Test Cricket In the 21st Century

In a brand new blog, with an attempt to quantify the emotions that cricket represents in India, team SAIL brings to you all, the blog by Abhilash Reddy Kalam, batch of 2015, where he made a comparison between test cricket of yesteryears and now, how the advent of T20 cricket changed the longest and purest form of cricket.

A lot of the memories I have of my IIT Guwahati experience involve the countless hours I spent in the TV Room watching sports (mostly Cricket). My love for the sport grew by leaps and bounds during the 4 years I spent there. Everyone in IIT is fortunate to have experienced at least one Cricket World Cup during their time there. I particularly envy those who experienced the 2011 WC, as I am sure it must have been fantabulous. My love for the game and statistics inspired me to write this article.

The recently concluded India vs New Zealand Test series brought back a lot of memories for me like waking up at 4 AM to watch Test matches Down Under. Although I didn’t do that now(not willing to put the effort), it got me thinking, are Test matches more interesting to watch now or were they more exciting back then? It is very difficult to measure excitement as it is a subjective thing, but I decided to look at all the Test matches from 2000–2020 and see what insights I can find.

It is very important for Test Cricket to be exciting at this time, especially after the incredible rise of T20 cricket, and talks of a new format like the T10 cricket. When the game is getting shorter and shorter, the longest format of the game has its task cut out to stay relevant. With that being said, the introduction of Test Championship added extra meaning to each Test and series, in the bigger picture and not just for rankings.

To start off, I looked at how many matches are ending in results i.e., the percentage of test matches that ended in a result, along with the number that ended in a draw for each of the last 20 years.

Figure 1

If we look at the years in the first half of the last two decades there is a significant percentage of draws, almost 25% every year. This number consistently decreased in the second half of this time period, with the last two years at a meager 10%. This is a very good sign for test cricket at least from an entertainment standpoint, only 4 tests out of 40 are ending in a draw (which may have also been due to rain interruptions).

Looking at the recent results, maybe this is just due to domination at home by each team, and a side effect of which we are seeing in terms of the number of draws decreasing. To check this, I looked at the percentage of home wins/losses/draws across all teams for the past 20 years.

Figure 2

Yes, there is truth to the fact that there is home domination, as expected in almost every sport, but the loss percentage, i.e., the number of matches that teams lose at home in a year has remained almost the same around 30%. It is the Home draws that all the teams are making count and converting them to wins. We have observed the draw percentage goes down in both the graphs.

A disclaimer for Figure 2 is that I considered some of the neutral test matches mostly played by Pakistan and some by Afghanistan, as home matches for those teams as that hardly changed the statistics.

Additionally, I also saw how each of the teams fared at home in the past 20 years combined. This was just to establish if any team particularly dominated at home.

Figure 3

As expected, Australia has been the most successful team at home (70% wins), which was expected considering that Australia dominated a better part of this century. India and South Africa came second at almost 60% wins. It is however interesting the win percentage of away teams in India is lower than in Australia. In terms of generosity both Zimbabwe and Bangladesh have been very good hosts for the away teams with the visitors winning at almost 65%.

Now I wanted to investigate why is the case that more test matches are ending up in results now than before. One of the reasons could be the rise of T20 cricket. The batsman is used to scoring at a faster pace now than at the start of this century. To see if this is true, I looked at the run rates for the test matches from 2000–2020.

Figure 4

One of the most interesting things in this is that the run rates hardly changed over the course of the last 20 years. I also looked at the averages of Test matches at the same time.

Figure 5

Looking at the averages and run rates for the test matches, the T20 isn’t drastically affecting the test matches(at least in a quantifiable way).

Looking at the last few test series, especially for India, I wanted to check are the test matches ending faster, i.e., even though they are producing more results, are they being one-sided contests. One way of finding the length of the test matches is by looking at the number of balls/overs being bowled. A test match has about 450 overs, of which we lose a few due to bad light, slow over rate, change of innings, etc.

Figure 6

This shows slight evidence that there is less number of overs being bowled recently, although just the past two years, maybe it is a sign that one team dominating the proceedings.

Conclusions

From all the analysis we can conclude that more test matches are ending in results and it being a fair contest between the bat and the ball. It is indeed a very exciting thing for test cricket.

The International Cricket Council(ICC) should be commended for taking a lot of measures to ensure test cricket does not lose a lot of the viewership. In a vision to achieve these kinds of numbers, they decided to put some of their efforts on the Quality of the pitches. They decided that they would neither allow pitches where 1500 runs are scored for a loss of 15 wickets, where the Bat demolishes the ball nor they would allow pitches where 600 runs are scored across 4 innings when you cannot touch the ball with the bat. ICC passed guidelines that made sure the pitches would ensure a balance between Bat and Ball. If a ground/pitch fails to meet this requirement the board and the curator would be asked to give an explanation and possible subsequent sanctions would be laid on them by the ICC. As can be seen from the graph above these measures seem to be working very well.

Also, the introduction of Test Championship added an extra dimension to Test Cricket and Day-Night Tests are introduced to bring back the stadium spectators. The efforts of the ICC are starting to bear fruits in reviving the popularity of test cricket. But there are many more challenges awaiting them.

Putting it in popular cricket jargon “After initial blows in the morning session, they seem to be negotiating the afternoon session pretty well. Now they will have to build a good partnership in the evening session.”

Editor — Abhilash Reddy Kalam

If there’s anything that you might want to share with Abhilash or give him any feedback on his writing/thoughts, feel free to connect with him on LinkedIn.

Student Alumni Interaction linkage, IIT Guwahati. We are an engaging and mutually beneficial link between IIT Guwahati student Fraternity and Alumni Community.