Shorter formats have made Tests more exciting: Kapil

At a time when attention spans are getting shorter and instant gratification is the norm, it might seem incongruous that the Indian cricket team would be playing an incredible 13 Test matches in the coming home season, the most ever in the country.

‘TESTS ALIVE AND WELL’: Brett Lee, Kapil Dev and V.V.S. Laxman are convinced that the game’s longest form will always be relevant and continue to survive.

V.V.S. Laxman, Kapil Dev and Brett Lee are visibly excited about it. The trio got talking with The Hindu about the future of Test cricket, and the way it has changed over the years.

Where does Test cricket stand right now?

Kapil: It’s healthy. It may remain so with some modifications. Everyone is excited when new things come up and the focus has shifted to the shorter versions of the game but, personally, I can’t see it not existing.

In fact, it will come back harder and stronger because now there will be results. We rarely see draws nowadays, and I think T20s and ODIs have given that flavour to Test cricket, made it more exciting.

Lee: I think because of the resurgence of ODIs and T20s, you will now see results potentially in five days or even four days. The crowds still come out in force in Australia and England.

What makes Tests different back home?

Lee: I think, deep down, people still love Test cricket enough to go and watch it.

Test cricket is over five days but you’ve got to win every single session. The Australian public loves the hard slogging because it tests everything — your character, fitness, mind and, obviously, talent as well.

I think the Ashes used to be at the top of the tree, but now Australia vs India is definitely number one. You want to challenge yourself against India here in your conditions, and when India come to Australia we love to play on our surface.

But a good contest would be exciting everywhere. So why do the stands remain empty in India?

Laxman: Definitely, the popularity of the T20s is a reason, but we also need to remember that people always want a result, a winner.

Also a lot of these cricketers play in big cities. That’s why the BCCI’s decision to take the Tests to Tier-2 cities is a good decision. For the first time, the people who see them only on television will now get to see them ‘live’.

I still feel there are many purists in India who love Tests but they do not go out to the ground as much as in Australia.

Then, again, there are not too many T20 leagues in Australia or England. The Big Bash happens alongside the Test season, whereas in India, the two months of IPL is all about that, with people making it a family outing in the evenings. That should be the way ahead.

Are Day/Night Tests a solution?

Laxman: Day/Night Tests are a work in progress, but without doubt they have a future. The main issue is the conditions.

Cricket in India is a winter sport, and so there will be a lot of dew in the evening. The ball is an issue too.

The BCCI has tried it with the Duleep Trophy. It’s just about how quickly things can be worked out, venues identified where there is not much dew in winters.

Because, ultimately, as a player or an artist, you want to perform in front of packed houses, not empty stands.

The planning of schedule must also be done in a way that it includes a weekend to make it more family-oriented.

Does having a captain like Virat Kohli, with his aggression and desire to win, make a difference in making Tests more result-oriented? Is there a generational shift?

Lee: 100 per cent! You’ve got a player like Virat Kohli who’s attacking and naturally aggressive, and puts his best foot forward on the field and in his batting, which I love.

The aggression would filter into the way he captains as well.

He doesn’t play for a draw or go out to hang around or just be there; he gets there to score runs and be positive.

Steve Smith is also like that, a very positive captain. Joe Root, Kane Williamson — all these people as captains is going to improve Test cricket with their positive play.

Yes, the generation has changed. Look, at the end of the fifth day, it can still be a draw. We don’t really want them but there have been some amazing draws in Tests.

But how do we reconcile to the fact that despite the changes brought in by the shorter formats, the ones who succeed at the highest level, like Ajinkya Rahane, are still those coming through the grind?

Laxman: I think the scoring pattern has changed because of the T20s, but that is not the only selection criterion.

What has changed is the mindset; when I started, three runs an over was brilliant batting. Then the Australians changed batting and the benchmark, and targeted four runs an over beginning in the early 2000s.

All the great players have great adaptability and know how to play in every situation. It is more about realising the team situation and at the same time looking for a win.

The best example is that of Kohli in his first Test as captain in Adelaide (2014), where he batted and went for a win when most captains would have settled for a draw.

The message goes to every player that this Indian team is looking to win irrespective of the situation.