Cow Corner

Is Test cricket killing itself?

Cow Corner

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The death of Test cricket is a
prediction that has been around so long that it wouldn't be a huge surprise if
Nostradamus had been the first to make it.

Yesterday Cowers argued that
these lifeless Tests might not be what the fans enjoy, but might yet prove the
mettle of this England side and their aspirations of being the world's best.

But what value will there be
in the achievement if nobody cares enough to witness it?

The never-depressed Geoffrey
Boycott
was yesterday predicting the death of the format in the next 50 years.

You can, reluctantly, see why.
England, the spiritual home of the longer format, needs its Test cricket to be
in rude health.

Packed houses, good pitches, wider
public interest.

To cut a long story short, it
isn't happening at the moment - a sad fact, given that on the field of play
things are better than they have been at almost any point in the last two
decades.

The reasons are too fragmented
and varied to discuss in a single blog.

Questions like whether Tests
should be broadcast on free-to-air channels, or if ticket prices are too high,
players play too much and the like have valid arguments on either side, even if
Cowers himself reckons 'yes, yes and yes' to be the answers.

But one thing the sport must not do
is shoot itself in the foot, and in this series we've seen plenty of examples
of it doing exactly that.

Simple things affect the show.

Bowling 12 overs an hour
instead of the 15 stipulated in the rules, something both sides have been guilty
of, leaves a sour taste. It was no coincidence yesterday, surely, that England
whistled through 15 overs in an hour when they desperately wanted the new ball
to come - it's not asking the impossible.

If it doesn't happen, there
are provisions in place to fine sides and their captains. Use them.

If that still doesn't work,
the fines are not sufficient. Up them - it's too important to overlook.

Another simple problem - flat
tracks. A diet of lifeless pitches is swinging the game too far in favour of
the batsmen. So far this series we've seen first innings scores of 400, 496-5
declared, 486 and 479. Once in a while, fine - but every time? It's as predictable
as it is frustrating.

England is not alone in producing
these kinds of wickets - subcontinental Test cricket is ailing because of them,
the pitches in the West Indies have rarely been friendlier to batsmen, and it
wasn't all that long ago that England posted 517-1 declared in the third
innings in Australia.

As Michael Atherton once said,
"The fall of a wicket is the most dramatic moment in cricket, something
the game is all too quickly forgetting."

How difficult can it be for
the groundsmen of Test pitches to sow the seeds for a contest between bat and
ball? Flat tracks might secure five days of gate attendances, but if the crowd
bears witness to bore draws, they won't be back.

And that's if they bear
witness to any cricket.

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At one ludicrous moment this
afternoon in the dark London sky four overs were lost as the umpires took the
players off for bad light, despite the floodlights. Less than an over before,
they had come together, evaluated, and deemed the conditions fit for play.

Paying customers slow-clapped
and the scribes chuntered on Twitter like Glenn McGrath being hit for a
boundary.

"Sorry... But something
has to be done about this light situation. Dangerous my a**e," decried
Michael Vaughan.

"I cannot see why the
umpires have suspended play in this light," Jonathan Agnew weighed in.

"Pathetic going off in
this light," said Lawrence Booth.

And yet, Test cricket then
gave us a reminder that every once in a while, it can apply a little common
sense.

The players came back on, and the
session continued until 19:28 in the evening under the floodlights. Despite not
bowling a ball until 13:10, fans in the end still saw more than 70 overs of
play.

The rules have changed in the
past year to make those start and end times, as well as play under floodlights,
a possibility.

It was to the benefit of the
Test and the sport.

Will Strauss continue in that spirit and make a risky declaration tomorrow in search of a series-clinching victory? Probably not, but the fans might accept defeat for the sake of compelling final day cricket.

Boycott may be melodramatic
when he claims the game is on the way out, but unless administrators get these
common-sense measures right, he may not be all that far off the mark.

Is Test cricket a dying format? What can be done to keep the sport
alive? Leave a comment and get involved below!

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SHOT OF THE DAY: One for the
club cricketer/farmer in all of us. Rangana
Herath
had fallen to the ground by the time he swiped at Graeme Swann's
off-spin, but it didn't stop the ball disappearing away for six over midwicket.

STAT OF THE DAY:  42.78, 45.30,
46.28, 45.83, 46.17, 47.50, 48.28, 49.27
- Alastair Cook's career average, Test by Test, from the start of the
Ashes series until the close of play today. A man in a hurry.

TWEET OF THE DAY: "Better
day for England at Lord's so far. Bowling much better has turned out to be a
good tactic." Andy Zaltzman reminds
us that cricket is in essence a simple game.

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