiers knocking the badge from his helmet which earned him the nickname of “the destroyer” from none other than Nelson Mandela.
Without Test cricket there could never be another captain’s innings like the one that Michael Atherton produced at the Wanderers in Johannesburg in December 1995, when he carried his bat for 165 overs spanning ten hours and 43 minutes and 492 deliveries to save the second Test.
Without Test cricket there could never be another final day like the one Brian Lara gave us in March 1999 at Barbados, when he scored an unbeaten 153 to lead West Indies to victory over Australia by one wicket; still the best attacking innings it has been my privilege to witness. Nor, of course, could there be another world-record Test score like his 375 against England at Antigua in 1994 or the 400 that he made there ten years later with which he reclaimed the record against the same shellshocked opponents.
Without Test cricket there could never be another after-dark finish like the one in which England triumphed against Pakistan in Karachi in 2000.
Without Test cricket there could never be another 2005 Ashes series; for nerve-jangling excitement, drama, global public engagement and sheer skill, probably the best of all time.
Without Test cricket there could never be another century on debut like the one Alastair Cook scored against India in Nagpur in 2006, after travelling for three days to get there from the England A tour to the West Indies.
Without Test cricket there could never be another successful rearguard like the one that James Anderson and Monty Panesar gave everything to achieve to draw the first Test of the 2009 Ashes series in Cardiff, nor like the one Anderson and Moeen Ali so narrowly failed to pull off against Sri Lanka at Leeds in 2014.
Without Test cricket there could never be another morning like the one at Trent Bridge last summer when Stuart Broad took eight for 15 on day one of the fourth Test, effectively clinching the Ashes, nor another catch like that snaffled from thin air by Ben Stokes to dismiss Adam Voges at fourth slip.
And, in case he had forgotten, without Test cricket there could never be another golden afternoon like the one Pietersen conjured in 2012 in the second Test against South Africa, when he battered the world’s best attack to all parts of Headingley in the joint second-best attacking innings, alongside his brilliant ton at the Oval in ’05, that I have witnessed.
There are countless further examples, and even those whose experience of the beauty, and richness, of Test cricket and its ability to change course 180 degrees began after Twenty20 started its apparently inexorable rise, have theirs.
But if Test cricket is to produce similar memories, those who love it and lead it have no option but to fight to save it and no option but to do everything that it takes to try to prove KP wrong.
This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, Friday May 27 2016