The negative influence of limited-over cricket on Test matches

There is a big difference in the way that Test cricket is played compared to the limited over game. Test matches are time-limited (five days of play with six hours per day) with no guarantee of a result, while the limited-overs format (50 overs per inning for one-day games and 20 per inning for the roughly three-hour Twenty20 format) are designed to guarantee a result.

In the Test match format, batsmen who could stay in for a long time and amass a big score of a hundred runs (or even 200 and more), even if fairly slowly, were prized while in the other forms quick scoring was at a premium and scores of even 50 were considered good.

In the past, when I was a boy, scoring in test matches was often slow and a run-rate of three per over would be considered very high. But I notice that nowadays a run-rate of three per over seems to be the minimum rate in Test matches. What is remarkable is that this seems to happen even when wickets are falling rapidly.

Why is this surprising? Because the fall of a wicket gives the bowler and fielding side a morale boost. Two wickets in rapid succession would make them feel really on top. In Test matches where there is more time, a new batsman would try and deflate that enthusiasm by digging in and defending and not giving up another wicket quickly. When the bowlers and fielders had become tired and discouraged somewhat and more prone to making errors, the batsmen would then open up and score runs more freely. So the pattern would be that the scoring rate would drop after the fall of a wicket and pick up later.

But in the current Ashes series between Australia and England, that pattern does not seem to hold. The run-rate remains high even as wickets are falling rapidly. Take Australia. In the third Test, they were bundled out for a mere 136 in the first innings, an appallingly low score. But the scoring rate was 3.40 runs per over. Then in today’s opening day of the fourth Test, they were shot out for the embarrassingly low score of just 60 runs but the scoring rate was 3.24 per over! The full innings lasted less than two hours.

It is true that fast scoring makes for crowd-pleasing cricket. But old-fashioned fans like me can cite many engrossing games where batsmen saved the day by using dogged defense, thwarting the efforts of the bowlers for hours on end without scoring many runs. It seems to me that the ability to adopt a defensive posture and slowly but steadily build up a big score or recover from an early setback seems to be a skill that is disappearing due to the influence of the limited-over format.

I think the game is poorer for it.


  1. StevoR says

    Saw that just tonight. I can’t believe that just happened and am still sore from pinching myself to wake up from the nightmare.. Couldn’t be real. But. We (Australia!) need players who show fight and grit and the ability to last and not throw their wickets away. We need about eleven of them. Five or six at least. Steve Waugh would be turning in his grave. If he was dead. He isn’t thankfully -- too late to bring him (& Hussey and, more seriously, Haddin) back?

  2. Sunday Afternoon says

    As a long-time follower of England (even though I’m a Scottish ex-pat) I woke up this morning in California and reminded myself to see what was happening on the first day of the test. Imagine my astonishment to discover that Australia had been bowled out before lunch!

    However, I’ll disagree with Mano’s take on the long form of the game. Look at what Australia did at Lord’s in the 2nd test -- declared twice with a total of 810 runs for only 10 wickets down combined. Australia were able to post a massive first innings total with 566-8 declared and then put the game out of reach with a flourish in their 2nd innings.

    I also recall people expressing the same opinion regarding the way Botham took on the bowling in the 80’s -- long before Twenty20 was thought of for international matches.

  3. Mano Singham says


    It is one thing to score quickly when you are not losing wickets, as in the example you gave of Australia in the 2nd Test. My point is that when wickets are falling, then one needs to stop the slide somehow.

    As for Botham, there were always a few batsmen whose style was to always attack. But for every Botham, there was a Trevor Bailey, able to shut down the bowling. It seems like now we have only aspiring Bothams and no Baileys.

  4. Sunday Afternoon says

    Mano -- you are correct about trying to stem the tide. I do feel that the batsmen are indeed trying to not give away their wicket! But it does seem as if panic can infect the dressing room sometimes. Following England, you get accustomed to batting collapses, even among a group of good players. Occasionally the panic never settles and you get what happened today.

    In recent memory, someone like Ricky Ponting (Aus captain) guarded his wicket jealously, and was very difficult to get out. In the recent England teams, I would include Michael Atherton and Marcus Trescothic along similar lines, and now Joe Root. Of course, none compare to Geoffrey Boycott for sheer bloodymindedness at the crease -- I’m relying on reports here as that was before my time.

    The same can be said in the bowling department too -- one bowler who I felt never got the praise he deserved for consistently preventing batsmen from scoring was Angus “dot ball” Fraser. He is memorable to me for a quote along the lines of only ever trying to bowl one delivery and relying on getting it wrong as his variation! He was often overlooked in match reports, but he would tie up the batsmen at one end, who would then try to force at least some runs at the other end and lose their wickets to the other bowlers.

    Ah, the subtlety of test cricket! I still miss it, but can’t devote the time to watching it…

  5. says

    What do you call an Australian that’s good with a bat?

    A vet 🙂

    Buuut seriously, while I agree with Mano that the short form has made stroke play more desirable, I don’t think that has entirely been to the detriment of test cricket.

    The commentators during the last test were discussing an Ashes match in the ’60’s where both teams made 600+ in the first innings at a rate of about 3 (lots of overs obs), shook hands and retired.

    I do enjoy the tactical battle and tend to consider a first innings score below 350 as not trying hard enough, I’m old fashioned in that way. The simple truth in this match so far is England won the toss* in perfect bowling conditions for seam and swing, and the Aussies were jumpy as their old chum Skippy, throwing the bat at everything.

    * although Clarke may still have chosen to bat, he’s a bit odd that way.

  6. Mano Singham says


    My goodness, how could I have forgotten Geoff Boycott! Especially since he is still around as an analyst. You are right, he was a dour as batsman as one has ever seen, able to stick around for ages. The Aussies had Bill Lawry too.

  7. says

    A similar criticism has been made of Six Red Snooker. Speeding up the game for TV has taken away some of the precision of the game, and makes average players look as good as the elite players. Fans of traditional play want to see “centuries” (100 or more points in a frame, which requires sinking at least 25 consecutive balls) and “clearances” (a perfect frame score of 147), not just winning frames and matches. Watching Six Red (maximum 75 points in a frame) is as uninspiring as watching 9-ball.

    At least unlimited overs in cricket doesn’t impose any risk of danger to the health of the players, except perhaps the bowlers. In the early days of the North American game of football, there was no time limit. Play continued until a team scored a certain number of points. If games were played like that today, death and permanent brain or body injury would be a more regular event than it already is.

  8. Mano Singham says

    I just saw an interview with Ricky Ponting where he echoed my view and expressed concern with the lack of defensive technique by the Australian batsmen. He said their attitude was also worrying because after they lost one or two early wickets, the batsmen did not adjust their game but continued to hit, rather than focusing their attention on not losing any more wickets.

  9. blf says

    As only an occasional, and not very informed, follower of cricket (who has also just finished a bottle of fine Frog’s vin), I rather “like” seeing all the amusing ways the batting collapses. Ingerlard is usually quite hilarious, and Ozlunks is improving their hilarity value as well. I speculate this is the reason Ireland has been locked out of Test Cricket and Teh World Cup of Total Failures, their hilarity is inconsistent. The Test Match nations who are worse than them have far more hilarious collapses more regularly.

  10. jockmcdock says

    I think both teams have looked pretty fragile, Australia much more so than England.

    But, well done, England a well deserved victory.

    Broad’s bowling and Australia’s batting on the first day were wonderful and appalling respectively to watch.

    As an Aussie, I’d like to thank Extras for top scoring in our first innings. I believe this was a first in Test Cricket. I’m going to hide under the bed.

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