The 36 all out by India against Australia in the second innings of the 1st Test at Adelaide for the 2020-21 Border-Gavaskar Trophy, will hurt Indian fans for a while. As it should! After all it’s the lowest ever in the history of this proud cricketing nation, as Sunil Gavaskar rightly pointed out.
It is no surprise though that it came in 2020. The year, besides its far greater significance in human history, will also culminate the worst two decades of Test cricket’s existence.
With the first official Test being recorded in 1877, Test cricket can be roughly broken down in to seven such 20-year periods.
From the start of the Millennium, 36, yes that dreaded number again, of the 108 lowest ever Test innings scores were recorded, according to popular cricket website espncricinfo.com. The first of these date back to 1882.
That is an overwhelming 33%+ from the start of the Millennium. The next worst is 20 such instances in two such periods- the first two decades of Test cricket and the third between 1940-1960.
The first period can be discounted given it involved just England and Australia, and that makes the probability of one team being much superior to the other at various times, significantly higher.
The third, was when cricket had resumed after the war and as many as four teams-India, Pakistan, West Indies and New Zealand, were just about finding their bearings in the game. 15 out of the 20 lowest scores in this period were accounted for by three of these four teams.
Even the lowest ever Test score till date, the 26 by New Zealand in Auckland against England , was recorded during this period.
In the subsequent two periods, only 17 of the lowest Test scores were recorded. That’s less than half over 40 years, than what the first two decades of this Millennium has thrown up.
That tells us a story.
Historically, the players in this Millennium have been at their most secure financially and are much fitter athletes equipped with the best technologies and team of highly qualified support staff, to enable better and more consistent performances as professionals. Of that, there is no doubt.
Have the bowlers gotten better then and life more difficult for batsmen?
To address the second argument first, it is widely accepted that over the years the game has only tilted more towards batsmen, than bowlers. The one bouncer per over per batsman rule is in itself a huge tilt in that regard, covered and flatter pitches, better bats and improved protection gear, being just some of the other developments.
As regards bowlers, only four, James Anderson, Dale Steyn, Nathan Lyon and Harbhajan Singh, could be slotted amongst all time great Test bowlers, who made their debut this Millenium.
They would be the first to admit that they clearly pale in comparison to names that debuted and played in the previous four decades- from Andy Roberts and Dennis Lillee to Wasim Akram and Glenn McGrath to Shane Warne and Mutthiah Muralitharan, the list is pretty long.
In-fact all the great all-rounders of the game, save probably Ben Stokes who is on his way to getting there, from the Fab Four of the 80s to Jacques Kallis and Andrew Flintoff thereafter, also debuted before the Millenium set upon us.
So its not because batting has become more difficult, in-fact has become easier, and its not because there has been a surge in great Test bowlers, that such unusually high number of low scores have been recorded.
Some might want to stretch the argument by saying that the number of Test matches played in the Millenium has increased significantly. Even then, the rate of such collapses has significantly increased this Millenium.
The final defense could be addition of new teams, but only Bangladesh came into the Test fold in the year 2000. Afghanistan and Ireland are the newest Test nations and have just completed two years in Test cricket.
Besides, the three of them have contributed just three out of the 36 such apocalypses.
It is leading Test nations like Pakistan and England that lead the charts with seven and six lowest scores this Millenium, followed by New Zealand and West Indies, also top Test nations, with four and three respectively.
The issue certainly boils down to temperament and overall quality of batsmanship. And if you consider the overall dearth of great bowlers, it points to an overall downgrade in the quality of Test cricket being played.
Perhaps the players are playing too much and throughout the year. Perhaps too much limited overs cricket is affecting the technique and temperament of the players. The longevity of bowlers.
Reasons could be many, but it is clear that something needs to be done to improve the highest and purest form of the game. Maybe
What then are the solutions? Totally separate squads perhaps? As probably England have tried to do. Designated Test centres where pitches and grounds are maintained specifically for Test cricket?
One understands that these things are easier said than done given the huge disparity in finances and resources of the various Cricket Boards. Also, the modern times have huge stakes riding on every-day cricket and priorities are very different.
But art and artistry has sustained its invaluable nature and romance across human civilizations, and Test cricket is nothing but it. The need is that of a visionary.