“As the ICC has increased the number of T20 Internationals that countries can play against each other, the number of two-Test series are becoming more common, which I would rather not happen at all because they are a nothingness of a nothing”.
This is what the great former Indian batsman Rahul Dravid said during his enlightening speech at the ESPN-Cricinfo For Cricket Summit in London in August 2013. However, most of the cricket boards are increasingly moving in the opposite direction, much to the chagrin of Test match lovers around the world. The fact that Dravid’s sentiment has fallen on deaf ears is proved by the number of two-Test series in the last cricket season.
The 2013-14 season (April 2013 to March 2014) saw fourteen Test series played, of which two were Ashes. Of the remaining twelve, as many as nine series consisted of just two Tests. One will never come to know how the series between Zimbabwe and Pakistan or the one between Pakistan and South Africa in the UAE – both of which ended in a 1-1 stalemate – might have ended, because there was no third Test to look forward to. Would Zimbabwe have upset Pakistan to claim a rare series victory? Would Pakistan have toppled South Africa in what would have been an exciting decider? The abrupt ends to these series left many a cricket follower frustrated.
Thankfully, one of the three series in 2013-14 which consisted of three Tests was the Australian tour of South Africa. The Baggy Greens triumphed on a classic last day of the third Test in Cape Town to inflict a first series defeat on South Africa in five years, and also keep their undefeated record (since South Africa’s re-admission) in the Rainbow Nation intact.
Imagine for a moment if this series, like the one in 2011-12, had consisted of just two Test matches. Mitchell Johnson’s fiery spells at Centurion and Dale Steyn’s magic at Port Elizabeth would have amounted to little. The third Test added context and relevance to the series, and the result was there for all to see. Another case in point was the recently-concluded series between the West Indies and New Zealand in the Caribbean. Had this series also been a two-Test affair – like the one in 2012 – it would have resulted in yet another annoying 1-1 scoreline.
Regarding the 2011-12 series between South Africa and Australia, Steyn had then remarked, “I go on holiday for longer than that series is going to last.” The champion fast bowler hit the nail on the head. After South Africa romped to victory in the bizarre ’47 all out’ match in Cape Town, Australia drew level with a thrilling chase in Johannesburg. Perfect setting for a mouth-watering decider. Unfortunately, the third Test existed only in the realm of fantasy for cricket connoisseurs and players alike. Watching the two captains hold a shared trophy after a two-Test series is pretty depressing. The two teams trade a punch each, then what?
Also during 2011-12, we saw how New Zealand edged out Australia in Hobart after going down tamely in Brisbane. This left the enthralled fans asking for more but instead what they got was an empty feeling of discontent. Australia and Pakistan last played a Test against each other back in 2010, yet the forthcoming series in the UAE in October will have only two Tests.
Two-Test series can never provide the necessary build-up to a Test series. The series is over even before the teams are getting into the groove. If a team wins the first Test, the other team has already missed the opportunity of winning the series. On many occasions, a team losing the first Test has come back to win the series – in recent memory, India v Australia in 2000-01 and South Africa v India in 2006-07 come to mind. Two-Test series rob the game of this charm of watching a team fight back after being one down.
Players like Dravid and Steyn are class acts and over their careers, have yearned to win Test matches for their countries with their performances. But a two-Test series often breeds a defensive mindset – for instance, when South Africa shut shop during what would have been a world record chase against India in Johannesburg last December. I believe they would have at least made a bold effort to go for glory had it been a three-Test series.
No one likes a two-Test series, except for the unsatiated administrators who care two hoots for anything but quick cash. It is akin to a farce and demeans the tradition of Test match cricket. Scrapping a third Test to accommodate a meaningless limited-overs series has become quite a norm today. Nowadays we see two back-to-back Tests scheduled as if a favour is being done on us Test cricket lovers. Earlier, all cricket tours used to be centered around the Test series. Today, the token two-Test series is a damning indictment which clearly shows where the priorities of the administrators lie.
Over the last few years, we have seen a two-Test Wisden Trophy (in 2009) and a two-Test Border-Gavaskar Trophy (in 2010-11) for the first time. As of now, the only head-to-head fixture that has never had a series of less than three Tests is Australia v West Indies. But even that is likely to change, as Australia are scheduled to pay a two-Test visit to the Caribbean next year. With this, the Frank Worrell Trophy nearly loses its meaning and it is an insult to the great man himself, who had undoubtedly envisaged a rich Test match future between the two sides after the historic 1960-61 series.
It is a fact that Test cricket is a very expensive sport to sustain. But that is no excuse for not having that much-needed extra Test in a series. Ticket sales are dropping, the public is moving towards T20. Rather than sit and do something about this worrying trend, cricket boards show ignorance and instead callously cancel previously-scheduled Tests, and at times, entire series. And then in a most hypocritical manner, they talk about the ‘primacy’ of Test cricket.
A minimum of three Tests is absolutely essential, no matter which teams are playing. Anything less than that is sacrilegious.