Has English Test cricket been revived?


Test cricket is often referred to by many as the ‘boring’ format of the game. With matches taking five days only for a draw to be the outcome recently, the public have seemed to be falling out of love with the original format of cricket.

What was once adored by many seemed to be losing fans globally. England seemed to be at the forefront of this downward spiral; a status in the game that was not wanted by any Test nation, let alone one with such a fond history that seemed to trump any other country.

There were two clear problems with why Root’s England were losing so much popularity — their poor form and the brilliant emergence of England’s white-ball team and domestic competition.

England’s form had been on a downward trajectory since 2019. Root’s England had won one of their last 17 Test matches — that one win coming in a low scoring affair against India on an uncharacteristically misbehaving pitch at the Kia Oval.

The under-fire Test captain had seemed to let the team performances affect his own, with Root only able to pass 50 eight times in the 33 innings that he completed in said 17-match streak.

While the England red-ball setup was in a self-destructive rut, the form of the white-ball squad only personified the pressure that was piling up on Root and the coaching staff. World Championships in the 50 over format and looking forward to a T20 World Cup where anything less than victory would have disappointed the country.

The under-fire Test captain had seemed to let the team performances affect his own

However arguably the largest white-ball problem for English cricket came from the introduction of The Hundred, with the younger generation getting hooked on watching the ball fly into the crowd every other ball and live music performances in the innings break was greatly reducing the young viewership of Test cricket.

This combination of England’s Test form in tatters and the ‘faster-paced’ white-ball game taking over people’s minds meant that the Test game was at threat of being forgotten. This dramatic England downward spiral finally came to end in St George’s, Grenada where England slumped to a deflating ten wicket loss to a jubilant West Indies team which inevitably led to the resignation of Test captain Joe Root.

On 28th April 2022 England named a new Test match captain — Ben Stokes. The man who had seemingly done the impossible on the fourth day of the Ashes Test match at Headingly which left even the Australian supporters in a state of shock.

Stokes was an appointment for the fans who seemed to understand the need for English Test cricket to get back on its feet. Although unknown to the public at the time, Ben Stokes was chosen as captain to work with the new red-ball coach, Brendon McCullum.

Appointed on 12th May 2022 following the departure of Chris Silverwood, McCullum was one of those people who “everyone in cricket adores”. McCullum’s style of cricket while playing was much like his coaching style: free-flowing, extravagant, and full of power which has certainly come through in the way he has decided to coach this England team.

There has certainly been an upturn in form since McCullum took charge of the England team with them having won ten out of the 12 Test matches they have played. However, the style of the Test match cricket being played is what has seemed to catch the public’s attention the most. Included in these matches have been some of the most exciting red-ball cricket ever seen.

England since McCullum and Stokes took charge have been scoring at an average of 5.7 RPO, a rate unheard of in the history of Test cricket

The Test game people have known has always been low scoring rates and disappointing strike rates. Stokes and McCullum have completely changed this, playing almost a new brand of cricket, frequently termed Bazball.

The average run rate in Test cricket for over a century has been typically around three runs per over (RPO). England since McCullum and Stokes took charge have been scoring at an average of 5.7 RPO, a rate unheard of in the history of Test cricket.

Harry Brook encapsulates the nature of this new aggressive mentality. Coming into the red-ball setup after a stellar start to his county career, Brook has amassed 809 runs in six appearances with a strike rate of 99.

Nothing seen in Test cricket before has come close to this rate of scoring, and when you study it thoroughly, it is completely down to the new coach and captain. On numerous occasions, members of the dressing room have commented on how Stokes and McCullum give the players full freedom in their batting.

There are no worries about being dropped if they get out playing a poor shot or being too aggressive than they traditionally should be. This full freedom is certainly seen out in the middle with the ‘no-fear’ aspect installed in this new team.

A different aspect of this new red-ball style aspect that has caught the nation’s attention is the new management’s want to have a result, whether it be good or bad. There is no better example of this than the first Test match England played against Pakistan in Rawalpindi.

Harry Brook encapsulates the nature of this new aggressive mentality

A pitch famous for being high-scoring and often causing draws was evidenced in the first three days, with a world record 1768 runs being scored between both teams. During the second session on day four, Liam Livingstone and Brook were at the crease.

As Brook was bowled by Pakistani quick Naseem Shah, Stokes made the boldest decision of his captaincy to date — a declaration that left Pakistan requiring 343 in their second innings.

A figure more than reachable for the adept Pakistani batting line-up containing two of the world’s top batsmen in Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan. By the end of day five, with the shadows getting ever larger and there only being minutes left to play in the match, Jack Leach wrapped Naseem Shah on the pad to clinch one of the great Test wins of the modern era.

The game had become the highest-scoring Test match to produce a result. However it was only possible due to Stokes and McCullum’s bold decision to declare, which would not have been seen by this England team a year prior.

The excitement of that final day was captured by numerous reviews regarding this win as “one the greatest ever”. Stokes also revealed that he thought this was “up there with one of England’s greatest away Test match wins” which shows the monumental nature of this match; and one that only came about due to desires of the new management team.

As England go through arguably the most exciting period of Test cricket that this country has produced in a long time the key is, has the nation’s interest in Test cricket been revived? It is hard to disagree with the fact that viewership is increased. More of the public are playing and following the longer format of the game and it does seem that Stokes and McCullum have to the public hooked.

A prime example is Stokes coming second in the public-voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards in December 2022 while also Sky Sports have recently reached an agreement with the ECB to broadcast England cricket until 2028 illustrating that the public are falling back in love with the Test game.

Image: Ben Sutherland via Flickr

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