The recent Ashes series was extremely entertaining and created a lot of excitement among cricket fans. The upcoming three-Test series between India and South Africa promises to be another hard-fought contest.
This paints a healthy picture of a format riding the crest of a popularity wave. However, closer inspection of the five-day game indicates there are some serious challenges ahead.
Two of the biggest concerns are the effect of the T20 game and climate change on the longer version.
There’s no doubt that the explosive nature of T20 has already had a profound effect on Test-match batting. The prevailing mindset in tricky Test match conditions is for batsmen to adopt the attitude “I’ll get them before they get me.”
There are some notable exceptions. Leading players like Steve Smith, Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson and Joe Root all possess both the desire and the wherewithal to negotiate difficult periods. This talented foursome often fight their way through tough periods in order to prosper either when the bowlers tire or the conditions ease. The question is whether they are a dying breed or if there will be up-and-coming batsmen prepared to adopt a similar approach.
There’s no doubt that this changed approach to batting has helped boost the entertainment quotient of Test cricket and reduced the number of draws; both are positive outcomes. Even so there needs to be some artistry in long-form batting, and if this is ignored in the search for brute strength, Test cricket will lose some of its magic.
To a large extent the power to shape the future of Test-match batting is in the hands of coaches and players. If the blueprint for a modern batsman is a solid all-round base with the advantage of added power when required, then Test-match batting will continue to be a captivating spectacle. If, on the other hand, batting becomes an exercise in clearing the boundary regularly, with the accent on power, then Test-match batting will be diminished.
The effects of climate change on the game are a major concern, and the solutions rely on decisive action being taken by some annoyingly reticent politicians.
For starters, drastic increases in temperature will add to the health dangers for players. There’s nothing more frustrating than a game delayed by rain, but imagine if players are off the field because the sun burns too brightly.
That is the reality if temperatures keep rising; players will need to be protected from heat stroke or more lasting skin-cancer damage. In a litigious era, cricket boards will need to proceed with caution. It’s no wonder day-night matches are considered critical to Test cricket’s future.
“There’s nothing more frustrating than a game delayed by rain, but imagine if players are off the field because the sun burns too brightly”
Then there is the concern of rising sea levels and more ferocious weather events like devastating tornadoes and cyclones. There’s also the damaging effect of reduced rainfall, which has already seen one Test-match city – Cape Town – come perilously close to running out of water in recent years. Water is integral to the proper preparation of suitable pitches, but that, of course, will remain well down the list of priorities when compared with the life or death of citizens.
It is telling that the Game Changer report, published by the Climate Coalition in 2018, noted “of all the major pitch sports, cricket will be the hardest hit by climate change”. It’s also worth noting that the adventurous Indian batsman Rohit Sharma – a socially aware, recent graduate to parenthood – tweeted his support for the teenage activist Greta Thunberg and her inspiring Strike for Climate campaign.
These are firm reminders that cricketers and administrators need to take climate change seriously. Mind you, any disastrous effects on a sport will pale into insignificance when compared with the potential of climate change to inflict devastation on the planet.
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