The Future of Test Cricket

The Future of Test Cricket

September 2018 | Sport

Alastair Cook's retirement marks the end of an era for English cricket, and exposes changing priorities within the international game.

After a long and successful career, Alastair Cook has retired from international duty. Cue lots of talk about the decline of test cricket. This is nothing new. The retirement of a great of the game is always accompanied by talk of how test cricket has gone to the dogs replaced by the siren call of 20:20 in the public consciousness. Inevitably, it is asked whether we will see their likes again. The answer is always no, if only because every player is different and the next great England batsman will have a different set of strengths and weaknesses.

The retirement of Andrew Flintoff in 2009 was accompanied by similar talk. Stuart Broad, his replacement in the team, was labelled Spice Boy and mocked as a celebrity lightweight. Contrast that with today, and the genuine concern of English cricket as they look to a time when Broad too will have retired. To be fair, both Broad and James Anderson took their time in graduating from promising youngsters to international superstars.

Contrast that with Cook, who was a prodigy from day one. He achieved international attention when he scored a double century for Essex against Australia during a warm-up match for the 2005 Ashes. Less than a year later, he scored a century on an unexpected England test debut at the age of 21, before going on to score 1000 runs and 4 centuries in his first 12 months of test cricket. His place as an all-time great was assured in the 2011 Ashes tour of Australia, during which he scored 766 runs spending a record 36 hours at the crease. It is often forgotten that Cook's place in the England team was under threat going into the tour with calls for him to be dropped following poor form during the proceeding summer. There have been similar calls over the past year following another run of poor form, which he answered in emphatic fashion with a century during his final test innings at the Oval.

It is possible that he may yet return to the international game. He is 33, and there is no clear successor to his place at the top of the order. There have even been suggestions that 42 year old Marcus Trescothick, the man he replaced in the England team could be drafted in as a stop gap until a long-term solution is found. These are fanciful, Trescothick quit test cricket in 2006 for health reasons and has enjoyed a long and prodigious county cricket career ever since. He recently renewed his contract with Somerset for another season. He's not the only veteran of the 2005/6 England team still playing. Paul Collingwood will retire from Cricket at the end of the month, 7 years after quitting Test Cricket at the end of the 2011 Ashes tour that Cook dominated. They're far from alone. It's common for top batsmen to play domestic cricket into their 40s long after their international careers are over. There is no reason why Cook can't follow their example.

The difference from past decades is that there are now top players who choose not to play test cricket at all. The success of the IPL has given one day specialists a route to the top that allows them to bypass the longer formats of the game. It has become increasingly uncommon for players to feature in both the one day international and test sides for their country. This is trickling down to the domestic game too, most English County sides have players who only play the short formats of the game. Witness the controversy surrounding Adil Rashid's selection for the England Test Team at the start of the recent series against India. Yorkshire objected to his selection on the grounds that he only had a one day contract with them after making himself unavailable for the 4-day county championship in 2017. To diffuse the situation England announced that the selection was a one-off, but then proceeded to pick him for all 5 tests in the series anyway. They needn't have bothered, as Rashid had no impact on play during the series confirming his reputation as a one day specialist.

The situation with Rashid shows that players still want to play test cricket. It is the Premier format of the game in both England and Australia. The recent series between India and England got widespread attention in the media and among the public. However, it is no longer the only format of the game that matters. This upsets the purists, but so long as there are players such as Alastair Cook who put the long form of the game first their concerns are misguided. Rugby Union manages to sustain thriving international circuits for both 7s and 15s. There is no reason Cricket can't do the same. However, with the top players now split between the two formats of the game it is inevitable that test teams will be weaker than the dominant West Indies and Australia sides of the past. This is already happening, leading to a more equitable balance of power in test cricket. The lack of an outstanding test side has been commented on for some time. South Africa have come closest in recent seasons despite some of their leading players prematurely retiring from the international game or defecting to other countries. The fact that so many players have chosen to do this illustrates test cricket's status as first among equals rather than the only thing that matters. Other sports cope with this situation, there's no reason why cricket can't too.

The featured image was originally posted to Flickr by nic_r at

Written by Alan Chatfield